Task Force on Committees Survey

At the direction of the AAUP Board and President, a Task Force on Committees was formed in June of 2008. Under the chairmanship of Richard Brown (Director, Georgetown University Press), the task force is charged with recommending improvements to the AAUP committee structure.

As an essential step in developing these recommendations, the group has sought out the opinions of the membership—through interviews with current and past committee chairs and through a broader survey of the membership in October 2008.

The Survey invitation was announced in the October 2008 bulletin; distributed via our fifteen active email discussion lists; and a request was also made to press directors that the invitation be distributed to their entire staff. While we hope that these distribution channels reached a majority of AAUP member staff, we cannot be sure of the exact number of recipients. Three hundred and twenty three responses were collected from those invitations. Using the number of staff listed in the AAUP central office database as our best measuring stick, this represents approximately 7.5% of possible recipients.

The survey was not intended to provide statistically precise data, but rather to provide the task force with a broad picture of the membership's view of AAUP committees and to solicit new ideas for committee goals and procedures. The survey results greatly illuminated the priorities of the AAUP membership. The task force would like to share some of what we learned from the survey and the directions in which it has guided our conversation.

One interesting, if at first glance disappointing, response, was that more than 90 survey takers answered only the first question: "Have you ever served on an AAUP committee or task force?" While some of these incomplete responses may have been false starts—when someone came back to complete the survey later, almost every one of the early exits answered "No." These members may have felt they did not know enough about, or weren't invested enough in, the work of the AAUP committees.

Of those respondents who completed the survey, 51% identified themselves as upper management, 60% of whom have served on AAUP committees. Middle management represented 43% of respondents, and only 30% had ever served on a committee—a seemingly low number. Six percent (or 13 respondents) identified as entry-level staff, and only one of these had ever served on a committee or task force. There are several plausible explanations for this, viz., the longer one works in the AAUP community, the more opportunity one has to serve, let alone the more value one may see in the association.

However, these two results, in tandem with the large number of "Don't Know" responses about the current work and effectiveness of committees, led the task force to an important realization. How to inform and involve a greater number and diversity of member staff in the work of the association will be one of the goals of the task force recommendations. One of the survey comments stressed this as well: the need for "more active outreach to press staff" on AAUP programs and committee progress.

Several committees have been a particular focus of the task force, including the Scholarly Journals Committee and the Electronic Committee. The divide between book and journal publishing in AAUP—increasingly counterproductive in a digital publishing environment—was underlined by the fact that only 5 self-identified journals staff took the survey, and 82% of survey-takers answered "Don't Know" to the statement: "The Scholarly Journals Committee adequately addresses the most significant issues in journals publishing." On the issue of the electronic committee, the survey confirmed what we had heard from recent committee chairs: there is an essential role in AAUP's future for a group with IT and e-publishing expertise, but it must be more clearly defined.

The survey finally sought to discover AAUP members' top priorities, and the task force has taken note. The three most important issues—for all staff levels whether or not a respondent had served on an AAUP committee—are digital rights and digital delivery of content; press relations with governing institutions; and open access initiatives and new revenue models.

We thank all those who took the time to complete the AAUP Committee Survey, and look forward to presenting our recommendation to the Board in Spring 2009.

Task Force Members:
Richard Brown, Georgetown, Chair
Alan Harvey, Stanford
Alex Holzman, Temple
Kathleen Keane, Johns Hopkins
Brenna McLaughlin, AAUP
David Nicholls, MLA
Frank Smith, Cambridge

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP