As I write this, we are preparing for the council meeting at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Orlando, Florida. By the time you read this, elected representatives from local sections and divisions will have selected two candidates from a field of four nominees to stand for election this coming fall as ACS president-elect for 2020.
A carefully crafted process overseen by the Committee on Nominations and Elections (N&E) preceded this decision. It is one honed by the experience of conducting elections for more than 140 years. This process enables councilors to perform duties specifically entrusted to them: carefully consider the nominees’ biographical information and professional résumés, attend a town hall meeting where nominees field questions from the audience, actively listen as each person delivers a 3 min presentation to the council, and finally, elect two candidates.
These activities are a predictable highlight of each spring national meeting and are subject to much scrutiny. Seasoned councilors will recall rather vociferous debate on various questions. For example, how many words should be allowed in their candidate statement, how far back should one go in a résumé (10 years, 20?), should a candidate be allowed to campaign, how much money should a candidate spend when running, what method of balloting should be adopted, should the practice of petition candidates be continued?
In the past 20 years, virtually all the election guidelines and procedures approved by the council were in direct response to member concerns and suggestions, with feedback from the president-elect nominees and candidates themselves, on topics such as the following: fair campaign guidelines; more interactive opportunities with the nominees (the Younger Chemists Committee now conducts a “catalyze the vote” webinar featuring the two president-elect candidates); options for candidates to use an N&E-sponsored, standardized web page for candidate statements, video messages, and links to personal websites; expedited procedures for candidate petitions via email; and electronic balloting for national elections.
Why all the fuss? For one, ACS deserves—and needs—the best leadership possible, especially from its president and other members of the board. Second, councilors and members have a right to choose future leaders from the widest possible pool of talented individuals with diverse experiences. Yet you might be surprised to learn that the society’s governing documents have little to say about a candidate’s background, experience, or achievements. The bylaws require only that a candidate for president be a member of the society.
The 15 council members elected to serve on N&E use their judgment to identify candidates who have the talent and experience to best represent and govern the society. Over time, members have come to expect several things of an ACS president: demonstrated leadership and governance experience; a clear commitment to the values, strategic plan, and goals of the society; integrity and strong ethical character; excellent communication skills; business and budget acumen; broad vision; and enthusiasm for meeting and working with members.
While we have a well-regarded and established election process and a firm understanding of the necessary demonstrated knowledge, skills, abilities, and vision desired in candidates, more can and should be done. N&E, through its various subcommittees, has begun to consider a new focus and strategy for the identification of candidates for president, the challenge of cultivating a more diverse leadership pipeline that befits inclusive governance, and ultimately, the screening process itself. We also need to examine more thoroughly why a surprisingly large number of members identified as qualified nominees for the presidency decline the nomination to serve. This will help us develop value propositions and craft comprehensive communication pieces on the scope and expectations for the office and various campaign requirements.
ACS presidents have a more public face for the society than do other board members (presidents serve and vote on the board during their 3 years in the presidential succession). They are called on to represent the society in diverse settings, including local section meetings, visits to Capitol Hill, and domestic and international gatherings of sister societies. The challenge of the committee is to determine which members have the experience, talent, and perspectives to make a strong nominee or candidate for ACS president. We need your assistance to accomplish this. If you know of members that have the appropriate knowledge or expertise to be president, please send their names along with a brief statement for the basis of your judgment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.