—and the Importance of YOUR Membership in AAS to You and to the Field of Asian Studies
The following post is a revised version of AAS Executive Director Michael Paschal’s column from the December 2016 issue of the Asian Studies E-Newsletter.
Traditionally the benefits of membership in the Association for Asian Studies could be measured in tangible terms, whether discount member rates for conference registration and other association products or in the number of print publications received. The latter have included at various times over the years the print Journal of Asian Studies (JAS), the Newsletter, Education About Asia, the annual conference program, and the AAS member directory. With the onset of the digital age however, many of these publications are now available to members through institutional subscriptions or via the AAS website. Some members might view the traditional print versions of the above as somewhat of a dubious benefit or even a liability when trying to find shelf space to store their full runs of the JAS. Of course, the costs to produce and distribute traditional print publications also continue to increase, which ultimately impacts the AAS operating budget and our ability to invest resources into other programs and initiatives. To address these issues, we would like to point out that members who no longer wish to receive the printed JAS may choose to “opt-out” and only receive the digital JAS (for instructions, see the JAS webpage).
With fewer print publications being provided or desired, what then are the benefits of membership in the AAS? This has been an ongoing issue of concern to the leadership of AAS and other scholarly membership associations for several years. Financial incentives of membership remain of course, but does a younger generation of scholars appreciate and value the same benefits derived from association membership as their predecessors, or have research methods, online resources, and other changes in the field reduced the appeal and benefits of membership? Have greatly increased communications made possible through technological advances and social media lessened the need for face-to-face networking that has been so critical for career development? This does not seem to be the case according to membership statistics. Over 1000 new members joined the AAS in 2016, and more than half were students. Obviously attracting new generations of scholars bodes well for the future of the association, but overall member numbers have continued to slowly decline in recent years despite the infusion of new blood.
It is apparent that many AAS members allow their memberships to “lapse” in years when they are not planning to attend the annual conference and do not need to take advantage of member registration discounts. Although this is a rational financial decision from a personal standpoint, it unfortunately also affects the AAS financially, and negatively impacts our ability to maintain ongoing services or undertake new initiatives to benefit members and strengthen the field of Asian Studies. Operating revenue for the AAS originates from three primary sources: membership dues, conference registration fees, and to a much lesser extent, advertising and sales of publications. Money from all these sources is not restricted to the same activity or area from which it is generated, but rather placed in a general fund that is used to support all AAS activities. Unfortunately, steadily rising costs of doing business combined with slowly declining member revenue make it increasingly difficult to balance the operating budget, much less initiate new programs, without acquiring significant outside funding support. Members who selectively come and go rather than maintaining the currency of their memberships therefore jeopardize the ability and overall effectiveness of the AAS to deliver programs and initiatives essential to the field.
Rather than considering only the tangible member benefits noted above, I would like to emphasize the intangible benefits derived from membership. Of course there are many benefits for individuals joining and participating in the various activities of professional membership associations, especially for younger scholars. Joining and taking advantage of networking opportunities and building professional relationships is still an essential element of career development. Being eligible for first-book publishing subventions, or student travel subsidies to attend and participate at the annual conference, are additional obvious benefits. But members also should consider their participation in AAS as contributing to the strengthening of the field and “paying forward” the benefits and opportunities that were provided to them by earlier generations of scholars, much as their own academic research undoubtedly is built upon the work of earlier scholars. The AAS member dues structure is based on this philosophy, i.e., that established scholars with higher incomes pay proportionally higher dues to enable younger scholars to become integrated with the association and established in their careers, and who in turn, eventually will do the same. This relationship supports everything the AAS does, and ultimately contributes to the growth and strengthening of the field of Asian Studies. So much of what we do relies on the volunteerism of members, but we also need your continued and consistent financial support to help the field of Asian Studies thrive. I ask that you please keep this in mind when renewal time rolls around.