MESA - Middle East Studies Association

PROS & CONS on the Proposed MESA Bylaws Changes

Two groups of MESA members, consisting of an historian, a political scientist and an anthropologist, who attended the MESA member meeting at the 2011 conference in Washington, DC, and heard the discussion prepared PRO and CON statements on the proposed bylaws change:


Points in favor of changing MESA's bylaws.


Points against changing MESA's bylaws.

  • A four year Presidential term will increase the continuity of leadership. It would provide additional time for the MESA president to complete long-term projects. It would facilitate fund-raising, because it often takes upwards of two years from the original contact with a prospective donor, until the donation is received. A more experienced president would handle better other representational aspects of the job such as in external relations:
    (a) representing MESA at broader meetings of area studies groups and other academic organizations; liaising with officials of and advocates for issues of federal funding; and (b) internal relations: internal activities: having time to develop ties with the MESA committees and their chairs; enjoying a longer and therefore more productive working relationship with the MESA staff; having a higher profile with the MESA membership and therefore being better able to rally that membership to support the organization.
  • Fewer presidential elections will stimulate more member voting.People will take the presidential elections more seriously if they are voting for a president with a longer term. Currently, the number of members voting on an annual basis are low (around 12-15%). (Elections of Board Members will remain unchanged: on an annual basis)
  • Fewer elections will cut down the time and labor involved in the elections process. The elections process, including electing the nominations committee, the process of nominating candidates and the actual voting process are time-consuming and labour intensive. By changing the by-laws, we will cut down the time and labour involved in one part of the election process; nominations for president-elect will occur only every other year (although nominations for new board members will still remain an annual responsibility). Hopefully, this will also generate more enthusiasm for voting for presidents as it will not happen as frequently.

Judith Tucker (History), Robert Freedman (Political Science), Nadje Al-Ali (Anthropology)

  • MESA has traditionally been an organization that emphasizes participation and has worked to involve as many scholars as possible in duties. If we were to elect a president every two years, that means instead of having ten presidents in ten years, we would have five presidents in ten years, denying five talented and able scholars the opportunity of serving as president, and denying MESA the ideas and talents that they could bring to the position.
  • MESA is a coalition of groups and interests, tribes, etc. We have groups representing Israeli studies, Palestinian studies, North African, Yemeni, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian, and so on as well as gender and disciplinary interests. This is one of the association's great strengths. A rotating presidency allows groups to be represented in turn. A rotating presidency highlights MESA's interregional and interdisciplinary character, and prevents power concentrations in regional or disciplinary studies, which could lead to feelings of exclusion or bias among the membership.
  • Virtually every MESA President has served on the Board before becoming President and therefore is ready to serve in whatever capacity called upon from the time he/she is elected to office. During his/her term as President, that individual puts aside their research and sometimes is able to negotiate a reduction in their teaching responsibilities so that they can give even more time to MESA. How many individuals are going to be willing to do that for two years? We think this change will discourage some of our better candidates from considering running for the office of President.
  • Every one of the current nine Board members serves on various committees but the reality is that over a three-year period every Board member including the President-elect and Past-President will be pressed at some point for time and energy to perform MESA tasks. The recommended bylaws changes will reduce the number of individuals available to serve to eight (a six member Board plus president and President-elect) placing even more pressure on the remaining members. This will hurt not help the organization.
  • It was argued in the meeting that only the president has the clout to rally donors and publicity. Presidents of MESA are chosen for service to our association and scholarly excellence. Once a president, the stature always remains with the individual. A group of past presidents, united in purpose, carries great weight when involved in fundraising or the like, and presents a solid front as representatives of the best MESA can offer.
  • MESA has been very fortunate to have active, involved, thoughtful presidents. Good presidents keep things moving well. If we had a less-engaged president, then we would be stalled for two years, which is one reason that almost every professional organization except the anthropologists have a one-year term for their president.
  • Each year many of us attend the awards ceremony to hear the presidential address. Each year we arrive with a curiosity and excitement that this year's presidential address will offer new insights and perspectives. Most presidential presentations are good to very good but very, very few are so memorable that we remember them years later. Under the proposed bylaw changes, the MESA President would give two presidential talks which could have an adverse impact on attendance at the award/presidential address ceremonies. Alternatively, having a presidential address only every other year would also reduce interest in and attendance at the annual awards ceremony.
  • The primary reason offered by the MESA Board for changing the office of the MESA President to a two-year term was to solve the problem of raising money and creating a substantial endowment. The concerns about MESA's financial future were also reflected in MESA President Fred Donner's email to all MESA members in December, 2011 asking them for donations. We agree that fund raising and creating an endowment are MESA's biggest challenges but the solution offered will not solve these problems.
  • Unlike academic institutions which have a wide range of naming opportunities–buildings, academic units such as centers and institutes, and, most of all, professorships–all of which are the source of significant contributions, MESA has virtually no such opportunities. In addition, MESA Boards from the 1990s at least, have been extremely sensitive to from whom they take money and in whose honor an endowment is named. MESA has turned down donations when they felt the individual who was to be named did not deserve this level of recognition, when they feared that having more than one individual honored from the same institution would undermine MESA's neutrality, and, as for money from governments, this was always a non-starter. In contrast, universities rarely worry about these issues happily taking large sums in honor of individuals few have ever heard of and from foreign governments.
  • If MESA is to create a healthy endowment then opportunities for individuals or groups to give donations of five figures or more must be created but naming must also be included. Appeals to members for small donations must always be part of a fund raising campaign but this approach will never be adequate.
  • Neither changes in the by-laws nor having a MESA President two, three or four years in office will solve the fundamental problem of MESA's need to create a significant endowment. We propose that MESA's development committee consider this issue and make recommendations to the Board as how to best proceed with development of an endowment.
  • Again, a one-year presidency is vital to retaining balance and sharing power among associate groups which is the hallmark of our interdisciplinary and interregional association. We argue against altering institutional arrangements which have served us well to this point.
  • We urge the MESA members to vote NO.

Jere Bacharach (History), Donna Lee Bowen (Political Science), Jon Anderson (Anthropology)


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