[URBANTH-L]Letter from Walter Goldschmidt

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Wed Jan 19 10:29:51 EST 2005

From: "Robert T. O'Brien" <robrien at temple.edu>
To: Urbananth-l <urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu>
Received: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 23:12:01 -0500

Dear Colleagues:
I have been asked by Walter Goldschmidt, former AAA President, to circulate
the letter below (sent to current AAA President Liz Brumfiel two weeks ago).
Dr. Goldschmidt spoke passionately about the issues of labor relations and
AAA governance at the meetings in Atlanta. He has expanded on his thoughts
here. I think they warrant a close read.

Clarification: Just to make sure that credit goes where it is due: The forum
to which Dr. Goldschmidt refers was organized by
Polly Strong and Robert Foster on behalf of SCA. Paul Durrenberger and Suzan
Erem were panelists, but did not
organize the session.

Rob O'Brien

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 10:15:01 -0800 To:
ebrumfiel at northwestern.edu From: Walter Goldschmidt
<walterg at ucla.edu> Subject: crises Cc: Robert O'Brien, Paul
Durrenberger, bdavis at aaanet.org
Dear Liz,
I am concerned that I have not had a response to my letter of
two weeks ago. Because the matter goes far beyond you and me, I
am having Bob O"Brien circulate it more widely. Wally

To: ebrumfiel at northwestern.edu From: Walter Goldschmidt
<walterg at ucla.edu> Cc: agoodman at hampshire.edu Bcc:
bdavis at aaanet.org lhorne at aaanet.org
Dr. Elizabeth Brumfiel, President American Anthropological
Association 2200 Wilson Blvd. Arlington VA 22201

Dear Liz,

This letter is being addressed to you, Liz, as the responsible
head of the Association, who has found herself suddenly faced
with a crisis of major proportions in what is generally seen as
a largely ceremonial and honorific role. You have my sympathy,
for I am sure that you wanted to follow some agenda of your own,
but now you have no choice. I am giving you friendly advice with
sympathy and concern, because conscientious and forceful action
is essential for the very preservation of the Association. This
is not a melodramatic statement, but a sober assessment. Though
I know from experience that it seems the other way around, you
are the boss and Bill and the staff are your employees; this
means that you are the fall-guy; you are where the buck stops.
When I was inducted as an officer of the Association, I and my
cohort were advised that as officers we had fiscal
responsibility and legal liability, if I remember the
terminology correctly, and whether this advisory is still
practiced, I am sure it is still the law.

The crisis has two aspects, each of which must be addressed. The
first is damage control, for there is great anger at both the
manner in which the situation was handled from the outset and
the decision that was made and the way it was arrived at. The
second is planning for the almost inevitable revisit to the same
crisis in 2006. While this will not occur on your watch, the
planning for this must be done by you and your successor right

1. Damage Control. Given the existence of a contract and the
likelihood of a strike, the Association had to face the issue of
its memberswillingness to cross the picket lines. Though we are
not a union, we are made up largely of liberals who are
reluctant to act in support of management. Thus the question
was: Can the AAA meet successfully in a hotel that is not merely
on strike, but where the workers were locked out? If not, what
are the alternatives? The inevitability of having to face this
issue raises further questions: Why was there no planning for
this likely event? I called my long-term friend, Lucille Horne,
on Oct. 12, to find out what was being planned, more to protect
my hotel deposit than as a call to action, and was surprised
when she blithely said she expected the strike to be over by
then. I should have been alerted by this response that sounded
more like Rumsfelds planning for Iraq than I like with the same
inevitability of disaster. It is of course not Lucilles job to
anticipate political disasters -- but what was going on in the
administration of Association affairs? Was there no realization
of the potential gravity of the situation? Why had there been no
canvass of the membership to measure its commitment to support
the strikers and its attitude toward crossing picket lines? The
opacity of the action that was taken, the sudden and very
limited referendum and the decision to take action quite unlike
any proposed in the referendum all combine to alienate the
membership and exacerbated the latent antagonism that always
lies between authority and rank-and-file. It is this alienation
that the leadership, both elected and employed, must do all in
its power to dispel. It can do this only by a full disclosure of
what was said and done leading up to the decision to move to
Atlanta and to keep us posted on actions currently being taken
with respect to the future. The members need to know in detail
just how matters were handled, when was the gravity of the
situation realized, what the initial reactions were, what the
staff was doing about it, what voices came from the members and
whose voices and what knowledge came to dominate the decisions.
In short, full disclosure!

The meetings have been held; they were a travesty for the
participants, a tragedy for those who most needed them,
particularly the young and hungry, and an on-going threat to the
integrity of the Association. I feel that neither you nor Bill
appreciates the gravity of this situation, and your round-robin
letter describing the meetings does nothing to dispel this fear.
I had been astonished to find no call for a plenary session to
explain and discuss the matter at the meeting, if only to
release a little steam. Sitting in the so-called business
meeting was like discussing the relative merits of Evian Water
over Vichy while the house was burning. It was surreal. There is
already an outside threat to use this situation to break up the
Association, but nobody seems to have taken the trouble to
recognize the presence of that elephant in the parlor.
The only overt expression of awareness and of negotiations was
the session called by Paul Durrenberger and Suzan Erem. It gave
us a peek at what went on, but did not explain your and Bills
role and the decision-making process. Apparently outside
consultants were used but no consultation with the membership.
There should have been a session called specifically to discuss
the issue, with yourself presiding, Bill, Lucille and the
President-elect there, in which you outlined for us the history
of the action and took questions from the floor.
I urge you now to make up for this failure by establishing a
forum in the Newsletter, in which you set forth in painful
detail all the discussions and action, starting with the first
recognition of the existence of a crisis and continuing on over
the years, taking letters of condemnation and advice as well as
describing on-going actions until the crisis of 2006 has been
resolved. Perhaps this letter could be published as an open
letter as a kick-off for such a forum. I urge that you and the
staff be open and frank. The crisis was not of your making and
the solution was not self-evident, yet the one reached was far
from ideal and the membership deserves to know just how it was
arrived at and what other solutions were considered. This forum
should, if necessary, replace less urgent materials. You dont
want a call for a commission of enquiry on the matter, which is
the last thing we need.

2. The Coming Crisis. The Faustian bargain reached for the 2004
meeting means that we must meet the devil face to face very
soon. You must realize that this strike/lock-out is no mere
local conflict, but a major confrontation between labor and
management. The union is the largest one in the public sector
and represents not only the poorest of the working poor but
those very people who are trying to lift themselves out of the
poverty level, into which their un-unionized counterparts fall.
It is, furthermore, a battle for unionization itself, a battle
that had its first skirmish with Reagans defeat of the flight
monitors union when he took office. I was dismayed to hear one
of the Association officers, whose name I do not know, dismiss
the matter as being just a house-keeping girlsissuewhen we had
important issues like what should be done about Iraq (about
which we can have zero influence) to discuss. I suggest you ask
Paul Durrenberger and/or Suzan Erem do explain what is involved,
for they are far better qualified than I am to do so. Any
assumption that the problem will go away is just more Rumsfeld
thinking.Indeed, management will very likely want to chastise us
for having walked out of San Francisco.

I cannot advise you on how to solve the problem, but I can
suggest some courses of action you should take now. The first is
to get the best measure you can of the temper of the Association
membership. How many would boycott a meeting that was on strike;
how many would refuse to cross a picket line, etc. The second is
to create an ad hoc committee made up of knowledgeable people, I
would presume chaired by the President-elect, who is saddled
with the issue, to explore alternatives, assay their costs and,
for those that seem viable, get membership reaction. Third, I
would be open about all actions taken, keeping the membership
informed through the Forum in the Newsletter and by email.
You have my sympathy, Liz. I have no doubt of your good
intentions but I am not impressed with your performance to date.
It is not an easy task and I am sure you will have to give up
doing a lot of things with your term of office that are more
dear to your heart. But it has fallen on your shoulders and you
and your President-elect will have to spend long, agonizing
hours working on it, learning as you go. But nothing is more
important than the resolution of this internal issue to keep our
Association intact. If you succeed, you will have accomplished
something more important than anything on your (or my) resume.

Happy Holidays!
Walter Goldschmidt, UCLA

Robert T. O'Brien
AAAUnite Ad Hoc Committee
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
robrien at temple.edu

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