Thank you all for your continued membership and support of the Society for Arab Music Research. I have a few announcements, questions, and other items to share as we prepare for our annual membership meeting in Albuquerque. I invite you each to the session, which will be open to all SEM members, as always. This post outlines some of the questions that I intend to pose during that session with special attention on our organizational leadership structure and a proposal related to the Journal for Arab Music Research.

Since taking on the role of president of the organization in collaboration with Alan Karass and Chris Nickell partway through this past year, I have worked to gather the organization’s documentation to better grasp which concerns and ideas have been consistent over time. Two things have become obvious:

  1. The membership has continued to come up with potential projects that are worth our time, but…
  2. The structure of our group makes it difficult to build momentum and bring those initiatives to life.

To this end, Alan, Chris, and I have worked together to draft two potential options for changing our leadership structure. I am sharing them in advance of the meeting (1) so that those who are unable to be in Albuquerque or otherwise cannot attend the meeting can have their voices heard at the meeting instead of only afterward and (2) so that we can have an efficient and thorough discussion of these options and any changes that we would like to make to them during our time together. These are not final, nor are they the only ways to move forward. They represent the beginning of a conversation. To that end, I am going to share links to documents outlining some of what I discuss below. Please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with any comments, questions, or suggestions!

The options

SIG leadership

The two options that we are proposing are quite different. The first is a simple change: instead of having a year-by-year election for president, we propose a co-chair system with overlapping two-year terms. The returning chair will take the lead in most issues while the chair-elect/incoming chair will support the organization’s needs in collaboration with the returning chair while learning the (few) technical ropes to running a SIG within SEM.

Becoming a Section

The second option is a more extreme change and may not be possible right away. In looking back through reports and meeting minutes, our status as a SIG (and not a Section) within SEM is a recurring theme. As we exist now, there is not a substantial reason to defend making a change. We may have a reason to do so in the near future if we, as a group, decide to take on another project of interest to the membership.

Just like Section status, discussion of a journal dedicated to Arab music research has come up often. Hicham Chami (a past SAMR president) has done the hard work of building an outstanding editorial board, soliciting articles, and preparing a first issue. He has continued to run up against struggles in finding support to publish a print volume, however. For a different project, I was researching open access journals and proposed the idea of making the Journal of Arab Music Research an open online publication. He was interested in the idea and I told him that I would bring it to the membership. The big questions are whether we want to take this on, how it relates to similar projects that are out there in the world, and what kinds of changes it might necessitate for our organization more broadly.

The cost, so far as I can tell right now, would be manageable for a dues-collecting Section (possibly with other support), but not a SIG, which has no budget. Making the shift would also allow us to expand our leadership and take on other projects in a more sustainable fashion. Ideas like a student paper prize would become more feasible. That said, we may not be eligible for the change based on attendance records. (We are just short of the suggested threshold for meeting attendance, though I was recently informed that we could submit a proposal despite this if we decide to do so.) I have prepared a first draft of potential bylaws for a Section version of our group using Chris Nickell’s excellent work with the Gender and Sexualities Taskforce as a guide. Thank you to Chris for sharing that material.

Moving forward

Knowing if there is an interest from the membership as a whole in taking on the journal and/or moving toward section status, even if it cannot happen right away, can help to direct our movement over the next few years. These types of changes are certainly not intrinsically linked and these two options are hardly the only ones. My hope is that by sharing these thoughts ahead of the meeting we can both open the conversation to more than the 20-25 who generally attend and get some feedback to improve our discussion in advance of meeting.

Please take a moment to review the draft documents and leave your feedback as a comment or email me at [email protected].

For that reason, I thank you again for reading through this post and invite you to look over the draft documents linked below. Please reach out if you have any thoughts on this or other ideas for our group. And I hope to see you all in Albuquerque.

Chris Witulski
[email protected]