Created: 02 April 1998
Disclaimer: Everything contained herein is
associated with me personally, and has no connection with my employer
[NOAA/ERL/NSSL] or with the AMS. That is, these are my personal
observations, opinions, and recommendations and have no official
standing or sanction. If you are offended or bothered by any part of
this, take it up with me,
not with either my organization or the AMS.
If you have not seen them before, I have other writings concerning the AMS at this Website. Please consult my campaign statement for some of this, and you can find my first report from the council meetings here.
The Council consists of (see Article VII.1 of the Constitution):
The asterisk (*) denotes Council Members not in attendance at this meeting. Council members about to finish their terms are indicated by the double asterisk (**)
Thus, there are 21 members on the Council (four AMS officers, two past presidents, and 15 Councilors). The Executive Director and the Secretary-Treasurer are appointed by the Council (Article IX of the Constitution), not elected by the membership as a whole; they are ex officio members of the Council, not eligible to vote. Therefore, there are 19 voting members, and so a two-thirds majority is 13 members if all voting members are present at a meeting. A quorum is a simple majority (10) of the voting members.
Attendance at this one-day Council meeting (held just before the beginning of the Annual Meeting), was better than at the September meeting at AMS Headquarters. There were some late arrivals owing to some airline problems, but most of the Council was present by the time the afternoon session was underway. As is standard practice, also attending (for the purpose of making presentations to the Council, but not eligible to vote) were various Commissioners (in this case, the STAC Commissioner, the Publications Commissioner, the Planning Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Education and Human Resources). The minutes will appear in a future issue (likely in June 1998) of the Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc, suitably sterilized for publication. I actually recommend that you read these minutes. There is information in them, but you can be sure that some of the entries are not so brief as they appear in the minutes! I will state right now that there will be aspects of some of the discussions that (rightfully) will not be in the minutes and will not appear here, either.
Having been to one Council meeting, I was not quite so surprised at how things went. However, I came away feeling just a bit more frustrated than I did at my first meeting. I will detail some of the reasons for this in what follows. As before, I am providing an assortment of impressions, again in no particular order.
Rather than a dry, uninformative listing of vitae for the candidates, each candidate for elective office in the AMS should write two short paragraphs that describe (1) what they believe to be their qualifications for holding an AMS office, and (2) what they intend to do during their term. I find the current "information" that comes with the annual ballot to be virtually useless in deciding for whom to vote ... I'd like candidates for elective office to be on record about what they intend to accomplish. This would resolve, to some extent, the issue of the Councilor's constituency that I raised in my last Summary, and give the membership some sense of what the candidates stand for, in order to to select candidates who best represent their positions.
I am informed that the AGU does something of this sort. Further, even the UCAR Board currently follows this path in providing information about candidates for positions on the Board ... surely the AMS can follow these leads! Note: when I was a candidate for the Council, I provided a Website campaign statement.
Apparently, this topic was not tabled, and this recommendation was apparently going forward in spite of the discussion. No one else on the Council seemed to remember the discussion this way, apparently, and were willing to sit by meekly and let this happen. I do not want to be associated with this recommendation in any form ... I do not support it. My requested wording change was intended to reduce the implied pressure being put on the STAC Committees to do this.
Recently, I received a printed copy of the minutes from this meeting; the issue I raised was referred to in those minutes as "non-substantive" ... quite apparently a direct slap in my face. If I felt it was non-substantive, would I have raised it in the first place? Apparently, the AMS brass feel it was non-substantive, however. The AMS seems overly concerned with how I word my Web pages, seeing insults at every turn of phrase ... yet they themselves are quite willing to be insulting, in their turn. It also appears that approval of the minutes is now to take place by mail ballot ... they don't want any more surprises, I guess.
To summarize what I saw:
My reading of the facts and figures leads me to the conclusion that the reason the registration costs for meetings have risen so rapidly is that we are paying for a lot of AMS infrastructure. The amount of the income that goes to cover a wide variety of AMS costs (including many things that are at best peripherally associated with the meetings themselves) varies from year to year and so budget balancing within the AMS makes those figures look as though the net proceeds from conferences are about zero.
I had hoped to provide here some side-by-side comparisons of budgets with some non-AMS meetings. Those figures are not yet available and so I prefer to get something out now (early April) ... if those figures come in later, I will add them here. However, I offer the following summary of the situation and a challenge to the members:
The main explanation for the relatively high registration costs is that the income is being used, in part, to support many facets of AMS infrastructure, including some items that have at most a peripheral connection to the conference itself. Even with the current financial "disclosures" from the AMS, I have no idea what it costs to transport, feed, and house the AMS staffers at all the various conferences, but we are paying for them, as well. They have not broken out the costs of the AMS "suite" with lots of amenities that often shows up at conferences, either. Nor have they broken out the costs for all the "free" meals provided to the various committee and Council members during conferences. Nor have they revealed the details of the contracts the AMS negotiates with the hotels.
Many of us have known for some time that we can put on conferences far more cheaply than the AMS and I have long wondered why the AMS can barely break even with registration fees that are several times larger than what we charge at our non-AMS conferences. It seems clear now that the reason for this is that the people who put on meetings outside the AMS are basically contributing their time and effort (and perhaps that of some of their staffs) at no cost. Clearly, this means that whoever puts on a conference outside the framework of the AMS is "eating" those costs associated with making the meeting happen and fees are not being used to support activities that do not bear directly on the conference. We negotiate our own deals with the hotels where the conferences are held, presumably trying to minimize costs to the participants. We are using our own resources to get us to the meeting, to feed and house us, etc. None of these costs are being passed on the the registrants. Note that at most (if not all) conferences, the STAC members, Program Committees, and Local Arrangements Committees do a considerable amount of work to help make a conference possible without compensation, even as it is.
Thus, my challenge to AMS members is this:
If we want to reduce the costs of
conferences, we need to ask ourselves how much of the work for a
conference (beyond what we are already doing) are we willing to do
ourselves (outside of the AMS)?
If everyone is satisfied with paying the AMS for the costs of putting
on a conference and are pleased with what they are getting in return
for their registration fees, page charges, etc., then I'll shut up.
If members are not happy with all of
this, then they should be willing to take on a share of the workload
without compensation in order to make conferences happen cheaply.
It's quite possible for a STAC Committee literally to
hijack a conference from the AMS ... simply have the STAC
Committee vote that it does not want to have an AMS Conference in
that particular year, and then go ahead and put on the conference
themselves, presumably at a substantially reduced cost, but with
greater involvement on the part of the participants. I believe that
doing this will send a pretty clear message about dissatisfaction
regarding conference costs. The AMS does provide a service, and we
cannot expect that service to be free; they have infrastructure to
support. If we believe that we're not getting what we think we are
paying for with this service, then the members can show their
unhappiness most convincingly by hijacking a conference.
If the majority are not willing to do this, then they should stop
griping about the costs of AMS conferences!!
The annual meeting is so big that it's hard to find a venue that can contain all the necessary meeting rooms. The facility at Phoenix was severely taxed and we were spread out over several different buildings.
Just putting people into the same meeting does not necessarily foster interdisciplinary interactions. The attempt to pack the Annual meeting with as many participants as possible could be interpreted as a fiscally-motivated desire (see preceding discussion about conference finances) to have as large an audience as possible, in order to attract paying exhibitors. I think some modest interdisciplinary discussions might take place, but I don't think this is a very effective way to encourage that. See my input to the 10-year vision study.
For another view, I offer the following submission by Roger Wakimoto (used with his permission):
From: Roger M. Wakimoto
Re: Personal Survey
I made a real effort this past week to talk to a number a people concerning the national meeting. I would have done this last year but you may recall that I was out of the country. My best estimate was that I polled close to 35-40 people. I made a serious attempt to talk to a number of people outside my discipline in order to have an unbiased sample. This memo represents a summary of the results.
There was a unanimous endorsement to having joint conferences at the National Meeting. The old format of having a standalone conference was considered parochial and borderline elitist. Ninety percent of the people I talked to, however, thought that we may be on the verge of having too many simultaneous conferences. The main issue of contention was that there appear to be so many sessions that were overlapping that there was a great of difficulty selecting which conference to attend. I, personally, had conflicts with the Weather Analysis and Forecasting, USWRP, Numerical Weather Prediction, Meteorological Observations, and Coastal Atmospheric and Oceanic Conferences. There were a number of sessions that I had to reluctantly skip. Comparisons with the AGU Meeting are difficult. While AGU has a number of simultaneous sessions, the scientific territory they cover is very broad (i.e., it is unlikely that a space physicist would want to attend parallel sessions on meteorology or seismology).
I also included 6-8 graduate students in my survey. Interestingly, all of them like the current format of the Annual Meeting. They cited meeting people (especially scientists they had only read about), and sampling a broad spectrum of scientific topics as the most important reasons. The latter was especially critical for first-year graduates who had not chosen their subject area for research.
I also talked to 3-4 students who attended the evening discussion on the AMS 10-year vision. The overwhelming comment was a desire to organize a separate meeting where only students were invited. They all felt somewhat intimidated by the senior AMS members at Monday night's meeting but would have made comments had the audience been solely comprised of students. We should be cognizant of incorporating student input in the 10-year vision.
I won't defend my survey as statistically significant nor
state that some action needs to be taken. I did feel, however,
that I had collected enough information to pass on to you.
- Dr. Susan Avery, Chair, U. of Colorado [see above for e-mail]
- Dr. Robert Brammer, Applied Sciences Corporation
- Dr. Bradley Colman, NOAA/NWS [see above for e-mail]
- Dr. Jerry Mahlman, NOAA/GFDL
- Dr. John Snow, U. of Oklahoma
or via the AMS homepage.