APS News

Letters to the Editor

Beltway Balance

Michael Lubell, in his Inside the Beltway column (APS News, August/September 2014), makes a characteristic inside-the-beltway error in equating the destructive, anti-intellectual populism of the Tea Party with the reasonable concerns about inequality of many of us in the Democratic Party, including Elizabeth Warren, who I am sure would disavow any anti-science bias. Pundits seem to feel duty bound to mention derogatorily some Democrat, having criticized Republican figures, to achieve “balance” when balance there is none.

Philip Anderson
Princeton, NJ

Corporate Reform Counterpoint

We realize this letter will not be read by many APS members until after the voting on the proposed Constitution and Bylaws has closed; nevertheless we want to express our dismay at the out-of-plain-sight removal of APS members’ voting rights from the proposed Constitution and Bylaws. We have all been bombarded by information on the proposed reform of the APS’s governance but nowhere in the initial materials was it pointed out that the proposed Constitution and Bylaws allows only the Council of Representatives to propose and vote on future Constitution and Bylaws amendments. Even more dismaying, there is nothing specifying what fraction of the Council is required to approve an amendment (the US Constitution requires three quarters of the States to approve). That and other important definitions (how much time is allowed for councilors to consult their divisions, for example) are to be defined in the Policies and Procedures which have not yet been written, and do not have to be submitted to the members for approval. Compare the current article XIII of the constitution with the proposed article XIV on the APS website for the details.

In the proposed restated Articles of Incorporation of the APS, the Society “shall have one or more classes of members and each class shall have voting rights as set forth in the Constitution and Bylaws.” But unfortunately, even though APS claims to be a membership organization, existing for the benefit of its members, we will not have any voting rights on fundamental transactions if the proposed Constitution and Bylaws are passed.  An amendment approved in some as yet undefined fashion by some very small fraction of the 50,000 members of the APS could decide to revise the purpose of the APS to, for example, “ …support certain agencies of the Federal Government.” rather than “ …advancing the knowledge of physics.” The members would have no recourse to prevent such a revision; there is not even a provision in the proposed constitution for petitions regarding constitutional amendments to be initiated by members.

We understand the need for the APS Constitution and Bylaws to be revised, prompted by recent changes in the statutes governing non-profit corporations in Washington DC, none of which specify how amendments to the constitution are ratified. We have no dispute with the other changes in APS governance reflected in the proposed Constitution and Bylaws; but the insistence of the APS’s Committee on the Constitution and Bylaws that all amended articles be voted on together, coupled with the absence of the Policies and Procedures that specify how further amendments to the new constitution be ratified, obliges some of the signers of this letter to vote NO on the whole set. They recommend other members vote no, hoping to avert the situation wherein we lose all of our voting rights in the future.

Fred Buskirk
Carmel, California

Noemie Koller (APS Fellow)
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Rainer Pitthan
Palo Alto, California

Helen Quinn (APS President 2004, APS Fellow)
Portola Valley, California

Burton Richter (Nobel Laureate, APS President 1994, APS Fellow)
Menlo Park, California

Cherrill Spencer
Palo Alto, California

Michael K. Sullivan
Stanford, California

Herman Winick (APS Fellow)
Stanford, California

Response to Buskirk et al. from APS President Malcolm Beasley

In their letter, Buskirk et al. express concern about the process for making future amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws if the changes now being voted on by members are adopted. I thank them for their effort in ensuring careful consideration of the changes being proposed for our Society. We all share the goal of creating the best governance structures to meet the challenges of our times and to honor our physics culture.

The APS Council has discussed at various times and at length whether it was better for final approval of amendments to lie with the Council or with the membership as a whole.  Council is elected by the members and, by virtue of its deliberations, the Council is well informed on the issues. Voting participation by the APS general membership is typically low (around 15% or less). In the end, Council chose to put final approval in the hands of the new Council after a membership comment period. Details of the amendment and voting process were left to be specified in a Policy and Procedures document.

While the new Policies and Procedures have yet to be formally adopted, it may be helpful to consider what is being proposed to the Board and Council at their November meetings by the Policies and Procedures Drafting Committee:

Amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws (C&BL): “A proposed amendment to the C&BL may be introduced by:
  1. Recommendation to the President from the Governance Committee;
  2. Recommendation to the President by an affirmative vote of a simple majority of the Council members present at a regularly scheduled meeting;
  3. Receipt by the President of a petition signed by at least one percent of the total number of members given in the latest membership list of the Society;
  4. Receipt by the President of a recommendation by the Executive Committees of two Units of the Society.

The President is responsible for bringing the proposed amendment to the Board and Council for deliberations. After an affirmative vote of a majority of the Board and a majority of the Council to consider the amendment, the amendment shall be distributed to all Society members for an opportunity to submit comments with at least sixty days prior notice of the dates for final vote of the Board and Council. An affirmative vote of 2/3 of the voting members of the Board and 2/3 of the voting members of the Council shall serve to adopt the new amendment. The complete text of the Constitution and Bylaws including any amendments and the date of its adoption by the Board and Council shall be posted on the APS website within 30 days of adoption.”

Of course, changes in the Constitution and Bylaws and the associated Policies and Procedures are to be expected as we see how well they work. As should be evident, there will be many channels for APS members to express their views and effect change.


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