Katherine Downey

Ombudsperson Candidate


Katherine Downey has served in regional and national AAR leadership since 2006, in the Southwest Region as program chair, president, and regionally elected coordinator, and nationally on the Board of Directors as Regions Committee Chair. She also currently chairs the Committee on Professional Conduct. Kathy holds the PhD in Humanities, MS in Management, and BA in History. With these degrees and her careers in both business management and higher education, she has worked at the intersections of disciplines and in a variety of organizational settings. She managed networks of manufacturer’s representatives for a public, a private, and an international corporation. She taught courses in the humanities and in organizational leadership in a community college, state research university, for-profit online institution, private secondary school for girls, and private university. She has facilitated the work of volunteers in professional, church, booster club, faculty, student, and administrative committees. Now in the 3rd chapter of her life, Kathy cares for her elderly parents in their home, mentors recent graduates and early to mid-career scholars, and enjoys a life of serving those who serve others.

Candidate Statement

When the Board of Directors approved the AAR Professional Conduct Policy last fall, our organization took the lead among learned societies amid #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter. I am proud to have served on that board as Regions Director, to have urged our President to include this office as well as the other directors that represent membership constituents as ex-officio members of the Committee on Professional Conduct, and, this year, not only to have served on that Committee but also to have chaired it. 

Because the policy became effective on January 1, it was in the Regions that we were likely to see it implemented first; indeed, this was the case. My long service in support of the Regions, of their leadership and conferences and members, and also this year chairing the first Committee on Professional Conduct and close work with our first ombudsperson, seem to make me a strong candidate for our first elected ombuds office. 

I have worked closely with all of our ten regional leadership teams during my 3-year term as Regions Committee Chair and in the six previous years when I represented the Southwest Region on that Committee. I was pleased to compose the AAR Statement of Mission in the Regions, in particular the language calling attention to the Academy’s support “where members live and work.” I know the complexities and challenges our members face in their professional lives and in volunteer service to our guild, the witting and unwitting abuses of institutional power some experience, the good intentions of many and failures of a few, the need for actions to have consequences and for the disempowered to be supported by the empowered; that our members be heard and seen and understood by the learned society that supports them, especially when there is so much that threatens them. 

It has become acutely apparent, however, that it is not enough merely to support inclusion and justice and equity; we must work vigorously against discrimination and injustice. We must oppose what is wrong. We must actively oppose what oppresses, undermines, and threatens our members. When I attended the biennial Summit of the AAR Status Committees in January 2019, I was stunned to learn of the appalling treatment some of our members experience, too often by those who are one of us. At a time when there are so many external threats, those that are internal are especially egregious. These tend, I think, to derive often from systemic structures and habits of thinking that do not align, after close examination, with our shared values. We must hold ourselves to account, to educate ourselves, to apply all of our considerable critical apparatus to our own institutional structures and behaviors. 

It is the role of the ombudsperson to hear and investigate member grievances for the Committee on Professional Conduct to adjudicate and for the Academy to live out its purpose and mission. This feels like a calling. I ask for your support of my candidacy to do this important work.