5 April 2017

From the Executive Office

Kevin Marvel

Kevin Marvel, American Astronomical Society (AAS)

New Beginnings

It has been a while since I’ve written one of these columns. I assure you I have not been slacking — I have a good excuse: a new son! Graham Kerns Marvel arrived on 6 December and has been an absolute joy. I am extremely grateful to the AAS as an employer for having a progressive parental leave policy that allowed me to use banked sick leave to spend a reasonable (but too short for me!) time focusing on family. Several other members of the AAS staff have also utilized this benefit in the past year or so, and they too are very grateful to the Council for having established and supported this family-friendly policy.

The AAS is among the more senior scientific associations in the country. We were founded in 1899, and although our guiding documents have changed a bit since then, they have not been revised in any substantial way in more than 50 years. The structure and processes for our governance remain fixed in the 1950s sensibilities of nonprofit management. In the past few years it has become very apparent that we need to make some changes to be more efficient and to ensure that our governance structure more effectively engages our volunteer leaders.

That is why, as a primary goal of the most recent AAS strategic plan, the Council started an effort to review our governance and consider making recommendations for change. The Governance Task Force (GTF) met multiple times throughout 2015-16, and this very collaborative and engaged group — we all owe them a huge debt of thanks! — produced a comprehensive report detailing both recommended changes and the justification for those changes. The report was announced to the membership shortly after the Council adopted it, which launched the next phase of the process: the necessary but tedious work of creating restated Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for consideration by our members.

Drafts of the revised documents were finished this week and announced in an online article by GTF chair and former AAS President David Helfand. A special email will go out to all our members to let them know about the changes and to solicit their thoughts and comments. Input from our membership is critical as the Council considers approving the restated Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, which they will do at the 230th meeting of the Society in Austin, Texas, in June. The GTF strongly believes that the proposed changes will make the AAS more efficient, more engaging, and more transparent, while also positioning the organization to have greater impact and be better able to achieve its goals. A special town hall will be held in Austin to discuss the proposed changes, and as the process moves forward more opportunities for dialog and discussion will be made available.

As the number of ways to communicate continues to expand seemingly exponentially, I ask that all AAS members engage with fellow members to inform them about the proposed changes to our governance. Although they are comprehensive, they are not likely to be very controversial. Most people who have read the concise GTF report have come away highly positive and with a complete understanding of the motivation for each proposed modification. I really recommend setting aside a bit of time to read this report. It is an excellent document.

The next phase of the process for change is to have an open comment period for members of the Society to weigh in on the new Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. We’ve established a special email address and web comment form to capture your input. Please consider sending us your thoughts, even if all you want to say is “thumbs up!” We very much value your input on this and all matters.

I want to close by reminding everyone of the exciting and busy activities coming up this spring. First off, we are organizing the next meeting in the AAS Topical Conference Series in Palm Springs in just a few weeks on exploring the habitability of extrasolar planets utilizing radio astronomy. It looks like a fascinating meeting, with connections to astrobiology and other topics. In June we will have the 230th AAS meeting in Austin, one of our members’ favorite conference venues. That will be followed immediately by the Women in Astronomy IV meeting, which we are co-organizing with the strong support of NRAO and others. Please consider staying after the AAS meeting for this important conference or simply attending it alone.

Finally, on August 21st, a dramatic total eclipse of the Sun will sweep over the continent, providing the opportunity for millions and millions of Americans to see one of nature’s most impressive events. The AAS started planning for this eclipse several years ago by forming a Solar Eclipse Task Force, which has been working hard to coordinate with groups across the country to ensure that a wide range of activities of all types are in place and that the population is prepared to watch the eclipse safely. Two of our Divisions, the Solar Physics Division and the High Energy Astrophysics Division, will meet around the time of the eclipse: SPD in Portland, Oregon, and HEAD in Sun Valley, Idaho. In addition to lots of great science, attendees at both meetings will have a great view of totality — if the weather cooperates!

As always, let me know if you have any ideas or input on the Society and our activities. We make progress based on your input, so thanks in advance!