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September 7, 2010

I. Introduction

The American Astronomical Society was founded over a hundred years ago to further the field of astronomy in North America. Over that period it has evolved in many ways, from a relatively small group of professional astronomers to a society with over 7,500 members including students and educators, from an organization primarily concerned with meetings to an organization which not only holds meetings but maintains the world’s premier astronomy & astrophysics journals, and into an organization which provides services to its members such as an employment clearing house and subcommittees charged with maintaining the health and improvement of the field as a whole.

Recently the AAS refined its mission statement and defined its most important long term goals:

The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

(1) The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.

(2) The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.

(3) The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.

(4) The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.

(5) The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

The purpose of this document is to describe and prioritize the Society’s activities, including the work of the Executive Office and the Society governance.

The goals and priorities will be regularly reviewed and updated by Council.

II. Priorities

The Society’s activities can be broken into five major areas:

  1. Publications (ApJ, AJ, BAAS, AER)
  2. Meetings (biannual)
  3. Public Policy and Advocacy (CAPP)
  4. Astronomy Education (AER, workshops, press office)
  5. Other Member Services (CSWA, CSMA, Demographics, Employment, prizes)

Except for the AER, which is a new electronic journal and set for a review in three years, the Society’s publications are self-supporting. With appropriate management (robust estimates of attendance, raises in registration and exhibit fees) the Society’s meetings are now also running in the black. Member dues, endowment income, advertisement income, and other small income sources support the other activities.

Three years ago the AAS Council reviewed the scope of the above activities and examined the level of resources that the Society can expend on each. Over those three years the Society has also gone through several major changes including the completion of the transfer of publications from the University of Chicago press to the Institute of Physics, hiring a dedicated half time press officer, replacing the full time director of education with a half time employee, and taking over the AER.
The AAS also has a valuable resource in its members who serve on various Society committees and working groups (and as unpaid officers as well). There are two elected Boards, for publications (Publication Board) and education (AEB), and their chairs serve as elected members of the AAS Council. There are also five major subcommittees of the Society, one covering public policy (CAPP) and advocacy and four covering employment and demographics (CSMA, CSWA, Employment Committee and Demographics Committee). The AAS Council believes that input from these groups is also essential for long range planning for the Society and is committed to providing resources to help them succeed in their individual missions.

III. Goals for the next five years

The AAS will remain the foremost scholarly publisher of astronomy research, through enhanced content of fully digital data rich publications.

Strategies for Implementation:

  • Restore efficiency of editorial offices through new manuscript tracking system.
  • Solicit and facilitate submission and hosting of underlying data.
  • Assure full implementation of print on demand, as all titles including BAAS
  • Move to e-only.
  • Base author charges on digital units rather than pages.
  • Balance author charges and subscription revenue through delayed open access, unless public policy mandates instant open access.
  • Maintain high standards of peer review, possibly through increased recognition of referees.
  • Create a clear revenue stream for the AER.

The AAS will be the main professional networking organization in North American astronomy.

Strategies for Implementation:

  • Structure the AAS meetings to facilitate networking and professional development.
  • Make AAS meetings an attractive venue for topical meetings.
  • Improve communications and connections between the Divisions and the main AAS.
  • Ensure that the membership of AAS committees is representative of the Society.

The AAS will be consistently sought out by the public, the government, and the professional community as the organization that represents US astronomy.

Strategies for Implementation:

  • Enhance the AAS policy staff.
  • Promote active engagement by our members in advocacy for astronomy through more regular communications on legislative and policy issues.
  • Comment quickly on specific issues.
  • Proactively take clear positions.
  • Coordinate AAS science policy activities with those of other national scientific organizations.
  • Organize local town halls conducted by members of the AAS, of the Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, or of the Council.

The AAS will promote the diverse career paths available to astronomers. It will increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in the Society and in the field.

Strategies for Implementation:

  • Promote and advance mentoring of students and their advisors regarding career prospects and varied opportunities in astronomy.
  • Promote proactive mentoring visits by Society members to diverse institutions and departments where potential future astronomers are being educated.
  • Enhance the number of Junior Members who both join and retain their Society membership
  • Improve Member skills for teaching diverse audiences
  • Promote the knowledge and practice of professional ethics to the next generation of astronomers and to their mentors

The AAS will be used by its members as a major resource for their individual and collective efforts in education and public outreach.

Strategies for Implementation:

  • Make the AAS the "go to" place for members looking for information, techniques, tools, research, etc. to help them become better educators and outreach practitioners.
  • Promote training in effective classroom teaching and media communications as an essential ingredient in the professional preparation of astronomers.
  • Encourage the Society’s members and their departments, laboratories, observatories, and other institutions to endorse the Washington Charter for Communicating Astronomy with the Public.