A Report on the 2014 ASLE Officer’s Retreat

Mark Long, ASLE President
ASLE officers and coordinators at Camp Glen Brook in April

ASLE officers and coordinators at Camp Glen Brook in April

Camp Glen Brook, a 250 acre working farm above the village of Marlborough, was the site for the 2014 ASLE leadership retreat: a weekend of meetings, meals and muddy walks in the fields and forests of New Hampshire. Gathered around a woodstove on a chilly April weekend, we reviewed past and current goals, made decisions that will shape the future of our association, and set to work planning the eleventh biennial conference in Idaho.

Review of the ASLE Strategic Plan

Since the ASLE Strategic Plan was approved in 2009, we have strengthened the disciplinary and demographic diversity of our membership and reaffirmed the values of equity, inclusion, and accessibility in our association. More recently, our Diversity Officer, Sarah Wald, chaired a task force that drafted ASLE Accessibility Guidelines, and our International Liaison, George Handley, created Affiliate Guidelines, and is developing a new proposal to offer meaningful assistance for conference attendance to members outside the US. In our review of the Plan, we also discussed strategies to include in the work of ASLE teachers and scholars from the humanities and sciences; to address the needs of our graduate student members, especially as we reconstruct our digital presence and strategy; to collaborate with the ASLE Creative Caucus to further environmental writing and the arts; and to promote our intellectual work, and the work of our association, in the civic sphere.

A New ASLE Election Cycle

For the past couple of years the ASLE leadership has discussed the presidential structure of our association. Currently the president serves a three-year term (Vice President, President, Past President). However, the one-year presidential term leaves limited time to set the agenda for the association and complete projects and initiatives, especially for the president in a conference year.

I am pleased to report that the EC voted unanimously to approve a new election cycle. We will now elect both a president and vice president to serve two-year terms. The president will begin in a non-conference year. The vice president will begin in a conference year and will no longer automatically become president. The first election in the new cycle will be in the fall of 2014, when we will elect a vice president for 2015-16 (see related call for nominees in this issue). We will then elect a president in the fall of 2015 to serve in 2016 (a non-conference year) and 2017 (a conference year). We are confident that this new cycle will strengthen the leadership structure of ASLE and help to address the challenges of organizing the biennial conference.

Update on the New ASLE Web Site

The ASLE digital strategies committee (Allison Carruth, Anthony Lioi, Mark Long, and Amy McIntyre) has been meeting regularly over the past year. At the retreat, the committee summarized the proposed content management system (CMS) and how it will improve our process of managing and updating the web site. In reviewing the site architecture we developed in consultation with Bixler Communications Group, the EC helped the design team address the challenges of representing ecocriticism; and they underscored the importance of capturing the critical and creative scope of the environmental humanities, of communicating effectively with both internal and external audiences, and of utilizing the new web site for generating, presenting and archiving content.

As the process of designing the new web site moves forward, we welcome your thoughts about the opportunities of a more dynamic and interactive web presence for ASLE. Please contact me, or other members of the digital strategies committee, as we work toward launching the new site later this year.

An Update on Interest Groups

In the fall of 2013 the ASLE Interest Group Ad-Hoc Committee (Salma Monani, Sarah Jaquette Ray, Stephen Rust, and Sarah Wald) presented recommendations to the EC. The committee defined interest groups as grassroots initiatives that arise as ASLE members wish to organize. These groups can form around any topic of interest, for example, disciplinary (e.g., Ecomedia Studies), geographic (e.g., Southwest Literature), or institutional (e.g., Undergraduate or 2-year colleges). Interest groups would serve to encourage networking and fellowship, as well as to provide support for pedagogy, scholarship, and mentoring within these particular areas.

The EC endorsed the interest group concept. And interest groups will be a part of our ongoing efforts to make visible ASLE’s commitment to disciplinary diversity as well as demographic equity and inclusion. In addition, we will integrate the committee recommendations into the web site design and our conference planning. For a listing of current interest groups in ASLE and contact information if you are interested in joining, explore our interest groups and affiliated organizations.

A Look Ahead to Idaho

We were fortunate to have with us a member of the local site team for ASLE 2015, Erin James, who offered an overview of the University of Idaho and the town of Moscow. Our current vice president, Cate Sandilands, helped to bring the weekend retreat to a close with a brainstorming session on the theme of the conference. Members of the EC offered their insights and ideas about the program. We benefited especially from the experience and wisdom of past conference presidents and site hosts, including our immediate past president, Paul Outka, and our Kansas site host, Byron Caminero-Santangelo.

Pre-conference workshops, concurrent sessions, mid-conference seminars, field trips, town and community events, keynote speakers and plenaries, accessibility, connecting with local activist groups, conference sustainability concerns, and the many, many logistics of pulling off a conference of our scope and size–these were just some of the issues we discussed at length. Members can expect to hear more about the 2015 conference in upcoming newsletters and correspondence.

Ongoing Projects, Initiatives and Collaborations

There are a few additional projects, initiatives, and collaborations underway that I would like to mention here:

  • ASLE grant opportunities continue to support members of the association. The International Membership Grants are being offered on a rolling basis. And June 15 is the deadline for the Local Environmental Humanities Grant, the Book Subvention Grant, and the Translation Grant.
  • We are forming an ad-hoc committee to consider the structure and venue of the biennial conference. The study committee will review the conference and make recommendations to the EC in 2015.
  • Note well our two off-year conference opportunities in 2014: Writing in Place: A Summer Writers’ Workshop: Place, Nature, Food, and Culture, June 9-20, 2014 at Vermont’s Sterling College, and Towards Ecocultural Ethics: Recent Trends and Future Directions, October 9- 11, 2014, in Goa, India.

We are fortunate to have dedicated members of the EC and Program Officers who participated in an intensive weekend of discussion and planning. It is an honor to be a part of this energizing and talented group. As always, on behalf of the ASLE leadership team, I welcome your thoughts on the items I have summarized here, as well as your suggestions about the ongoing work of your association.