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By Emily Conover
It was anything but business as usual at the latest APS Council of Representatives meeting, held this past November in Chicago. Previous meetings lacked enthusiasm, says former APS President Michael Turner, but now, thanks to the APS governance reform that took place over the past year, the Council’s purpose has been redefined, so that it “really gets at the issues of science and policy.” As a result, “It was an entirely different meeting,” with engaged, energized councilors, says Turner, who helped initiate the reform when he was APS president in 2013.
In November 2014, members voted in favor of governance reform, which restructured the APS senior management staff, adjusted and clarified the roles of the APS Board of Directors (previously called “the Executive Board”) and Council of Representatives (previously called “the Council”), added a new elected position of treasurer to the Board, and amended and modernized the hundred-year-old Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and Bylaws, among other changes. Since then, the Society has been implementing these reforms.
One of the most prominent shifts was the redefinition of the responsibilities of the Board and the Council. In the new scheme, the Board of Directors focuses on financial and governance issues of the Society, and the Council of Representatives focuses on science, policy, and membership matters.
Previously, says APS Past President Sam Aronson, there was too much duplication in the duties of the Board and the Council, meaning that “[the Council] was to a large extent just rubber-stamping decisions made by the Executive Board.” Now, with the Council freed from overseeing finances, its members can devote their time to issues of science.
“In the old structure, the responsibilities of the Council and the Board were pretty much tangled up together,” says Nan Phinney, who is serving as the first Speaker of the Council — a new role added by governance reform. “I think the main difference with the new organization is the Council is much more engaged on some of the science issues of how to do things so that they serve the members best.”
The Council has now begun addressing previously neglected issues. It has already improved communication with the units, Phinney says, by assigning a councilor to units that didn’t have one, and by distributing information about Council meetings to unit leadership prior to the meetings.
The Council is also reviewing the honors program and the committees, says Phinney. “It’s the start of a process, and there were a lot of things that hadn’t had enough attention in a long time, and now that the Council has a little more energy there’s time to work our way through the agenda.”
There have also been major shifts in APS senior management, which was restructured in order to assign a single leader, the chief executive officer (CEO), to oversee all operations. Prior to the reforms, three top staff members — the executive officer, editor in chief, and treasurer/publisher — were on an equal footing.
Kate Kirby, who had been executive officer, was appointed CEO in February. In the lead-up to a full CEO search, a pre-search committee, chaired by Turner, recommended retaining Kirby, rather than doing a full search, and the Board agreed. “The transition has gone very smoothly because of [Kirby’s] leadership,” Turner says.
The new senior management structure serves to unite the Society, says Kirby. “Together with my Senior Management Team, I will be looking across the whole organization to identify challenges and to address priorities.” Triumvirate structures, on the other hand, have a tendency to split an organization into individual “silos,” Kirby says.
Additional changes in the senior management include appointing James Taylor as chief operating officer (in addition to his role as deputy executive officer), appointing Mark Doyle as chief information officer, and hiring a publisher, Matthew Salter. Some positions on the senior management team are not yet filled: the editor in chief — a vacancy created last year when Gene Sprouse stepped down — and chief financial officer (CFO), a new role created in the restructuring.
The search for the editor in chief is in progress. A pre-search committee has already concluded its work, defining the job description and what qualities APS would like in a candidate. The search committee has been formed, and will be chaired by 2011 APS President Barry Barish. It will soon begin soliciting applications from suitable candidates in the community. The goal is to have someone in the position by the summer.
“We’re going to be using our extensive networks within the Society, to reach out to all the members to solicit their recommendations for candidates,” says Kirby. “I’m really confident we will find a great editor in chief, and that’s critical to the future success of our journals.” The CEO and the Board jointly appoint the editor in chief.
Thus far, says Aronson, “We’ve made a lot of progress in getting the right people with the right job descriptions in the right positions, and that’s what the Society I think was looking for when we decided to take a look at our governance.”
The makeup of the Board of Directors has changed as well. The CEO and the editor in chief are now nonvoting Board members, so that only elected directors have a vote, including the presidential line, nine councilors, and the treasurer.
2014 APS President Mac Beasley served as treasurer last year on an interim basis, and James Hollenhorst is now the first elected APS treasurer. The treasurer, says Kirby, “is really the eyes of the Board on the finances of the organization.”
During his time as treasurer, Beasley began implementing a strategic budgeting process. Previously, budgeting looked one year ahead; now the process involves a three-year projection and stress tests. But APS needs a CFO in addition to a treasurer in order to have “somebody who thinks about these things every day with professional rigor,” Beasley says.
The restructuring is important to surmounting the many challenges that all journal publishers currently face, Aronson says. For example, the open access publishing movement threatens the Society’s revenue, most of which comes from journal subscription fees. This issue affects the whole Society, rather than falling solely under one of the three domains in the previous triumvirate structure, so having a single CEO allows a unified position, Beasley says.
The changes have also modernized the Society and made it more nimble, Beasley says. “Things move quickly these days and you have to stay with and try to stay ahead of [them] and we’re in a much better position to do that now.”
The new structure, Turner says, will make it easier for members to drive the organization. “I think there’s going to be a quiet revolution where the members take more ownership, and I think it’s going to benefit the organization, and it will just be a better force for physics. I think that’s going to take a while, but I saw that at the Council.”
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