By Merrill Eisenberg
University of Arizona
As I complete my first year as your President, I am happy to report that our organization is on solid footing and is poised to tackle the challenges of a rapidly changing environmental context. Our membership has grown 22% in the past 10 years, with students accounting for more than a third of our total membership. Thanks to the hard work of Tom May and the staff at Professional Management Associates (PMA), our contracted business office, we now have 10 student travel awards. Our meetings are well known as being informative, productive and fun, and attendance at the meetings is growing. For those who missed the Business Meeting, here is a “short version” summary of my presentation and an update on issues discussed by the Board in Baltimore. This is followed by some information about the labor issues we were all concerned about at the hotel in Baltimore.
A look at current finances: Understanding where our money comes from and where it goes is one way to assess the state of the SfAA. Our annual operating budget is just under $440,000. Our revenues come from a variety of sources, with the annual meetings, and dues contributing the highest percentage, followed by library subscriptions and contributions, most of which were made to support our various awards. We derive a small amount of revenue from money set aside as an investment, from the sale of back issues of our journals and other minor sources.
Our expenses are a bit more complicated to explain. While our operating budget is about $440,000, that does not include monies contributed to our award trusts. All award contributions are placed in trusts—one for the Peter K. New award, and one for all of the other awards. The revenue from these trusts funds awards. Our greatest expenses are related to the general operation of the Society, through our contract with PMA and other administrative expenses such as rent, utilities, and bank fees that are related to our everyday operations.
Our current financial situation is solid, but there are several issues that are on the horizon that will create a challenge. One of these is the prospect of “open access” journals. Our subscriptions account for 15% of our revenues and 21% of our expenses. What a bargain the libraries are getting! However, with library budgets generally declining and the advent of open access journals (see the J. Freidenberg article below), we need to re-think our revenue sources if we want to continue to provide the current service level. Additionally, we need to consider the services we currently provide in light of broader changes in the world, in our professions, and in the needs of our members as we move forward.
Looking toward the future: As we approach our 75th anniversary in 2015, we have been thinking seriously about how to position the SfAA to thrive in the future environmental context. The Board has started a strategic planning process by conducting a procedure to identify internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. Some external challenges in addition to open access that we anticipate include shrinking academic employment, growing international interest in applied social science, growing need for applied social science practitioners, and the emergence of new issues. Generally the questions we need to address include 1) how can we ensure that SfAA is financially viable?, and 2) what services should we keep, drop, or develop to best meet the needs of applied social scientists in the future?
We will be taking this process to the membership starting this summer when you will be asked to respond to an online survey seeking your input. At our 2013 meeting in Denver we will report on the survey findings and provide opportunities for members to provide insight and ideas. By our 2014 meeting in Albuquerque we will have prepared a document outlining any changes in our mission, vision, values, goals, objectives, organizational structure, and services for members that arise from the strategic planning process for our membership to consider.
In the meantime, we have appointed an ad hoc committee, headed by Allan Burns, to explore ways to increase our international reach. Other members of this committee include Peter Kunstadter, Lenore Manderson, and Jeanne Simonelli. Additionally, with the help of SfAA member Teresa Trustee, we are exploring ways to fund travel awards for international annual meeting participants. The Board also recently approved a pilot “Institutional Membership” category to provide affordable access to our journals for small organizations in international contexts. Finally, we adopted a “title” to describe ourselves in a way that clarifies that we are an international organization and that although “anthropology” is in our name, we are not necessarily all trained as anthropologists. So we will now be known as: “SfAA, A Worldwide Organization for Applied Social Science.”
To make better use of electronic media, we have also assigned an ad hoc Information Technology committee to assess our current resources and use, and to suggest changes that will increase our productivity, visibility, and access to information for our members. Some items we hope to work out include a revamping of our website, developing a secure database of our members, and conducting elections online rather than by paper ballot. We are very lucky that two relatively young members, Rey Villanueva, a student member, and Andrew Mathis, a young practitioner, who are IT “savvy”, have volunteered for this committee. Rey and Andrew join Neil Hann, our Associate Director, who has developed all of our IT resources to date, and Zachary Naiman, an IT professional who just happens to be my son, as members of this committee.
Labor issues at the SfAA: Many of us were very surprised to learn about a labor action that had evidently been going on for many years at the Sheraton hotel in Baltimore, where we held our recent meetings. Here I would like to clarify what occurred and what the SfAA is doing to ensure that we avoid these situations in the future.
First, the SfAA has always been sensitive to fair labor practices and as a policy, we always conduct our meetings at unionized hotels. Arrangements are made for our annual meeting several years in advance. Our PMA staff members always inquire about the labor situation at any hotel we are considering, and we always include a “Forces Majeure” clause in our contract which permits us to terminate the contract if certain conditions emerge, one among which is a strike or labor dispute. At the time that we signed the contract for Baltimore, the management company at the Sheraton assured our staff that there was no labor dispute, saying that they were in contract negotiations which they expected to go on smoothly. The announcement of the meeting site was made public many months prior to the meetings, and we had no reason to believe there would be any problems.
About 10 days prior to the meetings, some of us received phone messages from the union alerting us to the fact that workers at the Baltimore Sheraton had been working without a contract for many years. We immediately contacted our business office and asked Tom May to look into this. He was again assured that contract negotiations were going on smoothly. At that point it was not feasible to switch to a different hotel or cancel the meetings. I remind you that our meetings produce about 38% of our annual revenues, that most of us had already made travel arrangements, and that we had contracts with other vendors in Baltimore that we needed to fulfill. So we decided “the show must go on.”
We were not surprised that upon learning about the dispute, many of our members expressed emotions ranging from displeasure to outrage. Members of the Board shared those emotions, and we have taken the following steps to help us respond more appropriately in the future:
Our staff will not only ask management about the labor situation at any hotel we are considering, but also contact the union involved to ensure that we are getting accurate information. We are writing to the corporation that owns the Sheraton to express our displeasure with the management company in Baltimore that gave us inaccurate information.
We have asked the Human Rights and Social Justice Committee to review the contract language we have been using and recommend changes that might better protect us. We also have asked them to suggest scenarios and timetables for alternative actions we can take if a labor dispute arises between the time that we sign the contract and the meeting dates. Such actions might include hosting an open forum, addressing the labor situation, conducting a labor “teach in,” and/or some other type of activity to highlight the dispute and show our support for labor.
These actions will help us identify and react appropriately to any labor issues that come up in the future. I would also encourage our members and any involved unions to assist us in identifying potential problems that we might have missed well before the date of our annual meeting so that we can plan appropriately. For example, had the union contacted us in the fall rather than 10 days prior to the meetings, we would have responded differently. This is not meant to place blame on our staff, or on the union, or on our members who are union supporters. We are all seeking the same, just outcome and need to work together.