Tag Archives: corporatization

Misguided exclusivity: On the Anthropology News commenting policy

I’ve been exceptionally dismayed this year by the retrograde, anti-open-access, profit-oriented publication philosophy at the American Anthropological Association. Earlier this year they announced that they were renewing their publishing contract with the corporate behemoth Wiley Blackwell. Now I notice that they also have a horribly misguided commenting policy for their online news site, Anthropology News. Here’s what the policy says:

Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approved. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.

On the one hand, this only means that anthropologists who can’t afford the Association’s exorbitant annual dues are going to be further excluded from the Association’s public forums. (There are rumors that many anthropologists only pay the annual dues in years when they are attending the Annual Meetings, because otherwise membership confers few useful benefits.) I am certain that no one is going to be incentivized to join the AAA merely to write a comment on this site, which implies that policy constitutes a harmful form of economic exclusion within the profession without any identifiable upside.

But on the other hand — and even more importantly — this commenting policy just further emphasizes the Association’s paleolithic relationship to technology (cf. their latest tech fail), and in particular their weak grasp on the culture of web publicity. Websites like AN are public spaces. There are cultural norms about how online discussions work in such spaces. It flagrantly disrespects these norms to provide public commenting facilities — as on any blog-like site — and then to deliberately reject all comments by non-dues-paying members.

To be clear: you don’t charge people cash to comment on your articles, because they are already giving you something for free by writing their comments. To comment is to contribute. To comment is to create a space of exchange where otherwise you just have a one-way transmission into the digital void. It’s fair to ask people to create accounts before commenting, to cut down on abuse, but there’s little precedent for making it into a cash transaction.

If you want to have members-only web forums, the generic convention is to hide them behind a login screen for members, instead of coupling a public comment box to an anti-public message. Thus the current policy is both hostile to the digital public and out of touch with web culture.

Scholarly meetings with a “Disclaimer and Waiver”

I’m guessing that most anthropologists don’t read the Disclaimer and Waiver to which you must consent when you register for conferences through the American Anthropological Association. It is a decidedly legalistic document, full of odd stipulations about liability, privacy, copyright, and responsibility. In principle it is an “agreement” between the user and the association, but as an exchange, it is decidedly one-sided: you the user are asked to give various things away, in return for which you get nothing in particular. And in form, it is identical to the End User License Agreements that, as we know, the vast majority of users accept without reading. It does not really seem to be written to be read; it seems to be written to be invoked in extremis in some moment of unexpected (yet planned-for) crisis.

In any event, it is a curious document. Here it is as of March 2016; I’ll highlight a few important passages.

Disclaimer and Waiver

As a condition of my participation in this meeting or event, I hereby waive any claim I may have against the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and its officers, directors, employees, or agents, or against the presenters or speakers, for reliance on any information presented and release AAA from and against any and all liability for damage or injury that may arise from my participation or attendance at the program. I further understand and agree that all property rights in the material presented, including common law copyright, are expressly reserved to the presenter or speaker or to AAA.

I acknowledge that participation in AAA events and activities brings some risk and I do hereby assume responsibility for my own well-being. If another individual participates in my place per AAA transfer policy, the new registrant agrees to this disclaimer and waiver by default of transfer.

AAA intends to take photographs and video of this event for use in AAA news and promotional material, in print, electronic and other media, including the AAA website. By participating in this event, I grant AAA the right to use any image, photograph, voice or likeness, without limitation, in its promotional materials and publicity efforts without compensation. All media become the property of AAA. Media may be displayed, distributed or used by AAA for any purpose.

By registering for this event, I agree to the collection, use, and disclosure of contact and demographic information. This information includes any information that identifies me personally (e.g. name, address, email address, phone number, etc.). AAA will use this information to: (a) enable your event registration; (b) review, evaluate and administer scholarships or other AAA initiatives; (c) market AAA opportunities you may potentially be interested in; and to (d) share limited information (e.g. title, company, address and demographic information) with third parties that perform services on behalf of AAA. AAA does not distribute email address or phone numbers to third parties or partners performing services on behalf of AAA. AAA may use this information for so long as AAA remains active in conducting any of the above purposes.

Continue reading Scholarly meetings with a “Disclaimer and Waiver”

What do you know about faculty democracy?

A correspondent of mine at the French group Sauvons L’Université asked me what I knew about the American institution of the “Faculty Senate.” The answer, loosely speaking, is not that much. The only time this issue has really even seen the light of day, on my campus, was in 2008 when there was a controversy over the Becker (formerly Milton) Friedman Institute that provoked long debates over faculty power (or its absence). On the other hand, in an extremely well-known case at the University of Virginia this year, the faculty and many other campus constituencies protested the removal of their president (Teresa Sullivan) and ultimately managed to get her reinstated in spite of opposition from the chair of their Board of Trustees. My general suspicion would be that the collective power of the faculty is rather minimal, at most American campuses, except in certain exceptional moments of crisis.

So here’s my question for you (assuming there are still people who have this blog in their blog readers): What is your assessment of the state of faculty democracy, in your personal experience? How would you describe the balance of power in your own institutions? What cases do you think are worth talking about? And what, if anything, do you think is worth reading on the topic?

Write a word in the comments, and we’ll see what we can collectively come up with!