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ACS Council and its role in shaping the society

by Mary K. Carroll
July 15, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 29


You have heard the American Chemical Society described as the “world’s largest scientific society.” The size of our society (more than 150,000 members) allows it to provide members with an extensive portfolio of programs and resources, which enable members to advance chemistry, elevate their career potential, expand their networks, educate and inspire future generations, collaborate globally, and build communities that provide scientific solutions. A society of this scope requires a robust national governance structure. ACS has a board of directors, a council, and quite a number of committees.

Photo of Mary Carroll.
Credit: Carlyn Studio
Mary Carroll

This structure affords volunteer leadership opportunities and countless other ways for members to provide input into governance and help guide the direction of the society. In a June 4 Comment in C&EN, ACS Board Chair John Adams described how the board functions. And in a June 18 Comment, Carolyn Ribes, chair of the Committee on Committees, discussed ways to get involved in national committees. Here, I focus on the ACS Council: how it is currently constructed, how it operates, and how you can help it improve.

Early in its history, ACS developed a grassroots, representative system of national governance. The council’s role is to serve as the popular, deliberative assembly of ACS and to advise on matters pertaining to the general management of the society. It is meant to represent the membership as a whole and to receive and deliver information via two-way communications with the board and the committees.

In its current form, the council consists of nearly 500 councilors, most of whom are elected to represent local sections or divisions. Board members and ACS past-presidents are ex officio members. Councilors from 185 local sections and 32 divisions represent ACS members on the basis of geography (where they live, work, or study) or subject matter (specialization or interests). Divisions also provide a means for international members to have representation in ACS governance. Each local section has one or more councilors, based on its total membership, and divisions have one to four councilors, depending on size and a proportional formula prescribed in the ACS bylaws. Many councilors serve on national committees as well as the executive committees of their local sections or divisions.

The council meets in person, twice yearly, on the Wednesday morning of each ACS national meeting. The Council Policy Committee (CPC), the executive committee of the council, sets the agenda for this meeting. At the council meeting, councilors hear reports from the officers of ACS and from leaders of council-related committees, participate in elections, and discuss and vote on proposals for action brought forward by committees or groups of councilors. In addition, the council sometimes engages in discussion on a special topic. Although participation is limited to councilors, anyone present at the national meeting is welcome to observe the council meeting. If you’re going to be in Boston this August, consider adding this to your calendar.

Why should you, an individual member, care about ACS governance? You may be content with receiving the quality programs, products, and services that ACS provides. But you undoubtedly have thoughts about the profession we are engaged in and perhaps see opportunities for ACS to play a role in making it stronger and more valuable and valued. As we approach the sesquicentennial of the founding of ACS (2026), it is appropriate to consider improvements to the current governance structure, including the council, to best position the society for the future.


ACS strives to take full advantage of the considerable expertise of its member volunteers, provide mechanisms for meaningful volunteer experiences, and connect individual members to all levels of governance. Our governing structure should be (but is not always) characterized by efficient communication, which is essential for impactful decision-making. As part of a concerted effort in governance redesign, CPC’s Future Council Representation Working Group is considering how the council could be restructured to facilitate discussion and productive interactions with the board and committees while increasing communication with members at the grassroots level, including the possibility of greater representation for ACS members who live and work outside the U.S.

I encourage you to reach out to your councilor or councilors to express your views on this or any other subject relevant to the chemistry enterprise and the ACS vision of “improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.” Your councilors will be pleased to bring your input, ideas, and suggestions to the governance system.

You may want to go beyond simply expressing your views and become more actively involved in governance. If so, talk with your local section or division officers about running for councilor or taking on another leadership position. ACS and the profession benefit when individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives contribute to leadership.

Finally, keep in mind that all ACS members have the ability to influence governance through the electoral process. Please take the time to vote in your local section and division elections and in the national ACS elections for president and the board of directors.

CPC welcomes your feedback and suggestions at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.


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