The principal impetus for the Academy of Leisure Sciences came from a group of former Presidents of the Society of Park and Recreation Educators. At a meeting in Miami in 1978, Professors Edward Heath and Leslie Reid (Texas A&M), Alan Sapora (Illinois), and Douglass Sessoms (North Carolina) began formulating the Academy's goals and structure. A list of seventy candidates for membership was identified and a panel of thirty-six scholars was invited to complete a series of ballots on the candidate list. As a result of that balloting, thirty candidates, elected by simple majority, were chosen as Founding Fellows of the Academy of Leisure Sciences. The candidates were chosen because of their "exceptional scholarly and intellectual contributions" to the study of leisure. The first meeting of the Academy was October 18, 1980, in Tempe, Arizona. Dr. David Gray was elected President; Dr. Edward Heath was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
In the intervening years, the Academy's membership has more than doubled. In 2011, there were about a hundred members, of whom seventy have been elected since the initial meeting. Also in 2011, the Academy voted to reconstitute itself and open up its membership to academics, practitioners, and students who share a mutual interest in better understanding the roles of leisure in life, including various contexts of recreation, park, tourism, outdoor adventure, health, and therapy, and sport. The Academy will continue its practice of nominating and electing Fellows based on lifetime achievement.
The central purpose of the Academy is the intellectual advancement of leisure sciences. This purpose is carried out in three ways:
- First, by recognizing outstanding scholars, it establishes a network among those who have contributed to the intellectual advancement of leisure sciences.
- Second, by its meetings and other activities, it establishes forums for exchanging knowledge and ideas advancing the intellectual understanding of leisure.
- Third, by the activities of its committees and individual members, it encourages and promotes research and the scholarly study of leisure among those who have demonstrated interest, potential, and competence. For example, the Academy supports an annual Future Scholars program, whereby up to six outstanding master's degree students in recreation, park, and leisure studies are invited to attend the Academy's annual meeting and the Leisure Research Symposium held at the National Recreation and Park Association's convention.
The Academy operates under a Constitution which provides for the election or appointment of Officers and Committees. The President, Secretary-Treasurer, Historian, and Nominations and Elections Committee are elected by the membership via mailed ballots. Members of other Standing Committees (on-going) and President's Committees (single-purpose and temporary) are appointed by the President.
Business is conducted at the annual business meeting. In the interim between meetings, the President, in concert with other officers and committees, conducts business and acts for the Academy. Academy members pay annual dues as well as a fee to offset annual program and business meeting expenses.
Names of candidates for fellow membership are placed in nomination by a formal letter from a current member. This is accompanied by a biographical summary, submitted with the ballot to all active members, which includes the nominee's professional experience, significant publications, invited presentations, professional affiliations including offices, awards and honors, and professional activities. Election requires a two-thirds majority of votes cast.
Suggested criteria for use in nominating and electing new fellow members are: (a) direct engagement in the leisure sciences professions; (b) demonstrated competence for a period of not less than ten years, as evidenced by quality as well as quantity of contributions to the scholarly literature of the field, recognized leadership and extensive, significant participation in professional associations and organizations, and acknowledged outstanding performance as a teacher, leader, administrator, practitioner, or researcher in the field of leisure; and (c) willingness to further the goals of the Academy and participate actively in its affairs.