MSA Needs a Process to Recognize and Respond to Membership Concerns

MSA Needs a Process to Recognize and Respond to Membership Concerns

Matt Kasson, Associate Professor of Plant Pathology & Mycology, West Virginia University

MSA Councilor, Ecology/Pathology (2020-2021)

The insurrection of the U.S. capitol on January 6, 2021, was a shocking attack on our democracy. Countless world leaders, elected U.S. politicians and political appointees, college and university presidents, and business and industry executives unified in their condemnation of this egregious violence. Like many of us, I grappled with how I could show solidarity with those most affected by these events, particularly fellow members of the professional societies to which I belong and serve in various leadership roles. Following the release of a statement of solidarity by The Entomological Society of America to its membership on January 7th, I felt it important to reach out to MSA Executive Leadership and my fellow MSA Councilors to ask if MSA planned to release its own statement of solidarity. The flurry of emails and exchanges that followed were enlightening and the reality of the situation proved to be inextricably complex. In the end, the decision to release a statement was met with some trepidation centered around the question of when is it appropriate for a scientific organization to release a statement that may potentially be perceived as a political statement from a not-for-profit education- and science-based organization and who should be involved in that process.

In recent years, MSA lent its voice to several watershed moments. In June 2020, following the tragic murder of George Floyd, MSA released an official statement led by the MSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee (with the full support of the Executive and General Councils) denouncing racism, harassment, discrimination, and oppression and supporting Black Lives Matter. That July, MSA followed up and endorsed a separate statement drafted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences opposing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guidance on foreign students that would prohibit international students from returning to or remaining in the U.S. if their colleges adopted an online-only instruction model in response to the ongoing global pandemic. In both instances, MSA acted, albeit on an ad hoc basis, because they determined those hateful acts were a direct attack on our membership and mission of promoting mycology education and science.

Does that mean the insurrection was not a direct attack on our membership? The truth is the insurrection was a multifaceted attack on U.S. democracy and rule of law, but also sought to legitimize rioters with deeply antisemitic and white supremacist ideologies and is undoubtedly a direct threat to our membership. As a scientific society we condemn all forms of hatred, harassment, and intimidation and affirm our dedication to allowing every person to reach their full scientific potential. Yet, the fact remains that MSA members are not a monolith and hold a deep diversity of political views. There is no partisan litmus test for being a mycologist. The bigger concern in my opinion is that organizations that rely heavily on an ad hoc style of governance risk not only being perceived as exclusionary (i.e., partisan) but extemporaneous and short-sighted.

When I sent an email to Executive leadership and my fellow Councilors on January 8th to initiate a conversation on if and when MSA would release a statement denouncing the attacks, it became clear that a policy and mechanism to evaluate and ultimately carry out such requests was lacking. Unfortunately, the lack of such policies often invites indifference and complacency among membership just as it favors majority opinions. We recognize our responsibility as officers and councilors is to enable respectful dialogue among all membership, not just those who share a majority opinion.

Representing members across the political spectrum will certainly require compromise, but clear policies can help guide us into an uncertain future. We invite those interested in participating in a workshop on this topic at the 2021 Annual Meeting to let us know (Email: This workshop will serve as a foundation as we work towards a more permanent standing committee and developing a transparent mechanism to address future concerns.

American poet and activist Amanda S. C. Gorman, in her 2021 Inauguration Day poem “The Hill We Climb,” wrote, “we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace!” Many have taken time to quietly reflect on recent events, but now is the time to engage in meaningful conversation.