Collegiality in the Time of Corona
Report: Midyear Board Meeting
Present: James Welch, President; Jennifer Dellner, Vice President–Development/President-Elect; Marcus Tanner, Director of Digital Initiatives/Executive Director–Honors Society; Allison Upshaw, at-large member, Kirsi Cheas, at-large member.
Tele-present: Roz Schindler, Conference Liaison; Gretchen Schulz, editor-Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies; Sven Arvidson, editor-Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies; Evan Widders, at-large member; Heidi Upton-Sections Coordinator.
The midyear board meeting took place just as the COVID-19 situation transitioned from scarey situation to full blown global crisis. Of course, we had booked the hotel and flights months before, and no one at that point realized how serious it would become. We each were affected differently depending on how our home regions and institutions were reacting to the virus. Many of the board members had to cancel flights last minute, due to travel restrictions, administrative obligations, health concerns, family concerns–all of which seemed to change by the day. In the end, five of us gathered at a very empty hotel. As we met, news came in by the hour affecting ourselves and our loved ones back home. We worried that flights might be suspended and we’d be stuck in Chicago. This worry was very real for our colleague from FInland, Kirsi Cheas, who had to traverse the international flights, quarantines, and other complications, in order to get back home, as the rules literally shifted every hour. She recounts her travails in an accompanying essay. We were joined by other board members virtually, including university administrators who could be seen talking with staff or hurrying from their offices as their home institutions went into crisis management. Many board members simply could not attend under any circumstances. The folks participating virtually outnumbered those of us in the conference room, and there was much coming and going online. For those sheltering at home, we were often rewarded with glimpses into their home decor, their adorable pets, and favorite cozy blankets. The telecommunications for the most part held up well, although poor Sven could not hear our audio and had to rely on the automated captions (which, he frequently reminded us, was quite annoying). As academics, we all had to practice the difficult job of waiting our turn to speak, as talking over one another just doesn’t work online.
In any event, we were able to conduct business, and perhaps more importantly, provide each other with friendship and support while the world descended into insanity around us. James discussed his contacts with other organizations, and efforts to build relationships through correspondence, publications, announcements and conference participation. Although Khadijah was not able to attend the meeting, we discussed her VP Relations report, focusing especially on issues of diversity. Allison expressed interest in establishing a diversity section, and running a pre-conference workshop on diversity. We discussed our ongoing commitment to increasing diversity within and without our organization, and expanding our practice of inclusion to encompass geographic, ethnic, racial, academic, able bodied, linguistic and other forms of diversity. AIS has always believed that multiple perspectives are crucial to understanding and problem solving, but we need to be more explicit and intentional about including and empowering these perspectives. We are working to include more international voices in our members, leaders, and affiliated organizations, to encourage collaboration, empathy and recognition of necessary shifts in power relations. We will finalize our working statement on diversity, which will be formulated in our constitution. We will use information from our recent Membership Survey to identify members who wish to become more involved in these efforts. Any readers who wish to join us, please let us know!
Jennifer and Marcus gave an update on our transition of our website, which has shaped up nicely, and has most of the elements in place. We are working on ways to make the website active and interactive. A discussion on managing membership renewals, and publishing videos from conferences followed. We need to make shareable links a bigger focus, connect our Facebook Page to our website, and take control of our listserv from the University of Alabama, where it is currently hosted. Considerable controversy accompanied the weighty matter of revising our logo for our website, emails and other publications. The aesthetic and design considerations involved in capturing the zeitgeist of AIS in graphic form was a matter beyond the collective minds and imaginations of those present. We do have a placeholder logo for now, and have some ideas put together by a graphic designer solicited by Roz, but as of yet, the AIS logo is a work in progress. We welcome ideas, suggestions and designs from our brilliant members, so please show us your creativity!
James reported on Integrative Pathways. He has put together a crack editorial team that hopefully will help him get the publication schedule back on track, although these dark days of quarantine are frankly not helping. James offered to continue as newsletter editor for as long as the board wishes, and to continue serving on the board in that capacity as an ex officio member. James is working with contributing editor Bianca Vienni to publish bi-lingual content in future issues. We discussed moving the newsletter into a fully electronic format distributed through our MailChimp subscription. This issue is our first attempt in this format. Sven and Gretchen reported on Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies, ironing out our publications on the website. The new editorial board will be convening soon. We discussed the requirements of our contract with Texas Tech University Press, and how many issues should be held behind a paywall. There followed a general discussion about expanding the scope of the journal’s content, and soliciting further submissions.
Heidi described her work as Sections Coordinator, reinvigorating this initiative through visibility on website, email, and publishing section focused work in our newsletter and journal. We will establish new sections guidelines and follow up from conference to conference. We also discussed making our Emerging Scholars forum more active as an AIS section. We will be expanding our network by adding links to section Facebook groups on our website, as well as links to members’ pages. We will draw on our membership to identify active or potential leaders, and encourage them to organize panels at upcoming conferences. Marcus reported on the activities of our honor society, Alpha Iota Sigma, including the addition of two new co-chairs, Michelle Buchberger and Sharon Woodill. We discussed incentives for student membership, and inclusion of honor students’ participation in our conferences. This is part of a larger effort to support more undergraduate involvement in AIS. We ended the first day’s work with a discussion of international relations and enhancing our position in an expanding global interdisciplinary landscape. AIS has a long history and an impressive body of research and scholarship. However, we often feel that we are the field’s best kept secret. Although interdisciplinary studies has become a ubiquitous catchphrase in a multitude of fields, our contributions are often unrecognized. As we network with other kindred organizations and initiatives, we will broaden our voice as we continue to serve interdisciplinary teachers, researchers, students and administrators.
Day two of our meeting came in the wake of a state of emergency declaration and the beginning of travel restrictions. Although these were distractions, especially to those of us far from home, the company of friends and colleagues was a great comfort. Jen started us off with the VP Development report. With the expansion of the board and the redefinition of positions and responsibilities, we discussed the possibility of redefining voting privileges as part of our ongoing revision of the AIS constitution. Ideas about membership perks and privileges were developed, including ways to acknowledge new members, and make sure they feel welcome. The morning session concluded with conference reports and recommendations from the board to conference coordinators. At this point, we had no idea if universities would be open in the fall, and tried to prepare for unforeseen contingencies. The afternoon session was dedicated to a working group for the revision of the constitution. We worked through several sections, updating the constitution to reflect current practices and our expanded mission.
We adjourned the meeting and prepared to make our ways home through empty airports and vacant planes. I’d like to personally express my deep appreciation for the commitment and camaraderie of our board members. It was a very difficult time to be conducting a business meeting, but we made it productive and enjoyable.
President, Association for Interdisciplinary Studies