APS News

Council Debates Proposal to Reduce Council Size

The appropriate size for the APS Council was a major topic of discussion at the May Council meeting. In response to continuing complaints from Councillors that the large size of the Council was making it ineffective, a special Task Force consisting of past and current Councillors was appointed in the fall of 1998 to review "the structure and responsibilities of the Council." The Task Force submitted its report, which consisted of five recommendations, to the Council in May, but because of time constraints, only one recommendation was debated; this was the one concerning the size and composition of the Council. Other recommendations will be considered by the Council at future meetings.

The Task Force report, presented by Stephen Holt (NASA/GSFC), recommended a major reduction in the number of people sitting at the Council table, going from the current 71 to 40. This is to be accomplished primarily by reducing the numbers of General and Divisional Councillors and decreasing the number of non-voting Council Advisors given a seat at the table. "Almost all Council members that we consulted agreed that the APS Council had gotten too big," says Task Force Chair Ernest Henley (University of Washington). "Councillors could barely see each other around the table and it was difficult to hear any ongoing discussion."

Most of the Council discussion centered on two aspects of the size reduction: whether proportional representation of APS units should be abandoned and the role of the geographical Sections. During the last major revision of the APS Constitution in 1990, a representational scheme was established that was based on a quantity X, a percentage of the total APS membership (currently X = 3) specified in the APS Bylaws. Large Divisions were awarded more Councillors (up to four) than small, using X as the basic unit of membership. In addition, Forums would gain a Councillor and Topical Groups could become Divisions (and thus gain a Councillor) when their membership percentage exceeded X. The number of General Councillors was also related to X. The Task Force report recommended reducing or eliminating the role of X and giving each Division only one Councillor while setting the number of General Councillors at 9 rather than the current 16.

Well before the May Council meeting, the Task Force report had been circulated to the Secretary/Treasurer of every APS unit and given to the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws (CC&B). At the Council meeting, the chair of CC&B, Stephen Baker (Rice University) argued against giving up proportional representation. "The Council already has the means to reduce its size without sacrificing proportional representation and without amending the Constitution, simply by increasing the value of X," Baker explained. "This is not a crisis situation that calls for radical amendment of the Constitution." He reminded the group that in 1990 larger units had argued for greater representation on the Council.

However, several Divisional Councillors reported that their Executive Committees had discussed the Task Force report during the APS Centennial Meeting and had voted to give up their additional Councillors to decrease the Council size. Among these was the Division of Condensed Matter Physics that would lose the largest number (3) of Councillors. In addition, Andrew Lovinger (NSF), the Division of High Polymer Physics (DHPP) Councillor, pointed out that increasing X could threaten the DHPP's existence as a division. After considerable discussion, a straw vote by the members of the Council strongly signaled their desire to give up the X-based system of proportional representation.

The Council then turned to the role of the Sections on Council. The Sections currently are represented by non-voting Section Advisors if their membership exceeds X. The Task Force recommendation would have removed these non-voting Advisors from the Council table. Sections Advisors, Perry Yaney (University of Dayton), Joe Hamilton (Vanderbilt University), and Kannan Jagannathan (Amherst College), argued strongly that instead Sections should have one or more voting Councillors, and thus end their "second class status," because they represent many APS members who are not active in other units. Members of the Council indicated that they wanted the Task Force to revise their recommendations to include some form of voting representation for the geographical sections.

Council members ended the discussion by asking the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws formulate recommendations for revisions to the Constitution. These recommendations and others from the Task Force's original report are expected to form a major part of the agenda of the November Council meeting.

Editor's note: Current Council composition may be found online at: www.aps.org under the About APS button. The ins, outs, and mathematics of the X-factor may be found in the APS Constitution and Bylaws at the same web location.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette