It’s not news that, over the years, I’ve critiqued our main professional organization on various occasions. I’ve been a member for a while now, and it seems to me that having a stake in the profession, and in an association that one’s membership dues helps to fund, means that one is free to offer commentary where one thinks things could (and should) be otherwise.
Maybe we could even go so far as say it’s an engaged member’s duty.
I’ve gotten called out a few times on Facebook, however, inasmuch as it may seem to some that I only shout criticisms from the periphery or, maybe, don’t put my service where my mouth is. But I was on the Board for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion for a while (reappointed to several terms, under two different editorial teams), added my name, a few years back, to the AAR’s database of possible external reviewers for departments, and have played senior leadership roles over the years with NAASR and also the now defunct Council of Societies for the Study of Religion. (I’m the President of the former now, having once been the Executive Secretary/Treasurer, and was President of the latter when its membership decided to end the organization and sell off its assets — the Bulletin [purchased by Equinox] and Religious Studies Review [which went to Rice’s Department of Religion]). So, like so many others in the field, I’m no stranger to helping out professional associations.
But as it happened, last year Aaron Hughes asked if I’d mind him putting my name forward to the AAR as a candidate for Vice President. I agreed, and so he nominated me.
Now, while there’s no reason for the nomination committee to be necessarily interested in any name that comes across its desk, the complete silence that greeted this nomination is something I’d suggest they address. (I have no idea if all nominees are greeted with the same silence, of course.) For only in light of this year’s two candidates being named recently (Janet R. Jakobsen and Laurie L. Patton), along with an invitation to vote, did I learn that mine was not one of the two names.
That is, it would have been nice to know that the committee (1) received the nomination and (2) actually did me the honor of considering it. They may have done both — but I have no idea. While not being so bold as to wish to learn why various names are not considered competitive (now that would indeed be interesting, since I assume it was, what?, reputation that informed their decision, since no one contacted me for anything), a little transparency would be a nice thing — for it would prevent nominees, such as myself, having to chase down some of those involved in the nomination process to see if their name was indeed even considered.
So this year, I plan to nominate Aaron — given the utter silence that attended his nomination last year I decided to make this issue public, here. Not sure what good that’ll do, of course, but a little knowledge shared among a wider group can’t hurt. It’s called accountability — the sort of thing the AAR asks of us in its research ethics statement and so the sort of thing we likely ought to expect of the committees that run the organization.
I’ve got other views on this, of course — like the need to entertain nominations from the floor, to at least give members the impression that the organization isn’t run by a small cabal, or the need to stop orchestrating nominations each year so that two like candidates always oppose each other each year. (Is this really the only way to ensure a diverse roster — the rationale I’ve heard cited for this practice). If it doesn’t cease, then at least let us know who decides it and which identifiable traits are on the table for next year, so we know who the correct person is to nominate…
But I can’t really offer too many other suggestions, since those of us who have not served on the nomination committee don’t really understand how it works.