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January 13, 2003
Volume 81, Number 2
CENEAR 81 2 p. 42
ISSN 0009-2347


ACS COMMENT
OH, TO BE A BOARD MEMBER...YES?

ANNE T. O'BRIEN, DISTRICT I DIRECTOR

Having been thinking about being an ACS Board member for two years now, I wanted to share my reflections with you. It seems mysterious, doesn't it? Being "up there" and away from it all and "unreachable," maybe? I imagine that you are interested in who and what we are, and in what our duties, rewards, "to do" list, and plans are.

A member of the board is an unpaid volunteer who promises

  • Fidelity (to the written governing documents of the society, its constitution and bylaws, which say that the board "shall have, hold, and administer all the property, funds, and affairs of the society").
  • Loyalty (no conflict of interest, no personal gain, maintain confidentiality of executive board meetings).
  • Care (diligent, reasonable care, in good faith, using one's best business judgment, for the society).

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Implied by these are oversight and responsibility for the financial well-being and proper administration of the society.

We board members are all elected. We are a democratic member organization. Very specific expertise, if necessary, can be sought outside the board.

We are here to

  • Represent the members.
  • Think independently, exercise our best-balanced judgment.
  • Act as a whole entity, as stewards for the society.
  • Meet face-to-face a minimum of four times, but sometimes five or six times, a year. We try to attend many committees (for example, those on Grants & Awards, Public Affairs, Member Relations, Planning, and Budget & Finance) and task forces, whether or not we are members of a particular group, in order to be fully informed. We spend up to 30 hours per quarter, and probably more, at the table. It's part of the deal. We get a lot of business done by e-mail and "snail mail," and by reading--outside meetings. We spend a minimum of meeting time on items that can be read.
  • Make policy, not manage in detail. There is no sign identifying where one role leaves off and another begins. We are not a rubber stamp, nor do we wish to second-guess and micromanage. By attempting to define these roles, we have worked to develop a team environment between the board and senior management.
  • Keep communication going both ways: by listening to you first and by speaking with you second.
  • Try to provide oversight and obtain the information required to make informed decisions for a large membership society with extensive publishing operations. This takes time.
  • Bring unique qualifications to the table. We are not "yes" people!

We come from industry, academia, government, and managerial roles, with all sorts of experience (in local sections and divisions and national committees and in other organizations). I had been very active in the society (for example, I served in my local section on the Economic Status and Council Policy Committees) prior to being elected, and still I did not appreciate the time it takes to be a board member. Prior to my retirement, I worked on the board in addition to my full-time job in industry.

How do we do what we do?

  • As a whole, as a team, as a community. Respect, trust, and flexibility, as well as working, playing, living together, and spending time in retreat--all help us to set parameters, and to appreciate that differences of opinion are vital to the board's health and are genuine assets to ACS. With the trust that comes from living and working together, we respect one another, and we function as a whole, even while we hold differing opinions.
  • Collaboratively, respecting the work of council committees, with task forces set up to address particular issues.
  • Galvanized and energized by one another (this is true!), by the devotion of all the society's members! 

So what do we get for all this?

  • The honor and privilege of serving. That is its own reward.
  • We learn; we are informed; we are exercised in all our being. That is its own reward.
  • The camaraderie and example of some of the most intelligent, best-educated, most experienced, and best-human-being colleagues.
  • Participation in the decision process--an opportunity to express our opinion, to make choices, to make a difference. Perhaps that is rare, indeed.
  • Many moments worth treasuring, such as going to Capitol Hill for a legislative summit or interacting with members at local section, division, or regional meetings (a chance to be both with the members and where the science is). 

And what is on our "to do" list now?

  • New executive director: John K Crum will be retiring at the end of 2003, and perhaps no task looms larger for the good of the society than selection of a new executive director.
  • New strategic plan: Especially as the new budgets will be managed in concert with the plan for 2004–06, prioritizing and developing this plan is most urgent.
  • New strategic expense management system: It is imperative that a rational method, without favoritism for people, departments, or projects, be implemented during stressful financial times.

We are elected to think independently, to exercise our best balanced judgment, whether popular or not, for the good of the whole society. We are listening to you, we want to know what you think, and we ask you to make suggestions. We are here for you (e-mail: ronanne@attglobal.net).



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