APS News

APS News: Fall 2014

Thoughts from Past APS Presidents

Robert Byer (2012 APS President)

Bob ByerI am strongly in favor of the APS reorganization. It is long overdue, about 100 years, and will lead to a more responsive, effective organization that will serve the APS members well into the future.

The goal of the reorganization is to form a modern Board of Directors that has the time and structure to give serious consideration to long-term aspects of the future of the APS. The Council is to be restructured to better represent the units of the APS across all of the APS.

The need for the reorganization was recognized in the Strategic Planning process initiated four years ago. The "three plus one" strategic plan had as the "plus one" the goal of "One APS". That is, an APS that was structured to assure success in the future in support of the vision and mission of the APS. The reorganization reflects the thinking of the APS Board, Council, and past leadership of the APS. As past, past president of the APS, I urge all APS members to learn about and to support the proposed Corporate Reform.

Myriam Sarachik (2003 APS President)

SarachikUnlike many other scientific societies, APS is a strongly member-oriented, and member-led organization. Its governance structure (the President, Presidential Line, Executive Board, Council, and lower-level positions, all elected by the members) and its unique tripartite executive structure (Executive Officer, Treasurer/Publisher, and Editor in Chief) have served us remarkably well. Not surprisingly, there have been a few problems, some of which have increased in severity with time. The current governance structure does not provide enough occasion/opportunity to do in-depth long-range planning - for example, the oncoming challenge of open-access publishing was not confronted and thoroughly discussed during my presidency or, for that matter, during the four years that I was a member of the Presidential Line; the Society has become “balkanized” - there is almost no overlap between the attendance at the March and April meetings; perhaps APS should consider structural changes that will better encompass the reality that science has become thoroughly international. There’s no denying that the world around us is changing far more rapidly than in the past - we need to be able to act decisively and quickly. For these and other reasons, I believe a thoughtful re-examination of our governance structure is timely. However, we must be careful to insure that the ingredients that have made APS so special - the broad participation of its members in various volunteer and elected tasks, the influence that the membership has had on policy, the feeling that we, the members, run the APS - are not lost in the process. With this in mind, I urge all APS members to read the proposed governance plan thoroughly and thoughtfully when casting a vote in October.

William Brinkman (2002 APS President)

William BrinkmanThe American Physical Society and its journals and meetings have been highly successful. Its publications have become larger, its meetings have increased in attendance and the diversity of subjects covered greatly increased.  During the time I was personally involved with the Society during the early 2000 era it always seemed to me that there were several issues that needed to be addressed. The first is that among the permanent staff there was no one person in charge. It was run by a triumvirate, the Treasurer, the Editor in Chief and the Executive Officer. The proposed reform addresses this issue by creating a new position, a Chief Executive Officer, who would be in charge of the entire organization. This is the right thing to do. The second issue is that the Council had gotten too large making it difficult to run the Society effectively. Whether the creation of a Board of Directors will correct this issue is not clear as it could go either way in that it adds another organization but could create one that is more effective.  Finally the enormous participation of foreign scientists in both the journals and the meetings does not get the recognition and influence that it deserves. The latter issue is not addressed and perhaps it cannot as long as the Society is the “American” Physical Society. Despite these issues the APS is a very successful society.

Cherry Murray (2009 APS President)

Cherry A. MurrayAs a past president of APS, I am definitely in favor of the corporate reform APS is undertaking. The process has been a long and thoughtful one, and is important for the future of the Society. I chair the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, and I have had the privilege of working as an ad hoc member of the Committee on Corporate Reform (CCR), working through a proposal for a more modern and agile structure for the governance of the Society. Our current triumvirate executive structure and Constitution and Bylaws are a half-century and a century old, respectively, and badly in need of upgrading. The Constitution and Bylaws Committee has the responsibility of making sure the new Constitution & Bylaws, combined into one document and drafted by our outside attorney, conforms to modern DC law and best governance practice and to the CCR proposals for a new governance structure, while at the same time preserves the importance of the units, the journals, and the member-driven physics culture of the Society. Many members of APS Council have carefully read the documents in various stages of drafting and have had thoughtful and extremely valuable comments and suggestions that have been incorporated. Two subcommittees have been formed to carefully word the language around the Editor in Chief and to create a transition plan for the Society for a smooth transition from the old to the new while maintaining the units’ way of doing things. Under the new governance structure, I think the Society will run much more effectively and the members of Council will be more empowered to oversee what the Society does in its scientific and policy matters.

Barry Barish (2011 APS President)

Barry BarishRestructuring the APS is not a new idea! During my era on the Presidential Line and as APS President three years ago, we considered making changes to the basic organizational structure of the APS. This was true despite the fact that the Society was functioning very well in carrying out its primary functions for the membership: publishing the leading journals in our field; running major meetings; and having important programs for the physics community in government relations, physics education and outreach. The main impetus for our considering making organizational changes was to enable the APS to be able to respond more quickly and flexibly to changing needs and challenges.

The APS faces a number of critical issues such as how to adapt its journal publishing operation to accommodate "open access," while retaining the quality and stature of our journals within a sustainable business model. Other issues arise from the changing demographics of our membership (more international and more students), and how should these changes be reflected in our governance and programs? Ongoing APS programs in government relations, physics education, relations with other scientific societies, like AAPT and AIP, all need periodic review and possible new approaches or directions. The point being that it is crucial to both successfully carry out ongoing programs, while being able to flexibly respond to new challenges and opportunities.

During my era, we set out to create a new strategic plan for the APS that would clearly define our mission, opportunities, and priorities. We produced such a forward-looking plan, but have found that implementation of the new initiatives were not easy. This was not really surprising! Since the APS cannot plan on significant growth in operating resources, it is faced with giving up or reducing existing areas to apply resources to the new goals. This is very difficult to accomplish within the present organizational structures.

So, in my view the motivations for corporate reform are well founded. The new structure will create a more flexible organization, able to deal better with change and new initiatives. The challenge will be to understand and minimize the risks of trying to “fix something (the APS) that isn't (really) broken." Although the risks are real and of concern, the types of corporate reforms being proposed are towards more traditional and proven organizational structures, thereby minimizing such risks. On balance, I support the proposal and believe the risks and pain that will inevitably be involved in making these changes will be well worth the benefits, making the APS better able to serve our members and the broader interests of the scientific community.

Michael Turner (2013 APS President)

Michael TurnerYour elected leaders, the APS Council, studied corporate reform for nine months and decided - without a single dissenting vote - that this modernization is needed to ensure that the APS remains the vibrant, world-leading physics organization that it is today.  Read why they did so and then affirm their decision with your vote when your ballot arrives in October.

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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik
APS Needs Your Help—Be Sure to Vote in October
Council Endorses Historic Changes to APS
Summary of Proposed Changes
What is Happening & Why
Committee on Corporate Reform Perspective
Composition & Function of Governing Bodies* and CEO**
Oversight of APS Committees
Voting & Transition Timelines
Thoughts from Past APS Presidents