AAR Presidential Futures Task Force

Charge

American Academy of Religion president, José Cabezón, along with the AAR Board of Directors has appointed an AAR Presidential Futures Task Force to address issues facing the guild brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cultural issues it has brought to the forefront.  The task force will address two distinct areas of concern: the direct impact on the AAR organization itself and the effects of AAR membership that should inform AAR priorities now and into the future.  The 10-person task force is comprised of AAR members and will work together for a period of two-years.

Context: In 2017, the AAR adopted a new mission statement – to foster excellence in the academic study of religion and to enhance public understanding of religion – with the intent of setting the guild on a path with long-range goals to meet both the challenges and opportunities in the current landscape of higher education and in the rapidly changing global culture.  Since that time, the organization has moved down that path, undergoing multiple changes including welcoming an entirely new leadership team, completing a staff reorganization in response to the new mission, transitioning to a new and more effective membership database, creating a new brand, applying for and receiving a $1M grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for Advancing Public Scholarship, and starting to examine the many strategic issues facing learned societies. 

The advent of COVID-19 brought new complications and accentuated challenges, including risk to the lives and health of members and long-term implications for members, publications, and institutions of higher education and learned societies. The negative effects of this crisis are vast and are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable among AAR members: students, junior faculty, and contingent faculty. The pandemic also exacerbated and further laid bare cultural issues plaguing members and publics—issues such as BlackLivesMatter, MeToo, environmental concerns, Islamophobia, white nationalism, and immigration.  With these challenges in mind, the AAR Board of Directors establishes the AAR Futures Task Force with the following charge:

Informed by the AAR mission, values, and long-range goals, the Futures Task Force will provide the AAR Board of Directors with a strategic assessment of the impact of the pandemic and exacerbated cultural issues on the AAR and its mission, taking into account the current landscape of higher education. It will address two distinct areas of concern: the direct impact on the AAR itself and effects on the membership that should inform the AAR’s priorities in the future. In addition to identifying the most pressing challenges, the Task Force will suggest proactive opportunities for the organization to meet its mission and long-range goals in new ways for a powerful and hopeful future.

In order to gauge what is affecting membership, the Task Force should solicit input from AAR groups such as AAR committees, working groups, task forces, and program units by asking them to identify one or two areas of significant concern.

Areas to be Addressed

  1. Organizational
    1. Guild: How will the pandemic and current cultural environment affect the AAR in the short, medium, and long term? What are the implications for AAR programming—annual meeting, publications, service to members, geographic regions, year-round efforts? What are the implications for the work of AAR Board of Directors, especially strategic thinking and planning? 
    2. Member benefits: What membership benefits should the organization offer?  What current membership benefits are no longer helpful? 
    3. Central Office: How are the changes brought on by the pandemic and cultural issues affecting the AAR Office? The recent re-organization? The working conditions?  What changes should take place?
    4. Finances: What is the impact of the pandemic on AAR revenue streams? Membership? Investments? What long-term impacts do we expect both from the pandemic and from other factors like the changing demographics of field, a possible recession, and higher unemployment? How should the AAR be preparing for these changes in terms of fiscal policy?
    5. Communications: How could we be more effective with communications?  What strategies should be deployed?  What are new ways we might promote networking?
  2. Membership
    1. Higher Education
      1. Landscape of higher education: What are the current issues facing higher education? What are anticipated changes in light of the present situation?  What impact will these changes have on individual members, on the field, on departments, and on the AAR?  What are the implications for graduate students and graduate programs, undergraduate programs and religious studies majors, and the hiring, evaluation, and promotion of faculty, including contingent faculty?  How should the AAR advocate within the landscape of higher education?
      2. Teaching: How can the AAR better meet the short-term needs of teachers? How will/should teaching (and teaching loads and class sizes) change? What will/should be the future of online teaching and learning?  Of graduate education and mentoring? What can the AAR do to be prepared for, and responsive to, these issues?
      3. Research: What is the impact on research?  For example, what is the impact on scholars who must travel as a part of their research work? On scholars who must assume new caretaker roles? How will/should the current situation affect sabbatical and leave policies?  How will/should the AAR advocate on behalf of members and departments and in what contexts should this advocacy take place?
      4. Publishing: What are the broad concerns facing the future of scholarly publishing (e.g., the future of the monograph, open access, publication revenues and expenses) and how are they compounded by the pandemic? Are COVID-19 and broader cultural shifts affecting some authors/researchers (women, traditionally under-represented scholars) more than others? What new and creative positions should the AAR take with regard to publishing?
    2. Constituencies
      1. Members:
        1. Students: How are students affected by the current situation?  What are the implications for getting needed courses? The transition to online teaching and learning? What flexibility do institutions of higher learning need to be demonstrating?  What should the AAR be doing on behalf of students?
        2. Contingent Faculty: What are the implications of the current situation for contingent faculty right now? In the near-term future? In the long-term future?  What should the AAR be doing in support of contingent faculty who often have no benefits, especially at this time when health care is so important?  What should the AAR be doing in general on behalf of contingent faculty?
        3. The tenure-track professoriate: How is the current situation affecting professors of all ranks?  How should institutions of higher education be responsive to the situation of those who, because of age or other conditions, make them especially vulnerable to in-person teaching?  How should institutions of higher education provide the necessary support to meet new demands?  How might the current situation change the demographics of the professoriate long-term? What should the AAR be doing to prepare for likely shifts? What should it be doing on behalf of the tenure-track professoriate?
        4. Applied Religious Studies scholars: How is the current situation affecting applied religious studies scholars?  What are the implications on this portion of the AAR community?  What should the AAR be doing on behalf of applied religious studies scholars?
        5. Retired scholars: How is the current situation affecting retired scholars?  What are the implications of the current situation on this portion of the AAR community?  What should the AAR be doing on behalf of retired scholars?
        6. Marginalized scholars: Outside of the academy, the current situation has disproportionately affected historically marginalized persons.  Are these AAR members also being disproportionately affected by the current situation?  What should the AAR be doing on behalf of this portion of the AAR community?
      2. Publics: Given the present situation and the shifts that we foresee, what should the AAR be doing in relation to various publics?  What should the AAR be doing to enhance public(s) understanding(s) of religion(s)?

Timeline

The AAR Futures Task Force will begin its work in August 2020.  An initial briefing will be presented at the September 2020 AAR Board meeting with an interim report (addressing, in particular, short term issues) given at the September 2021 AAR Board meeting.  The final report (identifying longer term concerns with suggested paths for moving forward) of the Task Force will be presented to the AAR Board at the September 2022 AAR Board meeting.

Task Force Members

Full NamePosition
Kathryn McClymondChair
Warren G. FrisinaMember
Amir HussainMember
Andrea JainMember
Aarti PatelMember
Mayra RiveraMember
Rohit SinghMember
Amy Elizabeth SteeleMember
Randall StyersMember
Matthew Wesley WilliamsMember
Alice HuntStaff Liaison

Comments and suggestions for the AAR Presidential Futures Task Force should be sent to ahunt@aarweb.org.