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By Michael Lucibella
Joe Serene, APS's Treasurer/Publisher for eight years, announced in November he will retire from the position at the end of August 2014. He is one of three operating officers at APS and helped lead the Society and its journals through some of the most dramatic upheavals in the world of publishing and the economy in recent memory. "Joe has kept us on firm financial ground as treasurer, and as publisher he has helped to steer us through the turbulent waters of publishing in recent years," said APS Past-President Michael Turner of the University of Chicago.
"Joe is recognized in the scientific publishing business as an expert and an innovator, and most importantly for the APS he is someone that everyone trusts and respects."
The position of Treasurer/Publisher is unusual among publishing organizations. More often the positions are separate.
"At a high level, I'm responsible for the budgets and finances of the Society," Serene said, adding that his job as publisher puts him broadly in charge of non-editorial policies of the journals. "I think my job at this point is really two jobs."
Serene's role as Treasurer/Publisher has expanded since he joined APS. "He's just changed the way we do publishing significantly, and that's why the job of publisher has grown tremendously in the last several years," said Kate Kirby, the APS executive officer.
In addition, Serene helped launch two new journals, Physical Review X, the first all open-access journal for APS that covers all fields of physics, and Physical Review Applied, which sent out its first call for papers in December. In addition, he helped with the online publication Physics, which was launched in 2008 and publishes commentaries aimed at a broad audience about physics discoveries. "It's part of our charge to diffuse the knowledge of physics," Serene said.
Over the same period, the emergence of new open-access requirements has rocked the publishing world as a whole. Serene helped put APS at the forefront of open access policies as the journals became "hybrids" in which authors have the option of buying open access rights for their papers.
Recently, Serene has been working with the organizers of the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) to fulfill new government requirements for Open Access. In February, the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced it will soon require all papers funded by the federal government be available for free to anyone one year after publication. "Joe has really taken a leadership role in responding to the OSTP mandate," Kirby said.
Serene's departure comes at a time of reorganization within the Society. A recently formed ad hoc Committee on Corporate Reform is in part looking at whether the position he held should change. Though the committee has not yet made its recommendations, it is likely that the positions of treasurer and publisher will be split. "I suspect we will need at least two people to carry out Joe's current responsibilities," Turner said.
In the coming months, the committee will meet to assess the future of the position. "The Ad Hoc Committee on Corporate Reform will have to face the question of how to divide Joe's present responsibilities, or at least the process by which that will be done," said Malcolm Beasley, a physicist at Stanford and the new President of APS. "Once the needed new positions are defined, any searches will be carried out as we normally do; a search committee that recommends candidates. Given the importance of the searches, we will want to have truly blue ribbon committees."
The formation of the corporate reform committee was not brought about by Serene's retirement. Nonetheless, the timing of his retirement will play a role in its recommendations. "It was just a catalyst, perhaps, to establish a more aggressive timeframe," Kirby said.
It is likely also that the person or people who will ultimately step in to take on Serene's responsibilities will have some kind of background in physics as well as finance or publishing.
"In the past, APS has always found it valuable to have physicists in the leadership of the Society, and I suspect that may still be the case," Kirby said. "It's valuable to have people who really know the community that makes up our membership."
Looking back at his time at APS, Serene said that he was proud of his contributions to the Society. He was unwilling to take all the credit for changes at the organization, but said he was glad to play the role he did. "I think this is a much more coherent and cohesive organization than when I got here," Serene said.
"I think a lot of good and positive things happened while I was here."
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