Questionnaire Answers from Dr. Charles Kolb, Candidate for ACS President-ElectOctober 14th, 2013
Earlier this month, ChemBark sent a questionnaire to the three current candidates for ACS President-Elect. The set of questions was similar to the set distributed last year that Tom Barton was kind enough to answer.
ChemBark will publish each candidate’s response—complete and unedited—in dedicated posts. The first candidate to respond was Dr. Chuck Kolb. His response appears below. (The answers of Dr. Bryan Balazs can be found in this thread.)
Response of Dr. Chuck Kolb, Candidate for ACS President-Elect
Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the important questions you have distributed to candidates for 2014 ACS President-Elect. My initial responses are listed after each of your questions below. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, I expect to be more deeply involved with the ACS Board of Directors and executive staff as we deal with several of the issues you have raised. I look forward to learning more about them during my “apprentice” year as President-Elect.
1. What are your thoughts about the historically low voter turnout (~15%) typical of ACS national elections?
A much higher voter participation rate in ACS elections would be a very healthy development. It would help ensure that issues of direct importance to members, not just to ACS’s governance volunteers, have the highest priority. Some ACS governance debates have an “inside the beltway” flavor that might seem strange to a majority of our members. However, this is not just and ACS problem, I belong to several other scientific societies with similar voter participation levels in their elections. Scientists and engineers are busy people and will not spend time on things that believe might not be very important or where they do not know what is at stake.
To do better we need to be sure the voting procedure is easy and quick and that the voters know what is at stake. I think that recent advances in on‐line voting are addressing the first requirement. I believe that greater transparency and more effective communication from the ACS Board of Directors, including the presidential succession members, might address the second requirement. If elected, I will advocate that ACS’s Board prepare and publish an annual “report card” to the members where they summarize the major issues they are addressing, what they have accomplished in the reporting year and what they intend to do in the coming year.
2. What is your stance regarding the fees that ACS Publications charges companies and universities to access journals?
I am very concerned about the escalation in journal subscription costs. Particularly their impact on both smaller and/or poorer academic institutions and smaller businesses, that need access to compete effectively, but really struggle to meet ever increasing fees. This is a serious problem in the U.S., but an even more serious problem in the developing world. For this and other reasons I believe that scientific publishing will soon be dominated by open access journals and that the ACS needs to work very hard to figure out how to meet that challenge while maintaining adequate revenue to sustain the quantity and quality of our publications.
3. What is your stance on the ACS’s executive compensation packages?
ACS’s senior executive staff is very well compensated. To some extent this is understandable because ACS is a large and complex organization that requires highly capable full‐time professional management, despite the uncompensated leadership and management skills of its thousands of volunteer members who play key governance roles. Also, ACS must compete with both for‐profit and other non‐profit science based organizations for executive talent, and their leaders’ compensation is generally at historic highs.
Organizational transparency is required to keep this issue in perspective and under control. I agree with Tom Barton, ACS’s current President‐Elect, who recommended an annual report on ACS executive staff compensation levels and their rationale, including available comparisons with similar positions at other major scientific societies, be published annually in C&E News, when responding to ChemBark on this question last year.
4. What are your thoughts on the recent ACS vs. Leadscope case? Do you believe that society records pertaining to the lawsuit—including legal fees—should be made public?
A similar question was asked of each of the four initial 2014 President‐ Elect candidates at our candidate’s forum during the 2013 Spring ACS National Meeting in New Orleans. I was the only candidate who stated directly that the Leadscope suit was a clear and costly mistake. It resulted in very serious monetary losses, for both judgment penalties and legal fees. It also tarnished the ACS’s reputation for fairness and sound business practices.
Since then, Bill Carroll, Chair of ACS’s Board of Directors did publish, in C&E News, a summary explanation of the case and its costs addressed to ACS members. At this point I am less interested in debating whether Bill’s summary was fully transparent than I am in working to ensure that both ACS’s professional and volunteer leaders learned from this mistake and that both will react more effectively if facing similar challenges in the future.
5. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the public perception of chemistry?
Many ACS members are skilled teachers, educating both future chemists and a much larger number of future voters and societal leaders. Recognizing their importance, I proposed the following in my candidate’s statement:
“ACS needs to continue helping educators at all levels to effectively present the beauty of fundamental chemistry. But we also need to help them convey the critical role chemistry can and must play to sustain and enhance our economy, security, health and environment. ACS’s education oriented staff and committees have started addressing this challenge; their efforts need to be supported and expanded, so the large fraction of ACS members who teach can be engaged and empowered.”
If elected, I will work hard with other interested members to promote this strategy.
6. What one specific item would you, as ACS President, make your first priority to improve the employment situation for chemists?
I will work to ensure under-employed and unemployed chemists, as well as ACS members in general, are informed enough by ACS programming, publications, webinars, etc. to exploit the opportunities they will have to address critical societal challenges that require need better chemistry to be successfully addressed. My candidate’s statement describes the challenge of helping ACS members be prepared to “seize the future:”
“Nearly all of the critical challenges facing our world have significant chemical components. ACS must help our current and future members better understand how their vision and their skills can contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable future. The fact that too many ACS members are unemployed or under‐employed, while most global challenges need chemical insight and innovation to be addressed successfully, is a travesty. ACS needs to develop more effective ways to help current and future members orient their interests and capabilities to successfully address critical problems. ACS also needs to motivate both private and public investments to ensure resources exist to fund the science needed for progress.”
7. What is your favorite chemical compound with respect to color or smell?
My favorite chemical color is the blue-green patina of copper sulfate that I first noticed on the architectural surfaces in the coal-burning town where I grew up. That colorful corrosion first showed me that the atmosphere contained invisible, but powerful, chemicals that probably had other important effects beyond turning church roofs blue-green, leading to a career long fascination with atmospheric chemistry.