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What I’ve learned on the ACS Board of Directors

by Lisa Houston
October 9, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 39


Photo of Lisa Houston.
Credit: Diana Montoya
Lisa Houston

It has been almost 2 years since I was approached to run for the American Chemical Society Board of Directors. I, like many other ACS members, had only a limited understanding of what the board did. I dug in and did some research on the job description and the governing documents and spoke to former and current board members. The information gleaned was enough to convince me that I had the “right stuff” to put my name on the ballot, which ultimately led to my election as director representing District IV. I have now been in the role for almost a year, and I want to take this opportunity to share with you what I have learned so far about the ACS charter, as well as the responsibilities of the board of directors and its role in communicating with members.

My journey began in December 2019, when the board invited its newly elected members to join the year-end board meeting as observers. I heard the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” used more than once to describe the amount of information that we absorbed in just a few short days. The newly elected members attended a full orientation at the Leadership Institute in January. Since then, because of the pandemic, we have held all board meetings, subcommittee meetings, and task force meetings via Zoom, Webex, or another virtual platform. Since the board has not been able to meet in person, we have also taken steps to get together virtually in a more informal environment to get to know one another better, discuss topics of interest, and conduct trainings.

ACS is your society; please make sure your voice is heard.

ACS was founded in 1876 and is one of the leading scientific organizations in the world. What you may not know and what I recently learned is that ACS was federally chartered in 1937 by the US Congress as a corporation. Congress has effectively stopped granting federal charters in recent years, and only 94 organizations have received this distinction. These charters were given to organizations that the federal government determined could provide it with expertise in important areas.

The charter cemented the ACS framework and illustrated the critical role that chemistry plays in advancing the human condition (and even human happiness!). To provide structure to support its purposes and to outline its obligations, the ACS has a constitution, bylaws, and regulations—collectively referred to as the ACS governing documents. These documents were largely unchanged from the time of the ACS Constitution in 1948 until last year, when the board approved streamlining the documents to allow the society to be nimbler.

The constitution outlines the composition and the duties of the board of directors. The board is made up of 16 members: the president, the president-elect, the immediate past president, six district directors (one elected from each of six geographical districts), six directors-at-large (elected by the members of the ACS Council), and the executive director, who serves as a nonvoting ex officio member.

The ACS Constitution says the board shall “have, hold, and administer all the property, funds, and affairs” of the society; it therefore has fiduciary duties in areas such as strategic planning, finances, and compensation. The board also ensures that ACS is meeting the needs of our members, our profession, and our constituents. The board is responsible for ensuring that current and proposed programs align with ACS’s mission and goals and assessing their impact to determine overall success. In general, it works closely with the ACS Council, a large representative body made up of councilors elected by the local sections and divisions, to fulfill responsibilities related to ACS membership.

Much of the board’s business comes from board, society, or joint board-council committees. Many local section and division councilors serve on these committees. Your feedback on topics of interest can be provided through these representatives or through committee chairs and their staff liaisons. The board also creates task forces to review and make recommendations on issues and proposals. Feedback is always welcome on these timely and critical topics of interest. I currently serve on two board committees, Professional and Member Relations as well as Strategic Planning, which play to my strengths and interests. I am also serving on the Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect Strategy Development Working Group, as diversity and inclusion is a subject that I am extremely passionate about.

The board is the only body with the authority to express an official position on behalf of the entire society. This includes policy position statements, such as on climate change and science education, as well as statements based on current events, such as standing in solidarity with our Black and Brown staff, members, and communities after the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Whether it is communicated by ACS president Luis Echegoyen, CEO Thomas Connelly, or any other board member, the position is made on behalf of the entire society.

To ensure ACS is meeting the needs of its members, we must hear from you. Contact the board member that represents your district, a director-at-large, or any member of the presidential succession. Alternatively, send your feedback to ACS is your society; please make sure your voice is heard.

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



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