7 March 2016

AAS Task Force on Society Governance Established

David Helfand Columbia University

At its meeting during the IAU General Assembly this past summer, the AAS Council held a retreat to escape the tyranny of immediate business and think more broadly about the future directions of the Society. A major recommendation emerging from this conclave was that we closely examine our governance structure and practices to better align them with modern non-profit governance ideals and with our emerging needs in a rapidly evolving environment. Pursuant to this goal, the January 2016 Council meeting established a Task Force on Society Governance that will spend calendar year 2016 examining all our current Bylaws, policies, and procedures, and recommending improvements. The charge is appended below.

The Task Force has now been assembled and had its first meeting this past week. Its first face-to-face meeting will take place in Washington 10-11 March. The members include Fritz Benedict (ex officio as Secretary), Bruce Elmegreen, Daryl Haggard, David Helfand (Chair), Todd Henry, Emily Levesque, Kevin Marvel (ex officio as Executive Officer), Caty Pilachowski, Lou Strolger, and Lee Anne Willson. We are very interested in hearing both from our membership and from those who work in our profession but who are not AAS members about how they believe we might change our governance practices to better achieve our mission of enhancing and sharing humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe. At this meeting, we will be setting up a formal process for input, but each of us would be happy to hear informal remarks and ideas from colleagues.

With thanks in advance for your input,
David Helfand

Charge to the AAS Task Force on Governance

The American Astronomical Society, in its 117th year, is in a strong financial position, has a highly effective meetings team, is in the process of streamlining an already effective publications operation, has a strong public affairs team, and is engaged in a number of initiatives to broaden participation in the Society and in our discipline. This position of strength provides an opportunity to reflect on the governance of the Society which has changed little over the past 50 years despite explosive progress in our science, rapid change in the demographics of our discipline, and a complete transformation of our modes of communication. The Council hereby establishes a Task Force on AAS Governance to examine our current practices and suggest changes if they are warranted. Specifically, the Task Force will address:

  • the nominating and election process for officers and councilors;
  • the term lengths of the officers, councilors, and other officials of the Society;
  • the size of the Council;
  • the formal and informal responsibilities of the officers and councilors;
  • the number and scope of Society Committees;
  • the appointment processes (including restrictions thereon) and the roles of Committee Chairs and Committee members;
  • classes of membership and the rights and responsibilities pertaining to each;
  • the Constitution of the Society;
  • the Bylaws of the Society, including the process by which these are changed;
  • the policies and processes pertaining to the Society's financial reserves and annual budgeting;
  • other such policies and practices that are atavistic, discriminatory, or otherwise impeded the effective and efficient functioning of the Society.

This review will be informed by successful past practices of the Society, as well as by current best practice in the governance of non-profit membership organizations; furthermore, it will assure that all our documents and procedures are compliant with the laws of Washington, DC, the jurisdiction within which we are incorporated, and are cognizant of the changing federal legal and regulatory environment. The Task Force will work closely with the Executive Office to understand current practices and to discover impediments that suggest a need for change. They will also consult widely with Society members and non-member astronomers. They will provide a progress report to the Council's June 2016 meeting, and issue a final written report with recommendations in time for consideration at the January 2017 Council meeting.