Jere L. Bacharach, University of Washington
(appeared in the MESA Newsletter, February 2000)
Responding to the Needs of a Diverse Membership
One challenge facing your MESA Board of Directors is to reflect the diverse views of an organization of over 2,600 members while giving clear guidelines to an exceptional staff lead by Executive Director Anne Betteridge, currently on leave, and Acting Executive Director Mark Lowder. An example from our recent spring meeting will illustrate my point.
At the 1999 annual meeting a few individuals and exhibitors expressed to me very serious reservations about their ability to attend the 2003 meeting planned for Anchorage.
Although a small majority of members had voted for Anchorage over Minneapolis in 1998 and the MESA membership had been informed of the decision in the August 1998 MESA Newsletter, and even though no one had voiced reservations before we signed a contract, I nevertheless asked the MESA office to revisit the issue.
By the time the Board met, extensive information on comparative costs, travel possibilities, and penalties for breaking the contract were available for all Board members. MESA will spend much less on the Anchorage meeting than one in San Francisco, Minneapolis, or most other U.S. cities: audio-visual rental rates are approximately one-third lower, food & beverage rates about one-half lower, set-up rates for exhibitors one-half or more lower, lodging for MESA staff and board members three-fourths lower, and Anchorage has no sales tax with room rates significantly lower than what we can find for 2003 in the contiguous 48 states.
The negative factors for Anchorage include the cost of flying to Alaska, which appears to be about $100 to $150 more than a flight from the east coast to many western U.S. cities (as long as a Saturday night is included), and the time it takes to get there. Projecting an attendance significantly lower than any non-D.C. meeting, the estimated net profits for MESA before paying a penalty would be within $10,000 of our San Francisco meeting and above a number of others because costs would be so low. In addition, if we negated our commitment to Anchorage, MESA could owe a cancellation fee as high as $35,000.
Given these considerations, the Board unanimously reconfirmed our decision to be in Alaska in 2003 and we hope as many of you as possible will plan to join us.
Recognizing that a better and faster exchange of information is needed, MESA has instituted two e-mail list services. The first includes MESA’s almost 50 institutional members from AUC and AUB to the Universities of Virginia and Washington. Each institution designates one or more individuals as their correspondents on the list. A second list is for over 30 organizations affiliated with MESA, including the Society for Armenian Studies and the Turkish Studies Association. We hope that the institutional members and affiliated organizations will share information circulated on the listserv with their members. For example, we sent out an announcement that the preliminary MESA 2000 program was available on the MESA web site so that we could get appropriate feedback before the final version was printed.
Another issue on which we would like member input involves submission of individual papers versus pre-organized panels for our annual meeting. The problem is that the program committee finds that more and more of its time is spent trying to put together panels from the accepted papers. For the 2000 annual meeting, three hundred papers were in pre-organized panels and, in most cases, the only decision was to accept or reject them. On the other hand, two hundred individual papers or 83% of those proposed for the Orlando meeting had to be put into panels. To deal with this massive organizational issue the MESA Board is seriously considering restricting the submission of individual papers to graduate students while requiring all others to be in pre-organized panels. Before we put this in place, why not share your views on the matter? Please write directly to Mark Lowder or e-mail him at email@example.com so that we have your input before our fall meeting.
I find I brag about MESA’s responsiveness to changes in the many disciplines and fields associated with our membership. The annual program and publications—IJMES and MESA Bulletin—serve as a record of these changes. I am particularly proud of the increasing participation of female scholars, specialists resident outside the U.S. and Canada, and individuals whose names reflect Middle Eastern origins. The geographic boundaries of what we include in our studies and programs have expanded into Central Asia, Europe and other regions. In addition, more and more panels and publications reflect interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary approaches to an ever-growing range of issues. To sustain this record and improve upon it, two things are needed from you – your input and your financial support. I hope you will be active on both fronts.