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News & Press: AAALetter

From the Past President

Wednesday, April 25, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim McNamara
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As I begin my final year on the Executive Committee (EC) of the Association, as Immediate Past President, I would like to look back on the past year.  Shortly after the 2017 Portland conference, the EC received a letter signed by 30 members of the Association, urging the Executive to honour more adequately the 2013 ‘Resolution Affirming Commitment to Promoting Diversity in AAAL’ which reads:  The Executive Committee, the Nominating Committee, and the Conference Chair of the American Association for Applied Linguistics make concerted efforts to promote diversity at all levels of the conference, the organization and in the field of applied linguistics’.  I welcomed this as an opportunity for the Association to review its practices at every level in the light of the Resolution.  Our immediate response was to create a Diversity Task Force chaired by Kathi Bailey, and including as members: Manka Varghese (who had sent the letter to us on behalf of the other signatories) as well as four members of the EC.  The Task Force prepared a list of 16 points for discussion at the face-to-face September EC meeting, at which a number of immediate actions were authorized: Changes to the conference Standing Rule designed to stress the need for the Conference Chair, Strand Coordinators and Reviewers to honour the Diversity Resolution;  a survey of the membership on the issue of Diversity; a pilot mentoring scheme at the conference called ‘Conference Conversations’; and measures to address diversity on the ARAL board.  An Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity was created, chaired by Peter De Costa, consisting of three sub-committees: One for the Diversity survey; one on mentoring of junior scholars and scholars from under-represented communities; and one analysing the programs of recent conferences to see to what extent they represented diversity.  The three sub-committee reports were presented by Peter at the March EC meeting.  Key takeaways included the continuing need to educate the membership on the question of diversity; the creation of a new Ad Hoc Committee on mentoring to evaluate the success of the Conference Connections initiative, to look at models for mentoring in other associations, and to propose a new mentoring system; and revision of the role of Strand Coordinator to stress responsibility for attention to the Diversity Resolution.  The results of the membership survey on issues relating to diversity were discussed in detail. Numerous other specific suggestions were made to improve the visibility of diversity at the conference. 

There were some questions as to the representativeness of the Executive Committee itself.  I am not sure that identity categories are the most relevant ways of identifying the strengths or weaknesses of the composition of the EC, but for the record, the 2017 membership includes 4 men and 6 women, one Latino, an Australian, a Canadian, a Japanese, a Singaporean and a Chilean, with three members US born; one handicapped person; and four LGBTQ individuals.  The latter in particular are heavily over-represented on the EC, and perhaps several of us should resign as a result.  Seriously, though, the issues raised by the signatories are complex, and there will inevitably be differences of opinion among members of the Association as to its primary responsibilities as a research organization.  Certainly, the initiative of the letter-writers has met with a sustained and serious response from the Executive Committee, which is ongoing; and the period of reflection and self-scrutiny which it has triggered is in my view very healthy for the organization. 

One other important initiative from our most recent meeting has been the decision to split the roles of Secretary and Treasurer, which will involve amendments to the by-laws, requiring a vote of the membership.  This was done in the light of the need for greater and more effective communication both internally with members, in the interests of transparency, and externally with those impacted by our research and researchers in other disciplinary associations. 

I want to congratulate Linda Harklau and her team on an outstandingly successful 2018 conference.  A highlight of the conference this year was the presence of the first recipient of the Distinguished Public Service Award, The Honorable Judge Ida Chen and her colleague Osvaldo Aviles of the Philadelphia Courts. An ongoing concern is the impact of the travel ban on those whose papers have been accepted for the conference who are prevented from attending as a result.

Finally, I want to again express my thanks to the Association for the opportunity to serve as President.  It has been one of the most significant and rewarding experiences of my professional life.  The fact that the Association elected a stranger from far away to take on this role speaks to the traditions of openness, liberality and commitment to public service which are among the finest aspects of American life, and which this Association represents so well. 

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