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Boise, ID, November 1-4

2001 CAO Fall Retreat "Learned Societies in the 21st Century"


The theme of the 2001 ACLS Conference of Administrative Officers (CAO) retreat was "Learned Societies in the 21st Century." The retreat offered presentations, discussions, and workshops on how learned societies are changing, what challenges and opportunities this change presents, and how the nuts and bolts of learned society operation can be adjusted to meet current and future needs. A census of learned society data for 1989, 1994 and 1999; a survey of individual members of ACLS constituent societies; and written statements addressing the challenges and opportunities provided a context for discussion.

The retreat was planned in response to CAO members' desire for in-depth examination and collaboration on these topics. Preparation for the retreat involved work from the Planning Committee (nine members of the CAO), other CAO members, and ACLS staff. The committee met in December 2000 and in March and June 2001; the CAO session at the 2001 ACLS Annual Meeting in May also focused on the retreat. The Planning Committee developed two projects to gather data that would inform the retreat’s discussion. The first was a census of ACLS constituent societies that asked about membership size, annual meeting attendance, budget, and staff. Second, ACLS contracted with the Center for Survey Research of Indiana University to conduct a survey of members of ACLS constituent societies seeking to understand the motivations for joining and participating in learned societies. A notebook containing census and survey data as well as written statements by CAO members about various aspects of learned society management (membership issues, mission and roles, and leadership and governance) composed the agenda for the retreat. Exhibits of journals, newsletters, books, and other publications of the constituent societies were displayed during the retreat.

Rebecca Chopp, dean of the Yale Divinity School and president of the American Academy of Religion, gave the keynote address. She charted the course of the university system and asked whether learned societies see their own course as a similar one. She compared the early American college/university to a village: scholars from various fields work as a community and have a strong rapport with their local publics. The rise of the disciplines and specializations in them lead to the next phase, in which the university becomes stratified into the traditional departmental structure and fields of study grow increasingly isolated from one another. The third phase, which is currently emerging, Chopp compared to a global city: scholars are doing more interdisciplinary work and collaborating with those in other fields. The structural manifestation of this stage is seen in the rise of university centers, which address the needs of many disciplines and provide an intersection not afforded by departments. Dean Chopp's schema proved to be a touchstone for subsequent session discussions as the CAO considered its implications for learned societies and their members, most of whom are academics working within the university structure Chopp detailed. (The keynote address, and other materials from the retreat, will be published in the coming year.)

While Chopp's keynote address provided a theoretical framework for the retreat, Catherine Rudder, School of Public Policy, George Mason University, and former executive eirector of the American Political Science Association, analyzed census and survey data. The census findings and Rudder's interpretation of them gave the CAO knowledge needed in subsequent workshops and discussion groups as they considered issues of membership, outreach, "unbundling" (e.g., the journal from membership), governance, finance, and other issues.

Rudder's commentary was followed by tradecraft (learned society management and operation) workshops, which ran concurrently in three sessions--on websites; on legal and financial issues; on annual meetings, membership, fund-raising; on online publications; on long-range strategic planning; and on employment services. Plenary sessions on learned societies' missions and roles, membership issues, and leadership and governance were followed by break-out discussion groups and reconvened for summation. That all administrative officers had a role as speakers, group facilitators, or recorders/reporters fostered a spirit of inclusiveness and collaboration. Discussions continued at evening social events and the postmeeting tour of Boise.

Other guests-speakers at the retreat were Lindy Biggs, associate professor of history at Auburn University and former executive secretary (and CAO member) of the Society for the History of Technology, who provided observations and commentary for a wrap-up session; Michael Holquist, professor of comparative literature at Yale University, representing the ACLS Board of Directors; and Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, professor of history of science, University of Minnesota, as an observer from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

CAO members came away from the retreat with new perspectives on the many practical problems of society management and ideas for new programs and ways to share resources. In a spirit facilitated by the retreat's program and goals, the CAO displayed a remarkable desire to work together and assist one another with the challenges encountered in learned society administration. The Executive Committee of the CAO will meet in January to develop useful outcomes and to plan for publications that result from the retreat.

The Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Doubletree Hotel Riverside hosted local accommodations for the retreat. The bureau provided a tour of Boise, including a stop on the Oregon Trail, after the conclusion of the retreat.

  • Reid Reading studies the seven-pound agenda book for the retreat.

  • The CAO, Boise, November 2001

  • CAO Chair Luanne von Schneidemesser and Retreat Chair Margaret Reynolds

  • Keynote speaker Rebecca Chopp with Barbara DeConcini

  • Lindy Biggs and Sally Gregory Kohlstedt

  • Eileen Gardiner and Ron Musto at the Idaho HIstorical Museum

  • Adam Blistein and friends

  • Kent Richards and friends

  • Candace Frede, Barbara Henning, Margaret Reynolds, and Steven C. Wheatley

  • Post-meeting: On the Oregon Trail

  • Happy Trails to You!