ASA November 2009 AN Column

Anthropology News • November 2009 • Volume 50 • Issue 8
Paul L Doughty, Contributing Editor

How We Compare, Then and Now
As the annual meeting draws close we trust that ASA will be well represented in Philadelphia. We encourage you take part in our invited session on Thursday morning (December 3), followed by the annual Members Business and Board Luncheon at McCormick & Schmick’s Restaurant at noon. The meeting always brings questions about ASA, so I thought it would be interesting to review what the ASA founders said about our section’s goals.

In the March 1991 ASA column, by then editor Louana Lackey, ASA President William Schwab enumerated the ambitious aims of ASA as follows: (1) aid senior anthropologists continue to make scientific contributions; (2) help senior anthropologists pursue research through grants and contracts; (3) help senior anthropologists publish scientific data; (4) help senior anthropologists attend and participate in scientific meetings and associations; (5) plan and organize scientific sessions for the AAA and other related associations; (6) establish a listing of senior anthropologists; (7) establish an occupational, job and area registry for senior anthropologists; (8) create a list of available lectures and activities for senior anthropologists; (9) create a secretarial bureau to aid senior anthropologists; (10) correlate the studies of senior anthropologists and bring together cultural, physical, linguistic and archeological anthropologists; (11) petition for change in university customs and rules concerning senior anthropologists with regard to grants, status, office space and secretarial help; and (12) seek grants to accomplish the above goals. Of this ambitious list, we have done fairly well with numbers 1, 4, 5 and 10, and a little with number 3. The other goals listed are now either a function of the AAA, beyond our capacity as a section, or no longer central concerns.

In the same article, professor emerita Lucile E St Hoyme pointed out that retirees faced many financial challenges to their ability to remain active anthropologists upon reaching emeritus status. In particular she observed that changes made by the IRS regarding deductible expenses were especially onerous. The IRS decision two decades ago, St Hoyme said, would deny seniors financial incentives to continue their work, resulting in professional discouragement and a loss of valuable research—a policy that is “penny wise and pound foolish” in her words. But wait a minute! Couldn’t we say the same of the AAA dues structure as applying to retired members?

When one looks at other social science associations, retiree dues rates are dramatically different from ours. For example, the American Sociological Association charges retirees $44 for yearly dues; the American Psychological Association cuts rates after 25 years of membership, setting them at $0 after four years of retirement; the American Political Science Association offers two payment levels based on income, of $61 or $37 per year. And what are the AAA retiree annual dues? They range from $132 for those with income below $25,000, to $300 for those earning over $150,000. I worry about how many of the upcoming generation of a thousand “boomer” retirees will want to continue paying at current rates. There is an anticipatory solution to this dilemma, which relatively few have taken advantage of, but which I encourage. By becoming a Life Member, one can pay a large initial rate up front and receive a long-term benefit. In my case, at the urging of my prescient spouse I paid the (then) great sum of $600 in the late 1970s and never looked back.