Created: 21 October 1999
Disclaimer: Everything contained herein is associated with me
personally, and has no connection with my ex-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
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, 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, my second report here, my third report here, and my fourth report here.
The Council consists of (see Article VII.1 of the Constitution):
* Councilors not in attendance at this meeting. Note, some Councilers arrived late and some others left early. A quorum was present at all times (with the possible exception of the occasional "biology breaks").
$ Councilors about to finish their terms.
# Dr. McPherson is also the new Executive Director, who is a non-voting member of the Council
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.
Formal minutes of the meeting will appear in a future issue of the AMS Bulletin (probably in January, 2000) and, possibly, on the Web at some earlier date. If the latter possibility works out, I'll update this and provide a link to those minutes.
As a now-grizzled veteran of Council meetings ... you have to go from a neophyte to a verteran pretty fast, since there are only seven meetings during one's tenure on the Council (see discussion below) ... I was again rather disappointed with the way things went at this meeting. Part of that is the fact that some things I wanted to see happen did not happen. However, I think I saw some suggestions that the Councilors tend to view themselves as taking on the role of Society leaders in ways that disturb me ... notably, in taking stands to disapprove recommendations from the membership. I realize that we have to do such things from time to time, primarily as a matter of conscience but, as I was told in my first meeting, we shouldn't take such actions without doggoned good reasons! I am not convinced that some of our negative reactions to member-initiated items were based on very good reasons. I take seriously the notion that we Councilors should be commited to serving the members, and not be too taken with our role as leaders of the members. If we get too far out "in front", we end up being alone and isolated.
Although the 10-Year Vision statement has been approved by the Council, I have serious doubts that most of the membership has read it, or even know about it! Nevertheless, it was clear during this meeting that this statement is literally driving all our Council decisions. This makes me somewhat nervous. As capable as Charlie Hosler (Planning Commissioner, who was the primary person responsible for developing the 10-Year Vision statement) is, and as carefully as this statement was developed, if the members are not as committed to it as we Councilors are, is it appropriate for us to be acting as if it has become a de facto By-Law in our Council decision-making? Should we be trying to force the membership into doing things they are not necessarily doing on their own? I am not convinced this is our role.
As usual, the following items are not in any particular order.
For this meeting, some experiments were done regarding the agenda to free up more discussion time. My first reaction was one of joy at this new approach, but the actual execution of the agenda had a pretty familiar feel to it. President Frederick sent out an e-mail "straw man" containing a number of items on which the Council would have to vote approval. If one or more members responded that the item needed more discussion, that item remained on our agenda. If the vote was essentially unanimous, the item was considered to have been approved by the Council and didn't appear on the agenda. Somewhat surprisingly, five Council members never responded ... I don't know the circumstances, which could have been mitigating, of course, but this fact bothers me. If someone has agreed to be on the Council, then they should be responsible enough to provide input when asked. From my perspective, too many AMS members regard their service to the Society as more of an honor than a responsibility. More on this later.
As it turned out, our agenda was still pretty crammed with stuff we had to vote on, and generally didn't feel quite like what I'd hoped it would be. We did manage to get around to some more interesting discussions, about which I'll have some things to say in what follows. I guess my overall sense is that we are making slow progress, but we have a ways to go. It still seems that the Executive Committee and the reports by the Commissioners set our agenda, and we are mostly responding to the items set before us by them.
I must balance this apparent griping with the admission that my input to the agenda mostly occurred to me at the 11th hour, just a day or two before the meeting. I sent two e-mails to the Council as a whole, raising some topics as potential discussion items ... to their credit, we ended up dealing with these topics during the meeting, so I shouldn't be overly critical of the agenda-setting process just yet ... as noted, progress has been made, and I am grateful for that.
A hot topic for discussion during this meeting was the whole operating philosophy of the Council. Owing to some recent incidents (the particulars of which aren't relevant to this discussion), there was some concern expressed regarding the relationship between the Council and the Executive Committee (or EC, comprising a limited set of Council members). Historically, the EC operates "at the will of the Council" ... what that means is the Council meets less frequently than the EC, so someone has to be empowered to act on items more frequently than the Council's recent historical meeting frequency (twice per year ... once in September and again in January at the Annual Meeting). Council approval for EC actions normally occurs after the decision has been made, as a matter of course. The asymmetry in the Council meeting frequency means, among other things, that the long hiatus with no Council meeting [from January to September] puts some considerable responsibility for decision-making in the hands of the EC. This Council has expressed concern for the resulting lack of involvement of the Council in the process, and some ideas were floated for how best to respond to these concerns. It is likely that e-mail and some conference phone calls will be used experimentally to supplement the twice-annual Council meetings, in order to keep the Council more aware of EC activities and more involved in the process, in general. EC meeting minutes will be available to the Council more promptly than in recent history. These proposed experimental arrangements seemed to be satisfactory to the Council at this time, although everyone was interested to see how this would actually work in practice. If the information flow issue can be addressed satisfactorily via these experiments, that response probably will answer the concerns expressed at this meeting.
My take on the situation continues to be associated with a notion I expressed in my very first Council report ... just whom do we Councilors-at-large represent? My membership on the Council has meant that a few people, notably Doug Lilly but including a few others, have used me as a conduit for expressing themselves to the Council as a whole. I'm pleased when members view me in this way, but I'm disappointed overall on how few people have chosen to consider me as "their" representative, especially given the number that voted for me. I consider this to be mostly an expression of the members' lack of confidence in the system as a whole, although I could be wrong about this ... perhaps the members view me in particular as an untrustworthy representative. [Given the lack of input from the members, in spite of my public expressions of willingness to serve in that capacity, I have to accept the latter as at least a logical possibility.] If I am allowed the luxury of assuming that other Councilors have had more or less comparable experiences, then it strikes me that a problem with having the Council serve in a leadership role is that I see no accountability to the membership. If we have no consituents that we can identify clearly, then we have to operate on the presumption that we are the "chosen few" and are responsible for leading the Society from a lofty perch, well beyond earshot of the "masses". Viewing myself in this way might be flattering, but it generally makes me very uncomfortable.
This raises the troubling question about how we get elected in the first place. Starting with the AMS mail ballot we members are receiving this month (October), the AMS is trying an experiment whereby the Presidential candidates are going to be required to make some sort of a "campaign statement" ... your response to the value of that will determine whether or not the same requirement will be imposed on the candidates for Councilor, as noted in my fourth Council report. However, the very process of being named a candidate operates in a way that seems terribly disconnected from the membership. Candidates generally are asked to be on the ballot, formally, by the Nominating Committee. How do names get put before the Nominating Committee? I don't know and I doubt if many members have a clue. Suppose you know someone, perhaps even yourself, who you feel should be a candidate for an AMS elective office. How can you get them on the ballot? I have explained how I came to be on the ballot in my first Council report, but I suspect the number of candidates who volunteered to be on the ballot is pretty low ... perhaps someone can inform me if I'm wrong about that.
If the Council is responsible to the membership, then it's also clear that we shouldn't be in the position of asking permission from a majority of the membership to, for example, buy paper for the AMS copiers. Moreover, perhaps harkening back to more idealistic days when Congressmen found themselves taking unpopular positions, there might well be times when personal convictions required a Councilor to vote his or her conscience, rather than simply responding to the "will of the membership". I have no wish to turn the Council into puppets of the popular will, nor do I want to see them making decisions on behalf of the members when it's not obvious that the members have had much of an opportunity for input.
Overall, I can say that I am not in possession of any answers to the overarching questions I find myself asking, but I do feel like we need to have the discussions ... and to seek input from the membership. It seems to me that the apathy everyone at the Council level, and certainly at the AMS staff level, is seeing among the membership is attributable to a widespread feeling of disenfranchisement. Even if that is an incorrect perception, I'd like to know if that is true or not. As it stands I find myself trying to convince some of my skeptical fellow Councilors on the basis of no evidence ... a prominently uncomfortable position for a scientist!
In the past, I mentioned that only four Councilors are elected ... the fifth comes from a "traditionally underrepresented segment" of the Society's membership. Just for the record, there are three such segments. They are:
This year's appointee is Eric Wood (hydrology), last year's was Otis Brown (oceanography), and the year before that, it was George McVehil (atmos. chemistry/pollution). George will rotate off the council when I do, at the end of the January 2000 annual meeting, so his slot will be filled next.
Just for the record, these three appointed Councilors are the only ones who have a readily-identifiable "constituency" .. they are appointed because it has been felt that members of those traditionally underrepresented segments of the Society could not be elected. This would leave those segments feeling disenfranchised ... hmmm ...
During the discussions leading up to the meeting, I was astonished to find out that there is an uwritten rule about the nominations for AMS President. I was informed that:
This is likely not well-known among the general membership. [For that matter, I doubt that many are aware of the "rule" regarding the appointment of the fifth Councilor, since it is not mentioned in the Constitution or By-Laws.]
I'm not opposed to the custom, but I am bothered by the general ignorance of such customs within the membership. In fact, I wondered about this very issue a few years ago, when I discovered that both Presidential candidates were from the "commercial/industrial/media sector" ... it seemed to me then that it was clear that the ballot was "rigged" to force the election of a President from that sector. I now know the origins of this and, while I applaud the ideal of an "equitable participation" from these sectors, I am troubled by the process by which this came to be the "rule" for Presidential rotation.
During the discussion about the appointment of the fifth Councilor at this meeting, I became aware that an additional "constraint" was considered beneficial for the qualifications of the fifth Councilor, in addition to that he or she be associated with the atmospheric chemistry/pollution community ... namely, that he or she be from the private sector. I expressed my concern about this additional constraint, lest it become yet another "unwritten rule" about the way this Councilor is selected. No one else on the Council seemed to see the problem with this, but I feel that if this rule is imposed one or two more times, then it will become an "unwritten rule" I am not concerned with the individual nominated, but rather with the process by which customs, repeated several times, become binding but unwritten rules.
It seems to me that a large part of understanding how the AMS works is associated with learning these unwritten rules, and other details of Society governance that not likely to be widely known among the members. Since the membership is largely unaware of these, it adds unnecessarily to the mystery of how the AMS really works. I object to this, on principle. No one should have to be a Councilor to understand AMS governance!
As usual, the question of awards and how they are handled was the focus for some vigorous discussion within the Council. Much of the substance of that discussion must remain confidential, because it has generally been accepted that if someone had been nominated for an award, and they didn't get it, this somehow would create a huge problem. Doug Lilly asked me one day why this confidentiality was considered so essential. I didn't have a good answer for him, and I am now of a mindset that suggests this confidentiality is not so important as it is made out to be. Regarding the question of confidentiality, it seems to me that scientists and science-based professionals ought to be at least as mature as movie actors! Every year, the names of the nominees for the Academy Awards are public knowledge, and somehow the majority of the nominated movie actors are expected to be able to cope with being turned down for the award. Is that too much to ask of our scientists and professionals? Hmmm... I have some thoughts on awards that I have put together ... read them at your leisure.
The main elements of the budget were presented in the "Straw Man" e-mailing and were approved without further debate. However, we spent some more time discussing the process of formulating and approving Special Initiative items that are funded by the interest on the Society's investments (with appropriate safeguards to maintain the stability of those investments). The basic decision was that the AMS staff would work harder to make it known to the membership as a whole that they can offer their own suggestions for special initiatives to be considered for approval by the Council. This is consistent with my discussion of the topic at the end of my 4th Council Report. Although the AMS staff insists that most of these initiatives have, in fact, come from the membership at large, I continue to dispute that assessment. In my view, many of them have come from the AMS staff and the small group of active participants in Society governance (mainly, the EC). I'm not saying that the current group of initiatives is unworthy for funding ... my only concern is that the members feel that their worthy ideas have at least been given consideration, if they are willing to put them forward. Thus, irrespective of that minor dispute, I feel that the response of the staff is a satisfactory one. I urge those of you who read this to consider what you might do to offer meaningful suggestions.
Another item worth noting here is that many of these initiatives have been on our list of initiatives for several years. It was my understanding that these items were not to be permanent items ... if they were going to be ongoing projects that would need funding indefinitely, they should be moved into the continuing part of the budget. Some of these, such as the funding for an AMS-sponsored Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer, ought to be considered in this light.
I'm going to use this bullet more as a header for my own concerns instead of the STAC Commissioner's report, per se, which was pretty routine, with one notable exception.
The current "mission statement" of the STAC is:
The STAC Commission has the following responsibilities, as laid out in the Constitution of the AMS.
To keep watch on the progress of research and operations and to inform the Council of lack of support where support seems to be needed and of cases where important projects are in jeopardy for lack of funds; to be responsible to the Council for receiving and reviewing the reports of the scientific and technological committees and extracting therefrom those items on which the Council should take action and to transmit these to the Council with their recommendations (the original committee reports shall be forwarded to the Council for information); to recommend to the Council the establishment of new committees or the dissolution of those no longer serving a useful purpose; to establish and review the terms of reference of the committees.
Scientific and Technological Activities committees will be established by the Council on the recommendation of the Scientific and Technological Activities Commission to coordinate opinion and stimulate activity in any scientific or technological subject of interest to the Society.
The Scientific and Technological Activities Commission will appoint the chairpersons and members of the committees subject to the concurrence of the Council ex post facto. Terms of appointment are for two to three years as determined by the Commissioner with the privilege of reappointment for a period up to three years.
Each committee will report at least annually to the Commission; each committee within its assigned field is responsible for a continuous review of the Society's general activities and for making such recommendations as appear desirable to ensure that the activity of the Society reflects the importance of and interest in the field of the committee.
I've been interested in the possible revision of the STAC structure. Are the current 30 committees the right ones to take us into the next century? If not, how might they be changed? My concern is that the STACs may not be very involved in the debate, much less the membership. Too many members of STAC committees view their appointment to be honorary rather than a duty, and so offer no input, even when it is sought. I'd like to consider some options for dealing with committee members who are not active ... perhaps their membership could be terminated to make room on the committee for someone who will be a real participant, rather than someone content with padding their resume through membership on the committee. STAC Committees represent a broad cross section of the membership and, in principle, allow members a genuine opportunity to become involved with AMS activities at an important level, as mentioned in my earlier Council Reports.
I have my doubts that many STAC committee members are using their service on a committee as a means for passing along input from their "constituents" to the AMS. Perhaps the existing structure is acceptable to take us into the next century, but I'd like to debate to take place within the wider membership, rather than being decided by a small group, whose recommendations are eventually passed to the Council for approval.
I'd like to see some guidelines and suggestions for STAC Committee Chairs and Members to follow. In the same way that it takes experience to learn how the Council works, it also takes experience to know what the STAC Committees do and what is the potential range of their activities. It's possible to use the STAC Committees to raise important questions and to make contributions to the AMS as a whole, but many view them as bodies with little in the way of substantive duties beyond picking conference venues and occasionally reviewing AMS Policy Statements for revision. The current mission statement is pretty vague about this, and perhaps justifiably so; to put in a set of specific rules could be viewed as restricting rather than expanding the roles of the committees. However, it might be nice to have some examples of things that STAC Committees have done in the past to give some sense of the possibilities.
Please let the STAC Commissioner, Rick Rosen <email@example.com>, know about any feelings you might have regarding this issue.
Again, the Commissioner's report was pretty "normal" ... I'll emphasize the things that interested me, of course. I'm pleased to see the progress toward the Journals Online Legacy Project, which would put all the back issues of AMS journals online in some searchable form for a reasonable cost. This is an exciting prospect and I'll await further progress toward this end with some eagerness.
There still are some questions concerning journal article processing times. There doesn't appear to be a whole lot of progress to report since I last discussed it. Some of the long delays are attributable to backlogs created with the sudden loss of experienced copy and technical editors early in 1998 ... I have found out that:
I'm pleased to see the AMS so responsive to the request to support the inclusion of supplementary material in electronic form to journal articles via CD-ROMs or Websites. Using this feature, authors could provide color, 4-D graphic materials, source code, large data sets, etc. that ordinarily could not be contained within the static, 2-D, usually B&W, page-limited "journal article" format. There remain some issues to be worked out, but it appears that this may become an exciting new way to share information in the near future. At the moment, this has been done via CD-ROMs, but it is likely to be come available at a quasi-permanent Website maintained by the AMS. This is an interesting concept and one where the members should seek more information and make their feelings known to the Publications Commissioner, Wayne Schubert <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
This report also was relatively routine, given by Ray Ban, the Commissioner <email@example.com>. One item that stimulated considerable discussion was the question of whether or not there would be a "Guidance Statement" from the AMS regarding the use of the term "live radar" in weather broadcasts. After considerable discussion, the sense of the Council was that the draft statement needed a lot of reconsideration by the drafting group and no action was taken.
This was the first report by the new Commissioner, Susan Avery <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The only item that stimulated much discussion was the proposal to break the Battan award into two parts ... this is basically a book authorship award ... one for k-12 audiences and one for adult audiences. After some discussion, it was agreed to pass this recommendation on to the Awards Oversight Committee for them to consider.
Not much was done here. As noted in my earlier reports in this series, the pace of this process is terribly slow! Perhaps we can make some progress on some of these at the January meeting, as there are several in various stages of preparation. In a related vein, I offer the following item, that might eventually become associated with an AMS policy statement ... but which I commend to your attention as a wonderfully rational and sensible statement about controversial global change issues.
After much discussion at our last Council meeting, it was decided that Rick Rosen would work with Wayne Schubert to develop a policy that would include the option for living persons to be honored in this way. The basic concept that was developed in my 4th Council Report forms the basis for the resulting policy. It was perceived by some on the Council and in the EC that there might be a rash of such honors (an imaginary problem, in my opinion), so the notion was promoted in this policy that naming a conference/symposium or an issue of a journal for a living person should be a rare thing, reserved for those who would have a record of accomplishment that would qualify them to be nominated for an Honorary Membership. This policy was adopted by the Council by a majority vote ... some Council members were opposed to ever naming a conference or a journal issue for any living person, no matter what the circumstances, but they were in the minority.
It also was decided that naming sessions at conferences/symposia for living persons would also be possible, but that the decisions would have to be made on a case-by-case basis. At one point in the discussion it was considered that a lesser standard might be established for naming a session for a living person (instead of having an entire conference/symposium named for a living person), but the sense of the Council was that there was no interest in establishing a "second tier" of honor associated with naming sessions for living persons.
Note: there was no need to establish a policy for naming things like conferences or journal issues for deceased persons. Doing so is decided on a case-by-case basis by the Council, after receiving a recommendation from, say, a STAC Committee. This is nothing new, in the case of honoring deceased individuals.
I have developed an analysis of Conference budget numbers provided by the AMS. I believe the results to be interesting. Please peruse them at your leisure.
The final report of this committee, chaired by Councilor Wakimoto (and upon which I served), can be found here. This report received the approval of the Council. Please read this, offer your comments and suggestions to someone (I've provided lots of links!), if you have any.
Councilor Colman presented an interim version of his committee's report. There are some interesting thoughts contained in the recommendations of the committee, and they stimulated considerable discussion, but it would be premature for me to report upon them here, until the final recommendations can be approved by the Council.