SfAA President’s Column

24-1-01_eisenberg.pngBy Merrill Eisenberg
University of Arizona

It has been an honor and a pleasure to have served as your President for the past two years. As my term comes to an end, I will hand the gavel over to Roberto Alvarez at the Business Meeting in Denver. I thank you all for the privilege and look forward to continued service to SfAA in other capacities during the years to come. This last Presidential message to you is focused on the future of our organization.

As part of our “Beyond 75” initiative, we are taking steps to bring our processes and procedures into the 21st century. Our bylaws, the “sacred text” that guides what we do and how we do it, have not been updated since 1998. (Prior to this, bylaws changes were made every few years.) One of the initiatives the Board has wanted to implement is online voting, which was not an option in 1998; our current bylaws state that we must use paper ballots. In preparing a bylaw revision to allow online voting, we saw several other inconsistencies and discovered that the bylaws are currently confusing and difficult to follow and interpret. The Board therefore took on a full review of the bylaws and identified several other potential changes in how we operate that we may want to adopt.

Changing the bylaws requires a vote of the membership. The Board will develop new bylaws and they will appear on the paper ballot (hopefully the last paper ballot!) next fall. We have agreed that the new bylaws should:

  • Preserve the intent of our Founders
  • Be written clearly and concisely, and be well organized
  • Bring us into the modern age re: electronic communication, voting, etc.
  • Reflect good governance practices (oversight, fiscal management, representation)
  • Promote representation and participation of our membership
  • Maximize member voice

In the spirit of good governance, we have designed a bylaw revision process that provides a maximum opportunity for our membership to become informed and participate in the process. The process includes:

  1. Communication to the membership about why we are doing this, who has been involved, and what the process will entail—this column begins to accomplish this.
  2. Provision of a link to the existing bylaws: http://www.sfaa.net/bylaws.html.
  3. Provision of a discussion of each of the substantive changes being considered (provided below).
  4. Provision of a way for members to provide their opinions about the substantive changes being considered. If you are reading this electronically, comments may be made at the end of this article. If you are reading a hard copy, you may respond via email directly to me (Merrill@u.arizona.edu). In addition, substantive issues will be discussed at the Business Meeting in Denver.
  5. Member comments will be documented and summarized in the May SfAA News; there will also be an email blast with this information in May, and members may make comments at that time.
  6. The Board will consider all comments and feedback and develop new draft bylaws for member consideration on the fall ballot.

While this entire endeavor was sparked by our desire to move to online voting, that we believe that this issue is non-controversial. We will allow for online voting, but continue to offer a paper ballot to those who cannot access the online system. The substantive issues on which we are seeking member input include:

  • Defining of who we are:
  1. Should we add a tag-line to our name that recognizes our cross disciplinary and international membership?
  • Board composition:
  1. Should we expand the size of the Board of Directors?
  2. Should we create Board seats to represent particular constituencies?
  3. Should appointed Editors continue to be Board members, and if so, should they continue to have voting privileges?
  4. What model should we choose for the Treasurer’s position?
  • Nominations and elections issues:
  1. Should we keep the 2-year member requirement before a member can participate in voting?
  2. Should the term for the Nominations and Elections (N&E) Committee continue to be 2 years or should it be extended to 3 years?
  3. How can the N&E Committee have a closer relationship with the Board?

Below we provide a full discussion of these issues, in some cases with pros and cons identified. We urge you to consider the discussion below and comment, and to also attend the Denver meetings and participate in discussions at the Business Meeting and at the Roundtables.



Our name, the Society for Applied Anthropology, is focused on one social science discipline, Anthropology. However, from the inception of our organization the intent was to engage a wide range of social scientists to address contemporary social problems. Records indicate that our founders discussed having a name that expressed this interdisciplinary focus, but that the legal paperwork had already been drawn up and they did not want to postpone incorporation.

Today, our membership survey indicates that 83% of our members who have doctoral level degrees are anthropologists; the proportion decreases when we look at masters and bachelors level degrees. Short of changing our name to reflect our membership composition, the Board has approved a “tag-line” that clarifies who we are: “A Worldwide Organization for the Applied Social Sciences.” This tag-line would be incorporated into our bylaws and become part of our public image.

Question 1: Should we adopt the tag-line:

“A Worldwide Organization for the Applied Social Sciences”?




The Board of Directors has been discussing its composition—how many members should the Board have, what membership constituencies should be intentionally represented, and who on the Board should have voting privileges? Our current bylaws state that the Board is comprised of 14 members. These include 10 positions elected by the membership—the President and President-elect/Past President, the Secretary, 6 at-large members, and one seat reserved for a student – and 4 members appointed by the elected Board – the Treasurer and the editors of Human Organization, Practicing Anthropology and SfAA News. Candidates for the elected positions are vetted by the Nominations and Elections Committee, which is also elected by the membership. All members of the Board of Directors, including those who are appointed, currently have voting privileges.


The size of the Board has not grown since 1998, even though the SfAA membership has grown significantly. We are considering if the size of the Board should or should not be expanded. The related question of composition is addressed in separate notes.

Question 2: Should we expand the size of the Board of Directors?

Yes: Expanding the board adds more people to represent the SfAA membership. As our membership grows, and our fields of interest differentiate, a larger Board size will bring better representation.

No: The current size of the board works well, and larger boards can be more complicated to coordinate and bring to resolution. One related consideration is that if the publication editors are no longer voting members of the board, this allows room for three additional voted-in-office members without expanding the overall board size. (See Editors discussion below).




The issue discussed here is if there should be specific designated board positions for some major constituencies, and what exactly they should be. Currently our bylaws call for one Board position to be designated for a student member. Other positions are elected “at-large.” But there could be other designated Board positions. For example, should there be a slot for practitioners (non-academic anthropologists)? For international (non-U.S.) applied anthropologists? Other constituencies?

Question 3: Should we create Board seats to represent particular constituencies?


Yes: Creating Board positions to represent constituencies ensures that some major constituencies are always represented; at-large voting tends to bypass important but non-dominant constituencies. A guarantee of inclusion of some constituencies is a pro.

No: Creating constituency positions may result in only “token” representation. Further, it will be difficult to select which constituencies merit designated representation. Finally, designated representation tends to fragment the organization and its membership.


  1. No change. Retain the designated student position, but do not create other designated positions.
  2. Identify specific constituencies to be represented on the Board. Identification of these constituencies could be decided by a membership vote, by a Business Meeting vote, or by consensus of the sitting Board members.
  3. Ensure constituency representation by having designated constituency representatives on the Nominations and Elections Committee, rather than on the Board, which recruits candidates to run for the Board and Officer positions.



Currently, the Editors of our three publications are appointed by the Board, and as ex-officio members of the Board, have full voting privileges and Board responsibilities. We have been discussing the role of the Editors and their responsibilities to the Board.

Question 4: Should Editors be Board members, and if so, should they have voting privileges?

Yes: The editors should be members of the Board with full voting privileges. SfAA Editors have long served on the Executive Board as voting members. Their service contribution to the Board has been significant through the years. Historically, Editors have made important contributions to SfAA governance and policies. There are several strong reasons why Editors should continue on the Board as voting members.

  1. SfAA Editors directly represent a large and key constituency of our membership: those who publish and read our publications. Editors are in contact and have exchanges with a diverse constituency within the SfAA. That allows Editors to provide the Board with valuable perspectives on a wide range of issues.
  1. The SfAA Editors need to be at Board meetings and with voting responsibilities to defend and protect the interests of their publications and readership. They need to understand a wide range of issues that the Board addresses so that they can assess the impact of Board decisions on our publications. Furthermore, Editors must be well informed about the history and policies of the SfAA, and so they provide a key level of functionality to the Board actions and reviews. Voting rights, responsibilities and equality of participation in Board decisions also sustain the commitment of the SfAA Editors to their publications.
  1. Board members are elected representatives of the membership charged with administrative and fiduciary responsibilities. The Board continually reviews and monitors the SfAA Editors and their publications carefully. Additionally, their work is itself publicly vetted every time a new issue is published. The Board selects Editors through a rigorous and transparent process. Editors are representative of a clear sector of the Society, i.e., those who write, publish and communicate their ideas, experiences and research to the rest of the membership. This is an example of a representative democracy.
  1. From a functionality perspective, Editors provide continuity to the Board since they serve longer terms—between 3 and 6 years normally—versus three years for At-Large Board Members. This helps provide institutional memory on past policies, decisions and outcomes.
  1. The Board has not had any issues or problems with Editors having voting responsibilities. Furthermore, the SfAA is a unique organization with a venerable history. We should not be driven by what other professional organizations do in terms of editor roles on their board.

No: While it is important for there to be good communication between the Board and the Editors, because they are not elected by the membership, they should not vote on the full range of Society business. The editors of our publications provide a significant contribution to the functioning of our Society. Their insight should certainly be valued and considered by the Board, but their role as editors does not necessarily include organizational policy-making responsibilities. Below we list some reasons why Editors of our publication should not be voting members of our Board. Arguments against Editors voting on the Board fall into two categories—workload for the editors and principles of “good governance.”

  1. Workload: Society governance and editing the publications of the Society are both major undertakings that require a great deal of time and attention. In addition to issues related to the Society’s publications, Board members are asked to study and make decisions about budget and financing Society activities, overseeing the Business Office, filling all Committee vacancies and serving as liaisons to the Committees, participating in planning activities and addressing issues that impact the future of the Society, making decisions about the annual meeting, and any other issues that arise. Although the Board meets face-to-face only two times per year, much of its business is conducted online throughout the year. Editors’ responsibilities are also year-round and are even more demanding than Board participation. While communication between the Board and the publication editors is crucial, it is not necessary for editors to participate in Board activities that are not related to the publications.
  1. Good governance: As the governing body of the Society, the Board should represent the membership of the Society. Representative democracy requires the consent of the governed, through the electoral process. Editors are appointed by the Board based on their qualifications to fulfill the responsibilities of editorship, not for their “representativeness.” The membership does not participate directly in this decision, and it would be cumbersome and logistically difficult to put editorship positions to the members for a vote.
  1. While editors have a unique relationship with authors, they do not “represent” authors. Further, authors are not necessarily Society members. In the most recent issue of Human Organization, for example, only 7 of the 13 authors are Society members. Editors can provide an important perspective in Board discussion, but since they are not elected by the membership, they should not be voting on Society business. Of course, editors can always be invited by the Board to participate ex officio in discussions specific to their publication or the Society’s publishing program generally.

Considerations of Board size are discussed in a separate note. Here we would like to point out that if Editors are relieved of Board responsibilities, 3 additional elected positions can be opened to our membership without having to expand the size of the Board. This would bring the ratio of members to Board member to approximately 1:173.


  1. No change. The bylaws should indicate that the editors are appointed by the Board and are considered to be officers of the Society, with full voting privileges and responsibilities on the Board.
  2. Editors serve on the Board without voting privileges, but responsible for all other Board member expectations.
  3. Editors report to the Board and are invited to Board meetings to discuss issues relevant to their publications.



Over the past 5 years, the annual budget for the Society for Applied Anthropology has increased from $319,000 in 2008 to $509,000 in 2013. With increases in membership, contributions, and the size of the annual meeting, the role of the Treasurer will continue to be of key importance for the Society for Applied Anthropology members.

Currently, the Treasurer is appointed by majority vote by the Board of Directors. Potential candidates are vetted for budget management experience and skills and previous participation with the Society. The Treasurer is a member of the Board of Directors and has full voting rights at the Board of Directors meetings. Through the bylaws revision conversation, potential alternatives to this Treasurer model have emerged. Regardless of the model, the Treasurer would continue to serve the Board and the membership, and be a member of the Board of Directors. The responsibilities of the Treasurer would also remain the same.

Question 5: What model should we choose for the Treasurer’s position?

  1. The Treasurer continues to be an appointed seat, but serves as an ex officio member without voting rights. Since the Treasurer is currently appointed, removing the voting right would ensure that voting members of the Board are elected by the membership.
  1. The Treasurer would be on the slate of candidates for election by the full membership. Candidates would submit materials to the Nominations and Elections Committee, the same as candidates for all other Board positions. The Nominations and Elections Committee would ascertain the nominees’ budget management experience. In this model, the Treasurer would continue to vote as a Board Member and representative of the membership at large.
  1. The Board vets potential candidates and presents a candidate for the Treasurer to the membership to be voted upon and approved. This could take place at the Annual Business Meeting. This would create a feedback loop from the membership, and provide support for establishing the Treasurer as a voting member of the board.




Our current bylaws state that members of SfAA may vote “on issues concerning the composition, the purposes and the commitments of the Society” only after paying dues a second time. During the first year of membership, there are no voting privileges. This requirement was enacted to ensure that people who are not members but who submit abstracts in the fall for our annual meetings (and therefore are required to become a member), are not voting in our elections, which also occur in the fall. The pros and cons of this arrangement are detailed below:

Question 6: Should we keep the 2-year member requirement for voter participation?


YES: Individuals who join SfAA solely to enable them to submit an abstract are not necessarily engaged in the broader interests of SfAA. Limiting voters to those who sustain membership beyond the first year is a way to create a voter pool that shares a commitment to the organization and a familiarity with organizational issues and activities.

No: Limiting voting privileges to those who have paid dues for 2 years not only eliminates those who join specifically to submit an abstract, but also those who joined earlier in the year because of their interest and identification with the applied social sciences. Extending voting privileges to these individuals can strengthen our organization and nurture their commitment to SfAA. Some one-time members may end up voting, but overall, voting participation has been low and it is not likely that those who are not committed to the organization would take the time to complete a ballot.


  1. No change. Requirements for voting in an SfAA election include having paid dues two times.
  2. Remove the requirement for voting that restricts voters to those who have paid dues two times.
  3. Create a cut-off date, prior to the abstract solicitation, for voting in the fall election. For example, if someone joins between January and June, they can vote in the fall election, but if they join between July and December, they cannot.




The current bylaws establish an elected Nominations and Elections Committee composed of 4 members who serve staggered 2 year terms. The membership elects the Committee members, and one of these members is designated by the Board as the Chair. This Committee is responsible for soliciting nominations for itself and for the elected officers and at-large members of the Board of Directors, for proposing a slate of candidates for these positions, and for hand counting the votes. (Our current bylaws do not allow for electronic elections; the new bylaws will allow for voting online.) The N&E Committee operates separately from the Board. No N&E members currently serve on the Board.

Question 7: Should the term for the N&E Committee be extended from 2 to 3 years?


Yes: It would be more practical if the election were for three years. The first year is difficult because the members have to become familiar with the list of Society members and go over their web pages to get feedback about their research and anthropological work/interests in order to identify them as possible candidates for the open positions. It is also hard because the nominations need to agree with the overall goals of the Society. The second year becomes a little bit easier because the “dynamics” and process is already learned but this is the very last year of the membership to the committee. If we add a third year, we can take advantage of the knowledge and ‘dexterity” already acquired during the two years and selections will be easier. At the same time, we can count on members of the committee who have already the experience in “coaching” the new members.

No: Because terms are longer, turnover on the committee will be slower, and hence fewer different individuals will be participating

Question 8: How can the N&E Committee have a closer relationship with the Board?


The N&E Committee is responsible for identifying prospective Board members, but currently has little knowledge of what the Board does or how it operates. It is important for prospective Board members to understand the commitment required to be an effective Board member before they stand for election. Our bylaws should create a stronger linkage between the Board and the N&E Committee.


  1. The N&E Committee Chair, elected by the membership and designated by the Board, should serve as an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors, without voting privileges on the Board.
  2. The Past-President should serve as an ex-officio member of the N&E Committee, without voting privileges on N&E. This would ensure that the Committee has at least one member who is familiar with the responsibilities of being a Board member. It would bring a fuller understanding of the scope and level of work required into the committee discussions without imposing on the Chair. It will, however, lengthen the commitment of the Past- President by 1 year.
  3. A member of the Board should be assigned by the President to be the liaison to the N&E Committee. This person would not be an N&E Committee member, but would serve in consultation to the Committee.

I look forward to a robust discussion of all of these issues at the Business Meeting and in Roundtable discussions that are on the Conference schedule.

Special Elections Note:

Rachel Mason was recently elected to the Board of Directors but she is unable to serve because her employer has determined that she has a conflict of interest. In accordance with the bylaws, the Executive Board will appoint a substitute. The appointee will serve until the 2014 Business Meeting.  This at-large Executive Board position will appear again on the fall ballot and the winner will serve out the remaining year of the term starting at the Business Meeting in 2014. For a full list of the current Executive Board members, please go to the SfAA website. https://www.sfaa.net/officers.html.