TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NONE HAS GONE BEFORE (1988)
At the New Orleans Council meeting, outgoing ACS president Mary Good departed with these words: "When we have people within the society - and there are many of them and particularly some of the younger chemists coming up today - they come with great enthusiastic ideas for new things and new ways to do things. I would like for the council and all of the governance in those instances to ask the question: What will be the impact? Then once having decided what the impact is, do not ask whether it fits the organizational structure but figure out how to do it."
As the incoming chairman of the Membership Affairs Committee (MAC), I was pleased to hear these words openly expressed by an ACS president and applauded by the Council. For the past 20 years, as an outspoken member of the "Young Turks" (but with increasingly gray hair), I have sought continuously to enhance the value of ACS membership. Frequently, new suggestions met with an almost automatic "it can't be done," even before the details had been studied. Good's words appear to signal the end to such an attitude. With Gordon Nelson and Clayton Callis as ACS presidents in 1988 and 1989, both of whom are also long-time proponents of positive thinking, a new era beckons. This spirit can greatly enhance the society's achievements and contributions.
Since assuming the helm of MAC, I have been evaluating various programs that we may choose to initiate. The general duties of various ACS committees are outlined as broad guidelines in our governing documents. But to meet the Society's goals our committees must act with a creative understanding of the past and a bold vision of the future. What are those goals? In simplest terms, the answer can be found in the Congressional charter of the society: "to encourage in the broadest and most liberal manner the advancement of chemistry in all its branches." That charter, drawn up more than 50 years ago, refers to various prospective activities, such as meetings, publications, and education. Such activities served the most evident and pressing needs at that time. But the general nature of the charter also reveals the foresight of those who drafted it. They recognized that times and needs change. Most recently this recognition has led to the formulation of "Target 2000: a Commitment for the Future". This document is "a contemporary statement of mission" - unanimously approved by the council and the Board of Directors - "which would serve to clearly keynote ACS priorities for the balance of this century." It incorporates many goals that, though not expressly stated in our charter, are clearly encompassed under the umbrella of "broadest and most liberal manner."
In keeping with the Society's emerging new attitude and spirit, we must search for new ways to advance our cause. Approaches that succeeded yesterday may be ill-suited for today. Similarly, strategies that seemed inappropriate yesterday may now have reached maturity. In the conduct of scientific research, we constantly probe uncharted territories. We apply new approaches to the solution of problems deemed insoluble by our predecessors. This same attitude of confidence and inquiry should characterize the manner in which we confront difficult professional issues.
One thing has become increasingly clear during the past 20 years: The progress of chemistry is inseparably tied to the professional health and well-being of its practitioners. We must give equal attention to the scientific, educational, and professional concerns of our members. Unresolved problems in either area can jeopardize the progress of chemistry and undermine the stability of chemistry as a profession. In a recent letter to the editor (C&EN, March 21, page 4) one of our members, George W. Latimer Jr., asks: "Will ACS exist in the future?" That question is crucial and articulates an issue that must be addressed. Our present enrollment stands at approximately 138,000 members, which makes us the single largest scientific organization in the world. It has been.estimated, however, that this number represents only half of those in this country who are eligible for membership. Why have the remaining half failed to join us? Are the advantages of ACS membership not evident? Are the rewards of membership inadequate to meet present needs? For the past few years, 10,000 new members have been recruited annually, but many do not renew. In 1987 a total of 9810 new members and national affiliates joined ACS. In spite of this, at the end of 1987 our membership total stood at 108 members fewer than a year earlier. Are we failing to provide those programs or services that chemists and chemical engineers consider vital?
The letter quoted previously also states "the Society would be well served by a vigorous open debate of its function and how it can best serve chemistry and chemists". Fifty years ago, ACS membership per se was a sign of professional status and prestige Today, prospective members expect more tangible returns on their membership dues. To complicate matters even further, the needs of contemporary chemists vary widely - depending upon such factors as place of employment, educational background, or age, to mention a few. This suggests that no single program will appeal to everyone. Accordingly, we must consider a diversity of needs and develop appropriate new programs to meet them. Many of our members' complaints, reported in the letters section, underscore the urgent need for reevaluation and concerted action.
During the past 20 years, I have helped to promote various new ideas and to modify those ideas as circumstances dictated. Many of those suggestions received only passing attention; some should now be reexamined. For example, periodic sabbaticals for non-academicians were proposed as one way to combat forced early retirement. A task force recently completed its preliminary evaluation of this idea, including the identification of anticipated difficulties. We must now advance to the next stage: the formulation of measures to overcome the obstacles identified. A second example involves a proposed computer model, projecting 10 to 15 years into the future, which could provide more reliable information on the availability of and need for chemists. The issue of quality versus quantity is not a new one, but it is also a problem that must be confronted head-on (see John R. Wasson's letter, C&EN, March 21, page 5). A third suggestion entails the concept of special unemployment insurance for ACS members, designed to lessen the hardship of mass terminations. Although this would be an unusual undertaking for a scientific organization, the idea has definite merit. If we can minimize insecurity in the workplace, we will foster creativity and continuing scientific progress.
These are just a few ideas, not a complete agenda. I recognize that no perfect answers exist and that finding feasible solutions will not be easy. However, bold approaches are needed to improve our lot. As a beginning, I have created a special subcommittee charged with probing all possibilities. No suggestion will automatically be dismissed as impossible; deliberations will not be hampered by preconceived notions. I am also consulting the chairmen of our 182 local sections and 32 divisions for suggestions. Last, but not least, I request and welcome your views on how ACS can best advance our cause. It is my fervent belief that with imaginative approaches ACS will survive. A well known wine manufacturer promises that no wine will be sold before its time. I promise exactly the opposite. Each suggestion will receive careful consideration - even if it's ahead of its time.
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