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For District V Director: John E. Adams

September 10, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 37

Credit: Courtesy of John Adams
Credit: Courtesy of John Adams

Division of Physical Chemistry (University of Missouri Section). University of Missouri, Columbia

Academic record: University of Missouri, Rolla (now Missouri S&T), B.S., 1974; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1979

Honors: ACS Fellow, 2009; E. Ann Nalley Midwest Region Award for Volunteer Service to ACS, 2008; Professional Degree in Chemistry, Missouri University of Science & Technology, 2011; Curators’ Teaching Professorship, 2009; Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2009; University of Missouri President’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, 2009; Missouri Academic Advising Association, Outstanding Faculty Academic Advisor, 2005; University of Missouri Excellence in Advising Award, 2005; Division of Student Affairs Excellence in Education Award, 1999; Kemper Fellow for Excellence in Teaching, 1993; AMOCO Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award, 1987; National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, 1974–77; Sigma Xi; Phi Lambda Upsilon; Phi Kappa Phi; Phi Eta Sigma

Professional positions (for past 10 years): University of Missouri, Curators’ Teaching Professor, 2009– ; professor, 2003–09; associate professor, 1987–2003; associate chair for undergraduate studies, 1996–2012

Service in ACS national offices: Council Policy Committee, 2011–13, (nonvoting), 2010; Board Committee on Planning, 2010; Committee on Budget & Finance, 2003–10, committee associate, 2002, chair, 2010; Committee on Constitution & Bylaws, 2002, committee associate, 2003–10; Committee on Membership Affairs, 1995–2000, committee associate, 2001, 1994; Board of Trustees, Group Insurance Plans for ACS Members, 2011–13, 1997–2000; Fellows Oversight Committee, chair, 2010–12; Committee on Executive Compensation, 2010; Program Review Advisory Group, 2006–09, chair, 2009; Task Force on Society Services & Associated Dues Pricing Models, 2010

Service in ACS offices:Division of Physical Chemistry: councilor, 2003–14. University of Missouri Section: councilor, 1993–2002; chair, 1988–89; chair-elect, 1988; secretary-treasurer, 1984–85; Midwest Regional Meeting: general chair, 2003; program chair, 1993; webmaster, 2004– ; historian, 2010–

Member: Member of ACS since 1974. Alpha Chi Sigma, Grand Master Alchemist (president), 2002–04, Grand Professional Alchemist (vice president), 1998–2002; Delta Chapter Advisor, 1990– ; Alpha Chi Sigma Educational Foundation, 1998–2018, trustee, 1998– , secretary-treasurer, 2009– ; American Physical Society. ACS Divisions: Chemical Education, Computers in Chemistry, History of Chemistry, Physical Chemistry

Related activities: Wakonse Conference on College Teaching, staff, 1999– ; 223rd and 224th ACS national meetings, symposia cochair; Midwest Theoretical Chemistry Conference, coorganizer, 2005, 1994; Brown University, visiting associate professor, 1989–90; Los Alamos National Laboratory, postdoctoral fellow, 1979–81


I have a confession: I really dislike campaign statements. They usually are filled with promises that either are ludicrously ambitious (“and now a miracle happens”) or are so modest that keeping the promise and reneging on the promise are nearly indistinguishable. Worse, the promises often betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper role of the ACS Board of Directors, which I believe to be (1) setting society priorities, and (2) ensuring that the limited resources of the society are deployed in support of those priorities. The board properly should avoid the very human tendency to micromanage at every opportunity. In my experience, ACS is blessed with an immensely talented and dedicated membership and an exceptionally competent professional staff that together can handle the “small stuff.” Consequently, my comments focus on what I think the priorities of ACS should be in the coming few years rather than on advocacy for new programs.

In prioritizing the ACS response to the acknowledged challenges facing the chemical enterprise in the U.S., we should begin by acknowledging the truth expressed in my favorite H. L. Mencken quip: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Current problems affecting our science and our members (historically high unemployment, a difficult funding environment for basic research, decreasing financial support for public education, woeful gaps in public science literacy, the shifting focus of chemical research and innovation, and so forth) will not yield to quick fixes. Nor will a scattergun approach produce significant impact, even though it might make us feel warm and fuzzy about “doing something.” ACS has several unique strengths, though, that can be harnessed to make real progress possible, strengths that build on the multilevel structure of the organization and on the exceptional talents and dedication of our member volunteers.

1. We’re everywhere!

Two issues that I hear mentioned frequently (usually accompanied by hopeless shrugs) are the loss of student interest in STEM fields at some time during K–12 education and the absence of scientific input into policy-making at local and state levels. If Tip O’Neill was right and “all politics is local,” then the ACS local section infrastructure positions us perfectly for exerting leadership in addressing these very real problems. But doing so requires prioritizing our efforts in education and in government relations, supporting these priorities with additional resources that empower our cadre of loyal volunteers, and energizing our local sections with the goal of greater local impact. Yes, I know by heart all the arguments why it can seem impossible to influence state and local educational establishments and how local politicians often appear not just scientifically illiterate but scientifically uneducable, but I also know that it is naive to think that someone else will solve our problems. ACS is the organization, with its energetic members and its local, national, and international connections, that is uniquely positioned to provide solid science and expertise to K–12 education and to local and state governments.

2. We’re a national resource!

Putting a greater focus on exerting influence at the local level does not mean abandoning the ability of ACS, because it is a large organization, to influence national policy discussions. To the extent that the polarized political climate in Washington permits consensus on any issue (and your guess is as good as mine), ACS must continue, either on its own or (even better) in conjunction with other scientific organizations, to provide the best information possible to Congress and to the Executive departments that are framing legislation, regulations, and policies that affect the conduct of science and the welfare of our members. Will every ACS advocacy position make everyone happy? No—you have read the letters to C&EN, haven’t you?—but if our positions are well reasoned, timely, and based on a critical evaluation of the available data, we can raise the level of political discourse in the U.S. National advocacy is not divorced from local advocacy, of course. To the extent that we can synchronize these activities and deliver a coherent message, we leverage our strengths in both arenas.

ACS cannot do everything. We have finite numbers of members and professional staff (the great majority of the latter group being associated with CAS). We rely heavily on volunteer efforts, and our resources available to support programs are limited. Appropriate prioritization, however, will ensure our relevance at all levels and enhance the value of membership.

For more information about me, see my webpage at



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