[URBANTH-L]Dear Wally

ebrumfiel at northwestern.edu ebrumfiel at northwestern.edu
Wed Jan 19 15:14:58 EST 2005

Dear Wally,

Thank you for your letter of a couple of weeks ago.  It clearly expresses your ongoing concern for
the well-being for the AAA, and that is heartening.

As I understand it, your letter makes four points, two of which I agree with and two of which I
disagree with.

The first is that since I am the current President of the AAA, I am the one who is responsible for
the preservation of the organization.  I certainly agree with that!  I assure you that I have
thought hard and worked diligently since I took office fourteen months ago to make the AAA a better 
organization, one that serves the needs of all its members.  This has been particularly true during 
the past three months, as we faced the challenge of a lock-out of workers by the San Francisco
hotels.  I am painfully aware of my responsibilities to the organization and its members.

The second point you make is that the AAA is currently in crisis, on the verge of disintegrating.
I must respectfully disagree with this assessment.  Reading through the Section News of the January 
2005 AN, it seemed to me that there is widespread recognition that the Executive Board operated in
good faith when it voted to move the meeting to Atlanta.  This was true even of sections that went
ahead and held their own session in San Francisco.  There is also widespread concern about the
information available to the Executive Board when it made its decision and the flow of information
from the EB to the membership and from the membership to the EB.  These are definitely matters
requiring serious attention and reform, but they do not constitute a crisis.

The third point you make is that the AAA officers and staff ought to undertake a detailed and
public review of the events leading up to the decision to move the meeting to Atlanta.  I must also 
disagree with this position.  Such a review would undoubtedly yield conflicting accounts, leading
to further accusations and dissention.  It would also cost both the AAA officers and staff a great
deal of time and energy, time and energy that are better spent in more forward-looking efforts to
solve our problems and provide better membership services.  I think we know enough about what
transpired in October to agree that in situations like this, AAA officers and staff need to begin
to react earlier and to consult more extensively with the membership.  This was a very painful
lesson, but I am confident that we have learned it.

The fourth point you make is that the AAA ought to undertake reforms that will ensure that the
events of last October will not be repeated.  I agree entirely!  For this reason I am creating two
Commissions.  The Labor Relations Commission is charged with 1) providing information to the AAA
Executive Board and staff as they negotiate contracts that promote collective bargaining and the
right to organize while protecting the Association from liability and the disruption of its
scheduled annual meetings, and (2) seeking alliances with other scholarly associations for the
above purposes.  The Governance Commission will see reforms in the relationship between the AAA
Executive Board and the Sections and to facilitate communication and feedback mechanisms within the 
AAA as a whole between annual meetings.  Both of these Commissions come at the suggestion of
membership proposals in response to the Executive Board decision.

I think that the AAA has come though a difficult time fairly well intact.  Let us strive to make
2005 a great year for the organization!

With best wishes,

==============Original message text===============
On Wed, 19 Jan 2005 4:12:01 am GMT "Robert T. O'Brien" wrote:

  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.


  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.

  To: ebrumfiel at northwestern.edu From: Walter
  <walterg at ucla.edu> Cc: agoodman at hampshire.edu Bcc:
  bdavis at aaanet.org lhorne at aaanet.org

  Dr. Elizabeth Brumfiel, President American
  Association 2200 Wilson Blvd. Arlington VA 22201

  Dear Liz,

  This letter is being addressed to you, Liz, as the
  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
  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
  terminology correctly, and whether this advisory is
  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
  reluctant to act in support of management. Thus the
  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
  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
  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
  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
  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
  In short, full disclosure!

  The meetings have been held; they were a travesty
  for the
  participants, a tragedy for those who most needed
  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
  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
  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

  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
  consultants were used but no consultation with the
  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
  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
  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
  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
  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
  informed through the Forum in the Newsletter and by

  You have my sympathy, Liz. I have no doubt of your
  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,
  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
  something more important than anything on your (or
  my) resume.

  Happy Holidays!

  Walter Goldschmidt, UCLA

Robert T. O'Brien
AAAUnite Ad Hoc Committee
http://AAAUnite.blogspot.comhttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/aaaunite/Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Temple University
robrien at temple.edu

"Don't mourn, organize!"
-- Labor organizer Joe Hill, before being murdered in 1915 by a firing squad.
===========End of original message text===========

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