Academic journal article Sociological Focus

2007 North Central Sociological Association Presidential Address: Teaching and Learning and the Culture of the Regional Association in American Sociology

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

2007 North Central Sociological Association Presidential Address: Teaching and Learning and the Culture of the Regional Association in American Sociology

Article excerpt

In this essay, I examine the role of teaching and learning in the culture of the regional association in American sociology. I analyze the programs of (1) the 2007 joint meeting of the North Central Sociological Association (NCSA) and the Midwest Sociological Society (MSS); (2) the 2007 annual meeting preliminary programs of the Eastern Sociological Society (ESS), the Pacific Sociological Association (PSA), and the Southern Sociological Society (SSS) along with the 2006 annual meeting programs of the MSS and NCSA, as well as the American Sociological Association (ASA); and (3) the 1991 NCSA and 1992 ASA annual meeting programs. I identify program trends with regard to teaching, professional development, undergraduate students, graduate students, and research on higher education. I conclude by identifying regional association annual meeting best practices regarding each of these areas.

When trying to settle on a topic for my NCSA Presidential Address, I was a bit overwhelmed. I don't remember my proseminar courses in graduate school addressing this occasion! Given the lack of guidance from my graduate training, I decided to take a look at what others have done with their presidential addresses. There seemed to be several approaches.

A first approach to presidential addresses is to take advantage of your captive audience and subject it to a talk on your area of research specialization. There are some presidential addresses of this type that have succeeded magnificently-for example, Kent Schwirian's 2005 NCSA Presidential Address in which he analyzed the 2002 SARS outbreak in the People's Republic of China. He captivated us with stories of the outbreak and how political decisions contributed to the infection of more than 8,000 people and the deaths of 774 in just a few months. I thought about subjecting you to my areas of research specialization. But a dirty little secret about presidential addresses that take the "I'm going to make them listen to a talk on my area of research in focused detail" approach is that despite the occasional smashing success such as Schwirian's SARS talk, most presidential addresses of this type are deadly dull.

A second approach to presidential addresses is to attempt to assess the state of sociology as a discipline. Now, I am not arrogant enough to try to assess the state of the discipline as a whole. So I also scratched the "assess the state of sociology" approach off the list of possibilities. Well, sort of. I'm not arrogant enough to address the state of sociology as a discipline, but as NCSA president, I've had to spend a lot of time thinking about the role of the regional association in American sociology.

In reviewing previous NCSA presidential addresses, I took note of Bruce Keith's 2004 talk examining the contextual and historical relationship between the national and regional associations in American sociology. He and I have had many discussions regarding the role of regional associations in general and the NCSA in particular. One outcome of those discussions was the creation of the NCSA Future Faculty Program-but more on that later.

So taking my lead from Keith (2004) and building on his findings, I want to take a look at one of the roles of regional associations-promoting effective teaching and greater learning in sociology. I also want to examine the role of the regional association in encouraging the professional development of sociologists-a task that clearly overlaps with promoting more effective teaching and greater learning.

Why should we care about these issues? Aren't professional conferences all about research? Why bother with a focus on teaching and professional development in the regional associations? There are a host of reasons why we need to pay more attention to these issues. First, accreditation organizations, state legislatures, and university administrators are all paying increasing attention to the assessment of teaching and learning. …

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