is time for a change!
To make the ACS a better place,
equally for everyone,
from the youngest student
to the most respected
DO THE MEMBERS OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY WANT FROM THEIR
In January 2000, I wrote to all Divisional and Local Section
Officers, Councilors and Alternate Councilors, asking for input
from them and
their local membership to help formulate the ACS Strategic Plan
for 2001-2003. In addition, my ACS Comments in the January 10,
issue of C&EN asked readers for their input. Altogether,
I received 432 responses via postal and e-mail. At the San Francisco
in March, I received additional responses, mostly verbal, at
Councilor caucuses, Sci-Mix, open meetings of committees and
The following is a first attempt to present these responses
in an organized manner. Since I received many detailed proposals
not be adequately summarized for this report, I will prepare
a full follow-up report with some appendices later.
While respondents gave credit to the improvement of ACS activities
during the past several years, an overwhelmingly large majority
expressed discontent with the amount of attention the Society
pays to the members own needs. A disparity between what
the members pay,
in terms of the dues, vs. what they tangibly receive was a main
concern. It was emphasized over and over again that the ACS
must first be
concerned with the members needs before it considers benefits
to the chemical profession. Members from a wide range of the
claimed that the Society is elitist and pays little or no attention
to the large majority of members who work in industry, are retired
no Ph.D. degrees. Surprisingly, even many educators from state
colleges or small private universities with limited or no graduate
agreed with this view.
The concerns of members and their suggestions for improvements
can be grouped into three main categories, as follows:
There was unanimous agreement that K-12 education in the United
States lacks suitable depth in the sciences, especially chemistry.
University education was also strongly criticized for not helping
students prepare for work outside of academia. It was perceived
universities are more focused on research than education. It
was recommended that the ACS brings academe and industry together
out differences. A further recommendation was that more emphasis
be given to teaching chemistry for the sake of educating students
regardless of their majors. Strong support was also given to
the ACS developing continuing education courses that would be
accessible both economically and geographically, in order to
help chemists stay valuable to their employers and to "recycle
It was also recommended that the Society educate the general
public, at various levels, about the importance and contributions
The growing role of the Internet was acknowledged and supported
in every answer addressing this area. Responses touched on electronic
journal publishing as well as providing web pages for meetings
and posters. Furthermore, many protested that the programming
meetings caters mainly to academia. Suggestions were made to
change the direction more toward addressing everyday problems
education than information). Many voiced strong criticism of
C&EN for perceived unbalanced editorial views and not representing
sides of issues. The environment was the most frequently mentioned
"politically correct" bias.
Again an overwhelming majority claimed that the Society does
not pay even moderate attention to the employment problems experienced
members. With the exception of two answers, no one wanted to
turn the ACS into a labor union, but many did advocate changes
those practiced by professional organizations such as the American
Medical Association or the American Bar Association. The decrease
the number of American students selecting chemistry as a profession
was attributed to employment problems rather than a negative
image. Strong support was given to ACS interaction with legislators
on two issues affecting employment: immigration and portable
pensions. The supply and demand ratio was considered the most
important factor in employment. It was a unanimous consensus
was no shortage of chemists.
Overall, the responses were realistic. The members who contacted
me unanimously agreed that these concerns and issues are complex
and will not be solved overnight. Still, many strongly criticize
the Society as being timid and reluctant to address problems.
It was recommended that the Society immediately bring together
influential representatives of academe and industry to start
a working on improving the situation. Responders wanted to change
not only the image of chemists and chemistry presented to the
general public, but also the image of the Society presented
to the average member.
General attitudes towards the ACS
Only a few responses indicated readiness to resign, but many
apparently border-line cases indicated a great deal of dissatisfaction.
The most dramatic was this statement by an emeritus professor:
"It is an open question whether my membership of 45
years has been worth the investment."
Another person is still hanging on after dozens of years, but
his discontent is clearly evident:
"The ACS was no help when I applied
for over thousands jobs without success in the early Seventies.
It kept advocating shortage of chemists. I got very little of
the thousand of dues dollar I contributed during 35 years of
The most frequently cited cause of dissatisfaction was receiving
minimal or no return on the dues dollars.
"All I get for my $100+ dues is
C&EN. If I were not the Secretary of the Section I would
not be a member."
Recommendations addressing this issue included increasing the
tangible benefits received by the average member, and instituting
dues payments based on age, degree, financial background or
even use of available services:
"The dues should be in proportion
to what you get, e.g., cafeteria style. In the electronic age
this could be easily arranged."
It appears that the payment of dues by the employer is on the
decline. As a solution it was recommended that annual dues be
meeting registration fees, which employers are more likely to
Many voiced criticism of the Societys emphasis on getting
new members. The first priority should be retention of the existing
ones. Another emeritus professor put this in the right perspective.
"During my 56 years the only real
change in the ACS was its growth without any improvement. The
ACS grew without direction. Growth should not be the goal, it
must come with improvement."
Many respondents, even Ph.D.s, stated that the ACS appears
to be mostly concerned with Ph.D.s -- especially academic
and pays only cursory attention to non-Ph.D.s, even though
they comprise the majority of the membership. Similar observations
expressed about the ACS governance. As one scientifically well-known
professor from a middle-sized university stated:
"The ACS is a bureaucratic quagmire
with domination by the elite. It is stacked with status quo
people who are not about to let go of their power. They determine
who gets awards and grants. Most members know this, but they
have to feed their families, thus they remain silent."
Some said that more influence should be given to the Council,
Divisions and Local Sections:
"Many decisions are made at the
top with the expectation that (they) will be useful at the bottom
without checking with them."
Caution was voiced about taking official position on controversial
issues for which members are not surveyed:
"ACS stands on public or social
issues should reflect the diversity of the membership, giving
opportunity to differing views."
Respondents also suggested exploring various means of finding
out the opinions of the membership, and that the Strategic Plan
should be a
living document that is continually revised and updated as needed.
Frequently, it was stated that the ACS must address educational,
scientific and professional issues in the services it offers
membership. There were numerous recommendations on new directions
or improved activities for each of these three areas:
1. Education of students and the public.
Everyone agreed that science education in American K-12 schools
needs improvement, especially since scientific subjects, including
chemistry, are frequently taught by teachers with no scientific
background. The ACS should provide leadership in developing
science education as a career for chemists, and as an opportunity
for the retraining of middle-aged or early-retired chemists,
especially at the high school level. One step would be for the
Society to offer listings or a clearing house of available teaching
Concern was raised that college chemistry departments do not
provide adequate education for all students. The major emphasis
be to graduate more chemists, not produce students with more
chemical knowledge. The thinking of many educators is expressed
evaluation by one long-time teacher:
"Chemistry education is geared
to making a student a major. Its goal should be to make the
students understand chemistry, not necessarily to become chemists."
The problem is further complicated by the fact that the present
education system, even for chemistry majors, is designed to
prepare them for
careers in basic research, not for the real-life business world
where the majority of available jobs are:
"Academe is training graduates
for academic jobs, not for industrial positions."
More publicity should be given to the Doctor of Chemistry program,
which is offered by only a few universities but better prepares
graduates to face industrial challenges. The ACS should play
a key role in bringing academe and industry together to make
education more relevant. A research professor and dean with
35 years of involvement in education pointed out what should
"We need a balance between basic
and applied research: the research for the sake of research
and development work."
Frequent concern was raised about the limited availability of
continuing education for graduates in later years of their careers.
numerous complaints about the high cost and geographic limitations
of ACS short courses. For the self-employed, retired, or
non-compensated, they are completely out of range. Whenever
possible, they should be dispersed throughout the country. In
most cases, the
courses could be given by locally available scientists or on-line.
More employers would enroll their scientists if the costs of
Many responses dealt with educating the general public about
the benefits chemistry provides for every day life. National
is a good start, but it is not enough. Recommendations were
made for ACS-sponsored TV series, as is done by the American
Microbiology , and for providing the types of publicity to which
non-scientists, or even kids, can relate, such as chemistry
comic books. As
one respondent noted, if the mountain wont come to Mohammed,
then Mohammed must go to the mountain:
"Put news on technological developments
at (places other than C&EN): e.g., Yahoo, Netscape, CNBC,
2. Science: meetings and publications.
Many responses suggested the ACS make increasing use of electronic
media for meetings and publications, making them more available
for the membership. For example, we could place poster sessions
on the Internet, with e-mail addresses for contacts. Likewise,
national meetings could be recorded on videotape, for sale.
Eventually, this could even be extended to regional and larger
Questions were raised about the content of programs as well,
with suggestions for more knowledge-based programming at national
meetings, which would make attendance by industrial chemists
attractive to their employers:
"Make national meetings more industry-related,
i.e., related to chemists working on everyday problems."
It was even suggested that the topic list include subjects of
interest to executives:
"Have high-level programs at national
meetings with well-respected speakers for business executives
on issues important for them: new market opportunities, national
The increasing need for making ACS publications more easily
available through the Internet was a recurring theme. While
acknowledged that publications provide important financial resources
for the Society, it was repeatedly stated that they should be
members at decreased cost. Recommendation was made that publications
be available for viewing free of charge to members, but with
charge for down loading. Another use of electronic media could
be to create "cafeteria-style" electronic journals
where individuals subscribe
to a limited set of articles, based on author, subject or other
The cost of attendance at national meetings was the topic of
many responses. Recommendations were made for providing more
housing, and having meetings at locations where the cost is
lower. The high registration fees were also frequently mentioned.
(mentioned earlier under general attitudes) would be to include
membership dues in the registration fees, which are frequently
paid by the
employer. With an efficient computer-controlled database it
should not be a problem to give credit for such payments.
Many, especially councilors familiar with the situation, questioned
recent changes in the ACS accounting system that suddenly placed
the meetings in the red. Questions were also raised about whether,
regardless of accounting system, meetings ought not be subsidized.
It was pointed out that journal subscription prices for members
do not even cover run-off costs. The question, "Why
do we have to have self-sustaining meetings?"
appears to have great validity.
A considerable amount of criticism was directed at C&EN
regarding a perceived imbalance of editorial views, and a disproportion
technological vs. membership-related news. It was claimed that
the editorials are biased for "political correctness,"
and that letters with views
in opposition to the editors are frequently suppressed or at
best given only token publicity. One member put it this way:
"Unbalanced editorial views. It
should reflect the diversity of the membership."
A similar observation was voiced about C&ENs overall
"Too much environmental-issue-covering,
not enough information on industrial chemists situation."
Surprisingly the previous quote is from the response of an emeritus
professor. Other responses also advocated change in the content,
recommendations such as:
"More but shorter reports on technological
"More information on type of jobs available and held by
"More Local Section and Divisional news."
One response gave a specific recommendation on the new format
thats claimed to be well-received in the Physical Society:
"It should be more along the lines
of Physics Today. Separate the members everyday interest
from the scientific news. A weekly employment magazine."
A number of responses questioned the composition of the C&EN
Advisory Board, which was not viewed as representative of the
of the membership, especially the non-Ph.D. and industrial bench
3. Professional issues.
The large majority of the responses were about employment-related
issues, ranging from general philosophy to specific details.
recurring theme was the out-of-whack balance of supply and demand
for chemists in the U.S., and the way that the ACS has done
help the situation -- and may have even been making it worse.
The way that other professional organizations -- such as the
AMA, ABA and
NEA -- have an indirect influence on employment in their profession,
while acting supposedly for the benefit of the general population,
cited as a role model. Such recommendations were not limited
by the age, degree or type of employment of the respondents;
academe decried educational administrators for moving away from
tenure-protected employment. The message was clear: The ACS
concerned with the interests of practitioners of chemistry over
those of the profession, when the two are in conflict:
"It should concentrate on helping
the members be good, prosperous and productive. Take example
from AMA, ABA and other professional organizations."
"The ACS should become the American Chemists Society"
"Advertise unjustified layoffs, age discrimination. Make
the ACS independent from academe and industry, concentrate on
the individual." (per a 50 year member, former
Local Section chairman.)
Certification was frequently mentioned as a way to bring a better
"Chemistry is the only profession
that does not have any kind of professional certification."
"Why not certify the product, instead of the producer?
Certify students, not schools."
No specific certification programs replicating the systems of
other profession were recommended. Instead, respondents recommended
the ACS develop the solution best applicable to chemistry:
"The lack of action in this area will
come back to hunt us when legislation will be created (in response
to) pressure from environmental groups and the news media under
the pretense of protecting the public from dangerous chemicals
created by unqualified practitioners of chemistry."
No one claimed that remedying these problems would be an easy
task. The ACS has no authority to tell employers whom to hire,
universities how to teach, nor to set up mandatory certification
programs. Still, the Society can and must act as a mediator
involved parties, bringing them together to work out possible
solutions benefiting, in the long run, everyone involved.
While there was no question about the difficulty of finding
solutions to the employment problems, no one maintained that
there was a
shortage of chemists in this country. A large majority, in fact,
emphasized the need for enforcing immigration laws and closing
"The ACS should strongly support
existing immigration laws. No phony justifications for H1-B
visas.The immigration lawyers are enriched at the expense of
American scientific professionals."
We need accurate statistics on the job situation and then must
inform the students honestly about it:
"Let the true marketplace determine
the number of chemists graduated, not the universities
needs for research and teaching assistants."
Meanwhile, the ACS should improve its services for members who
are searching for employment opportunities. A wide variety of
suggestions were received. The Employment Clearing House should
expand its utility by including opportunities for sabbaticals,
professions on the border of chemistry, high school teaching,
part-time employment and consulting.
Numerous suggestions were received on services not limited directly
to practitioners of chemistry, but useful for the general workforce.
Society should consider offering them or promoting legislation
covering them. Some of the most frequently mentioned items were
pensions and medical insurance for unemployed and retired members
who need it. The success of our life insurance program shows
there are possibilities, which the ACS should vigorously investigate.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The respondents recommended a number of actions, but the theme
is the same in each of them: The Societys major concern
should be to
serve the members first, and then the profession, not vice versa.
The following is a short list of various issues which have been
neglected and should be addressed immediately. They should be
part of the
Strategic Plan. In addition, there are many further problems
and issues which we cannot afford to ignore if we really want
to become a
1. Supply and demand.
3. Graduated or cafeteria-style dues and subscriptions.
4. Interaction between academe and industry.
5. Innovative plans to help our members search for employment.
6. More programs for non-Ph.D.s.
7. Member retention.