Past President Virginia R Dominguez

AAA President Virginia R Dominguez2011 AAA President's Report

Virginia R Dominguez
AAA President, 2009-11

It is my privilege to report on the state of the association, as I see it two years into my presidency.  As you know, I include Presidential Columns or interviews in many issues of Anthropology News, sharing ideas, innovations, challenges, praise, and concerns with the membership as well as actions taken by your AAA Executive Board and Officers to support the profession, promote many of our widely held goals, and make inroads beyond the present state of the profession.  As I wrote last year, I hope you are finding them useful and timely.  In them I have stressed the question of “value”  (both in anthropology and with respect to anthropology), the challenge of moving outside our comfort zones in working with colleagues who do not live in the U.S., and the need for thoughtful response to debate, violence, tragedy, and memories of them.

Here I report, more generally, on the state of the association, its successes, stresses, innovations, and possibilities. The priorities I outline below reflect my continued desire for innovation and improvements in some arenas, but also my enormous appreciation for the work that you all do and the wide range of interventions you make as anthropologists in many walks of life.

Please know, first and foremost, that the association’s financial reserves continue to be good.  As I reported a year ago, they have definitely recovered since the lows of 2008 and early 2009.  In addition, AAA’s overall membership numbers have remained fairly stable (in fact, increasing, despite the financial hardship experienced by many anthropologists at all stages of life over the past 3-4years).   That is good, but I continue to try to make it better.  I want our association to grow, to develop even more collaborative relations with other anthropological associations in the United States and around the world, and to be proactive vis-à-vis new media, the publishing world, the academic world at all levels of teaching and research, the press, NGOs, and the funding agencies (both public and private).  

Six sets of issues continue to organize my own work on behalf of AAA and my sense of its achievements, opportunities, and challenges: (1) membership, (2) internal and external relations, (3) publishing now and in the near future, (4) innovations, (5) improvements, and (6) expanding our public presence and visibility beyond the profession of anthropology and its more usual venues. Under each numbered issue (below), please find reference to actions taken and activities in progress since late fall 2010.

(1) Membership

  • The Undergraduate Membership category (created by the AAA EB at its May 2009 meeting and  officially made available to the membership and public in 2010) continues to grow.  I am happy to report that over 100 new Undergraduate Members have taken advantage of the special Presidential Incentive Program for Undergraduates that I first announced in the December 2010 issue of Anthropology News. It is a pledge I made to the AAA to provide a $10 subsidy on a one-time basis to the first 500 new undergraduate members joining between December 1, 2010, and November 30, 2011, and wishing to add a second or third Section to their AAA membership.
  • The AAA Finance Committee, senior staff, and AAA Officers have continued review of the AAA membership dues structure, as promised a year ago, and the issue is now on the Agenda of the AAA Executive Board.
  • Recognizing the financial hardships experienced by many anthropologists in the current economy, AAA leadership and staff have done yeoman’s work keeping AAA dues stable (i.e. not raising dues).
  • The New Orleans AAA Meeting was so popular and so well-attended that it seems to have boosted our overall AAA membership to highs not seen for several years.  The Montréal AAA Meeting attracted the largest number of paper submissions and registrations in recorded AAA history this April 2011.  Therefore, membership in AAA remains strong despite economic challenges faced by most anthropologists and also despite the debate many anthropologists had about “science” and the AAA Long-Range Plan this past winter.
  • There may, however, be a shift worth noting in the constitution of our overall AAA membership.  The number of AAA members not living and working in the U.S. continues to grow and, as of this summer, constituted about 22-23% of our AAA membership.

(2) Internal and External Relations


  • Between March and April 2011, I attended the annual conference of the Society for Economic Anthropology (SEA) and the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), in addition to the annual conference of AAA’s own Central States Anthropological Society.  I had formal speaking roles at both the SEA and the AAPA (the latter at its AAPA Business Meeting), but I have also spent much informal time with many of my counterparts in these associations and their fellow association leaders.  Conversations continue this fall with the new presidents of the SEA and the AAPA (Kate Browne and Lorena Madrigal, respectively) regarding possible collaborations on projects or partnerships of various sorts between their associations and the AAA.
  • In addition, the Archaeological Institute of America and the Linguistic Society of America have made overtures to the AAA over the course of late spring-early fall 2011, and I have been very pleased to show interest and support for a range of possible partnerships between each one of these associations and the AAA (including AAA’s Sections on archaeology and linguistics, both of which have been consulted and are enthusiastic about furthering collaborations).
  • Since the WCAA Meeting in late August 2010 in Maynooth, Ireland, I have been co-leading a Task Force of the WCAA (the World Council of Anthropological Associations) considering the establishment of an entity or organization of anthropologists that we first considered calling Anthropologists without Borders but have now decided to call by its Portuguese name, Antropologos sem fronteirras, (ASF).  Plans are to establish it officially in Brazil as a pilot project of the WCAA and then see how it grows or changes.  While this is not a AAA initiative per se, and should not be a AAA initiative given its potentially delicate international dimensions, it is an example of a substantive project currently undertaken by the WCAA (of which the AAA is a part).  It is also related to ideas that some AAA and SfAA members had floated in recent years.
  • The WCAA interim meeting in Perth, Australia:  I am grateful to Leslie Aiello, Wenner-Gren Foundation President and member of the current AAA CWA who was able to attend this WCAA interim meeting, and who represented AAA at this meeting.
  • IUAES:  the AAA has rejoined IUAES.  We paid dues in February 2011 for 2010, rejoining at about the same time as the Wenner-Gren Foundation.  The AAA rejoined once the IUAES revised its dues structure.  The AAA is quite interested in supporting a newly invigorated, more transparent, and truly international IUAES.

      (B) INTERNAL:

  • The AOC has done further work considering the Final Report of the AAA Commission on Race and Racism, and I support continuation of such discussions and proposals.  There are short-term possibilities and longer-term actions we might choose to take.
  • In late May, the AAA Executive Board adopted and endorsed a careful statement developed by CoPAPIA (the AAA Committee on Practicing, Applied, and Public Interest Anthropology) to be used by groups and institutions evaluating scholarship in academic promotion and tenure cases involving practicing, applied, and public interest anthropological work.
  • Section Assembly seems to be working well, thanks to Section Assembly leadership.  Vilma Santiago-Irizarry and I coauthored a letter sent to Section heads in late June 2011 reporting on the actions taken by the AAA Executive Board at our late May 2011 meeting and the way we are addressing issues of concern and interest to the Sections.
  • The AAA Executive Board responded to the 5-year review of the AAA Committee on Ethics by adding two new appointed seats.  Likewise, it responded to the 5-year review of the AAA Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology by adding four new appointed seats.  Over the course of the summer and early fall, I succeeded in finding excellent colleagues to serve in those seats:  Woody Gaines and Simon Craddock Lee on the CoE, and Sonia Ryang, Jasmin Habib, Raymond Codrington, and Lawrence Cohen on the CMIA.
  • Two surveys of AAA members were conducted this fall: one more general and one focusing specifically on our work vis-à-vis colleagues in countries other than those of our primary residence.  The last AAA survey aiming to obtain comprehensive information for use by AAA in helping it set its priorities was conducted in 2005.

(3) Publishing now and with an eye toward the next 5 years

  • As you know by now, the AAA succeeded in getting a new and very favorable contract with Wiley-Blackwell, thanks to the EB’s discussion and vote in late May 2011 but also thanks to very careful and attentive work on the part of both Oona Schmid, AAA Director of Publications, and Bill Davis, AAA Executive Director.
  • CFPEP has done an enormous amount of thoughtful work this summer and fall as well as throughout the past two years.  One proposal from CFPEP concerning a reconsideration of electronic materials in tenure and promotion cases has been sent to the ACC for consideration and is on our EB agenda here in Montréal as well.  CFPEP has also developed a series of webinars on issues connected to current and future publishing and their role in the world(s) of anthropology at the moment but also in the near future.
  • AA Editorship—Laurie Graham has diligently and diplomatically pursued the task with which she was entrusted, bringing to the last stages of the process a strong group of Finalists being interviewed at these meetings in Montréal.  Laurie and I, however, have both chosen to recuse ourselves from these last stages of the process, because of a perceived conflict of interest that exists with one of the Finalists.  AAA Past Presidents Jane Buikstra and Don Brenneis have kindly agreed to act as Chairs Pro Tem of these last 2 stages of the Search Committee’s work.
  • Anthropology News Online went live early this fall to much acclaim.  We are delighted with interest in this online version of AN, its creative use of cyberspace, and AN Staffer Amy Goldenberg’s leadership in making this happen.

(4) Innovations

  • INSIDE THE PRESIDENT’S STUDIO continues.  I have now done 16 STUDIO interviews, most recently with the Leslie Aiello, biological anthropologist and current president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. They have been diligently posted and continue to have a sizable audience both inside and outside the U.S.
  • The AAA Writers Circle has a pool of experienced Op-Ed and magazine writers who have agreed to be available. UIUC doctoral student Sophia Balakian works with AAA Director of Public Affairs Damon Dozier to promote it. We have added materials to the AAA website (tips, samples, names of Writers Circle members/volunteers), and Sophia works with Damon Dozier on other “new media” ways of spreading the word.
  • The process of consulting on a second potential public project for AAA continues, with President-Elect Leith Mullings reaching out to the leadership and the membership and generating serious interest.  AAA staff has been working this fall to locate potential sources of funding for the 3 areas/topics that the EB identified in May 2011 as its highest priorities.
  • The Rapid Response Network (created in May 2010 following the conclusion of the work done by CEAUSSIC, the Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology in the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities) continues to exist and EB member, Hugh Gusterson, continues to be its Coordinator.  Hugh brought important items of concern to the RRN and to the EB to the May 2011 EB meeting.  Hugh also co-led (along with Alisse Waterston) an Ad Hoc group of the EB this summer considering anti-immigrant legislation developing throughout much of the U.S. and ways the AAA and its EB could proceed.
  • The AAA Committee on World Anthropologies, created by a vote of the EB in late July 2010, has been working under the leadership of Setha Low and Gustavo Lins Ribeiro.  Four members of the original Commission agreed to stay on through November 2011 as appointed short-term members (Faye Harrison, Leslie Aiello, Claire Smith, and Don Brenneis), and three other colleagues agreed to serve the standard appointed terms on this committee (Monica Heller, Didier Fassin, and Nandini Sundar).  Four new members, elected in spring 2011, will take their seats on CWA at the end of these AAA Meetings.  They are Ulf Hannerz, Dominic Boyer, Carla Guerron-Montero, and Laurie Krieger.  Niko Besnier will replace incoming VP/President-Elect M. Heller.
  • The Task Force on (Anthropological) Education, created a year ago, has been working diligently under the able leadership of Teresa McCarty.  Several important sessions and activities are happening here in Montréal  as a result of their vision and hard work.  This includes discussions with the leaders of the RAI process that led to the creation of a secondary school-level curriculum in anthropology in the U.K.
  • AAA Task Force on Climate Change:  I spent much time over the late spring and summer constituting the new AAA Task Force on Climate Change.  I am delighted to report that Shirley Fiske, who agreed to chair the Task Force, is working efficiently and productively with her 8 other colleagues on the Task Force, including submitting grant proposals that will enable the Task Force to have a sustained face-to-face meeting in 2012.

(5) Improvements

  • The new AMS system that went live in late winter 2011 continues to be tweaked.  AAA staff member Lisa Myers continues to do an important and diligent job improving the efficiency of our new AMS system.  Her new assistant, Travis Raup, hired this summer, has already proven himself very helpful to her and to the Sections, several of which are working closely with him on their websites.
  • The AAA Task Force charged with reviewing and revising the AAA Code of Ethics continued its work throughout 2011, and submitted its Final Report and proposed draft of a new AAA Code of Ethics to the AAA Executive Board at the beginning of November 2011.  It is now in the hands of the AAA Executive Board.
  • The process we developed in 2010 to choose a Meetings Services support vendor worked well, and the AAA staff reports being pleased with our collaboration with Conference Direct since then.  Since INMEX continues to interest some of our membership, I wanted to reiterate that our 2010 process worked well.
  • I have helped my successor, Leith Mullings, review the new process for handling Long-Range Planning developed during my term as President-Elect, and make plans accordingly for 2012.  With the need this past winter to revisit and revise the AAA Long-Range Plan developed and adopted by the EB in 2010, nearly all of the Executive Board’s effort on Long-Range Planning focused on revisiting and revising the document.  We are now talking about ensuring that the monitoring and review of our allocations and priorities for AAA continues as originally envisioned in 2008 and 2009.

(6) Expanding our public presence and visibility beyond our profession

  • New Anthropology and Public Policy Award: This was developed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy and endorsed by the AAA Executive Board this past spring 2011.
  • The Florida Governor’s dismissive public statements about anthropology beginning on October 10, 2011, demanded an immediate response.  I made sure that an official AAA response (co-signed by me and Executive Director Bill Davis) was sent within hours.  I have been delighted to see many subsequent forceful responses in defense of anthropology as well as the liberal arts.
  • At its May 2011 meeting, the AAA Executive Board passed two motions in direct response to U.S. legislative activity and growing military/intelligence connections to universities and research institutes.  The former was a decision not to hold AAA conferences (at any level) in the State of Georgia because of its recent passage of discriminatory and worrisome anti-immigrant legislation, most specifically HB87.  This motion resembled the motion passed by the AAA Executive Board in May 2010 with respect to Arizona.  The second EB motion was a motion deriving from a Resolution passed at the 2010 AAA Business Meeting. This EB motion expressed concern about the increasing number of military research centers at universities and directed the Rapid Response Network to develop guidance for anthropologists working with such centers. The exact wording of both motions appeared in the September 2011 issue of Anthropology News.
  • The RACE Project continues to have a strong presence and to be extremely attractive to museums and other exhibition spaces around the country.  We are very pleased to report that it opened this summer in mid-June at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, to much acclaim and attention.  I am also pleased to report that I attended a special event and preview hosted by the head of NMNH on the eve of the opening, and that equally in attendance were RACE Project co-leader and AAA past president Yolanda Moses as well as fellow anthropologist Johnnetta Cole, now president of the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African Art.
  • The AAA’s Archaeology Division (AD) continues to be very active in its monitoring of ongoing or possible legislation or administrative actions vis-à-vis historical and archaeological sites, and reached out to me in my role as AAA President several times over the past year in search of public support and advocacy. I have followed our new advocacy process/policy (developed in August/September 2010) when these requests have come to me, thereby consulting the other AAA officers, the AAA Executive Director, and AAA legal counsel, where needed.  Wherever we have all agreed to go forth with one of these public statements, I have been pleased to do so on behalf of the AD but also the profession as a whole.
  • The AAA’s special Task Group on Language and Social Justice (a joint task force of the AAA Committee for Human Rights and the AAA’s Society for Linguistic Anthropology) continues to try to educate and influence the U.S. Census Bureau in its conceptualization of households that may not just speak English.  Linguistic anthropologist Ana Celia Zentella keeps up the pressure with skill and vision.  I have supported their efforts whenever I have been approached for support.
  • National funding agencies and the U.S. Congress:  Much time and effort has been spent this winter, spring, and summer monitoring Congressional discussion and legislative moves affecting (or having the likelihood of affecting) the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  Staff members Bill Davis and Damon Dozier have worked well together, and with AAA leadership, to generate materials in support of anthropology to be used by senior leaders of NSF and NEH (as well as desk officers handling anthropology).  As of now, funding is not increasing but we also seem to have avoided the worst imaginable cuts and their impact on anthropological research.
  • Human Subjects Protection review: Early this August I charged the AAA Committee on Ethics with the task of developing a response on behalf of the association to the proposed new (U.S.) rules for Human Subjects protection in research projects (ANPRM).  I also asked AAA staff to post news of this governmental announcement on our AAA website, including mentioning that individuals and groups alike were welcome (and invited) to submit comments.   The AAA Committee on Ethics in turn asked current member Lise Dobrin and past committee chair Rena Lederman (officially on the Friends of the CoE) to do the analysis and prepare a response on behalf of the AAA Committee on Ethics.  I then received the official CoE statement and, following our official AAA Procedures for Advocacy Letters and Statements, I consulted with the other 3 AAA Officers, the AAA Executive Director, and AAA’s legal counsel before submitting the AAA CoE document in late October to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the careful and thoughtful work of expert anthropologists analyzing the likely impact of the new proposed rules on large segments of the anthropological profession.  We are greatly indebted to Lise Dobrin and Rena Lederman for preparing the detailed, lengthy, and thoughtful response on behalf of many segments of the profession and for consulting with others as they prepared their 10,000 word “comment.”
  • Several items under #4 (above) fit in here, too:  The Writers Circle, the second potential public project, the Rapid Response Network, and the AAA Task Force on Education.

*This is an updated version of the report distributed at the 2011 AAA Annual Business Meeting in November 2011. An abbreviated version appears in the December 2011 Anthropology News.

From Virginia R Dominguez