APS News

Corporate Reform for a Stronger APS

Michael S. Turner, APS President 2013

Michael Turner
Michael S. Turner
During my presidential year, I have seen firsthand that the APS is a strong and vibrant organization, and that we are facing an array of new challenges — the complex, global issue of open access publishing, funding for basic research in the US, and a more global physics world — as well as the exciting opportunities laid out in our Strategic Plan.

To successfully meet the challenges and opportunities ahead, we need to increase our organizational excellence (goal four of our Strategic Plan) and achieve our vision of "one APS." The new District of Columbia laws for nonprofit corporations and the announcement by our Treasurer/Publisher Joe Serene that he will retire at the end of next summer have reinforced the notion that our century-old corporate structure needs attention. APS does not comply with the new DC rules and Joe's portfolio has evolved into three full-time jobs–publisher, treasurer, and chief financial officer. In addition, the roles and responsibilities within our governance structure have lost coherence over time.

At its September meeting, on the advice of the Presidential Line, the Executive Board formed an ad hoc Committee on APS Corporate Reform (CCR) to make recommendations on the changes in our governance and leadership structure needed to:
  • comply with District of Columbia law for nonprofits; 
  • address organizational stress and strengthen our effectiveness;
  • achieve the goals of our ambitious Strategic Plan;
  • ensure that APS remains the pre-eminent physics society.
The CCR consists of the eight  elected Council Members who serve on the Executive Board, the members of the Presidential Line and one ad hoc member, Cherry Murray, who is the new Chair of the Committee on Constitution and By-Laws and a former APS President. Our legal counsel, Michael Cutler of Covington & Burling, LLP, and two consultants, Marybeth Fidler and Cate Bower of Cygnet Strategy, LLC, are assisting the CCR. Cate and Marybeth recently led the American Geophysical Union through a successful corporate reform process.

At the November Executive Board meeting, the CCR laid out the timeline for the corporate reform process. I briefed the Council on the activities of the CCR, and the Council passed a resolution that allows us to continue to use our current Constitution and By-Laws until our new structures are in place.

Critical to the success of this process and fundamental to the culture of our Society is member input. Our consultants have already conducted 11 interviews, with 30 more planned for the next month. The first set of interviews included our Operating Officers and the Presidential Line members; the next set will involve a broader range of individuals, including past leaders of the Society, members of Council, senior staff, and leaders of other organizations that interact with the APS. At the February Leadership Convocation, the CCR will meet with Unit Leadership and Committee Chairs to seek their input as well. The CCR and I invite your thoughts, input and questions via email (president@aps.org).

The CCR will share their initial recommendations with the Council and the Committee on Constitution and By-Laws at their April meetings and revise them in accord with that input. The legal documents based upon these recommendations and drawn up by our legal counsel will be presented to the Executive Board and Council in June, with a special Council meeting later in June to approve them in their final form. The last step in this process is a membership vote on our new corporate structure, scheduled for fall 2014.

Once the new structure becomes clearer, we will begin the searches for the individuals who will carry out the functions that Joe Serene has been doing. 

Your new President, Mac Beasley, will be giving you regular updates on the progress as well as continuing to seek your input.

In initiating this process, the members of the Presidential Line were of one mind in their belief that we must change to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. This is not the first time the APS has changed–100 years ago we took over the Physical Review and since have transformed it into the suite of leading physics journals in the world. Twenty years ago we moved from New York City to College Park and increased our national prominence and influence. My Presidential Line colleagues and I are confident that this change too will make our Society stronger and more effective in its enduring mission to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics.

Michael S. Turner is the Bruce V. & Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor, and Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. He assumed the APS presidency for his one-year term on January 1st 2013.

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