President’s Letter: A Challenging Time to Assume the Presidency

Harry KleeIt seems like only yesterday that the members of ASPB entrusted me with the presidency. My year as president-elect has flown by. When I was elected, I wondered, what exactly does a president-elect actually do, and is it necessary? A year later, I am pleased to say that the system devised by my predecessors is amazingly effective. It took literally a year for me to understand the breadth of the Society, the roles of its many committees, the budget process, and the amazing job done by the permanent staff.

My year started off when I was thrust into the Program Committee before I was even officially the president-elect. I am still in awe at how hard this committee, led by Alice Harmon (and now Andrew Bent), works with the staff to organize virtually every aspect of the annual meeting. That meeting is our showcase, and a tremendous amount of work goes into every little detail.
No sooner is the annual meeting planning finished than the president-elect is tasked with appointing members to sit on all of the governance and award committees. But of course, to do that, you must understand what all of these committees actually do. It was a wonderful experience to meet with all of the chairs of the governance committees in Honolulu, hear their perspectives, and see what each committee is doing to fulfill the Society’s mission.

This is a very special Society, in large part because of the voluntary contribution of time by its members. Committee members and chairs do a tremendous amount of work because they believe they can make a difference. To appreciate just how special ASPB is, you should know that of the dozens of people I recruited for committee service this past summer, not a single person turned me down. There is a special sense of community among our members, and I am very grateful for that.

And now my real work begins. I inherited a very challenging time to assume the presidency. You will certainly hear more details in upcoming letters. But let me touch on a few of the focal points for me in the next year.

Membership has been declining by, on average, 5% per year over the past several years. This is very disturbing, and I want to understand why this is occurring and what we can do to halt the trend. We are a very diverse Society, covering public and private educational institutions of all sizes, government, nonprofits, and industry. Fully one-third of our membership now resides outside the United States. We are not just an “American” society. We need to understand what drives people to join ASPB, what they value in membership, and why, all too often, they choose not to renew their membership. We must understand what you, as members, value in our Society and deliver the best possible product to you.

Historically, membership fees and publications have supported all of the good work we do. Journal subscription revenues help keep the lights on. But the journal landscape is changing rapidly. There is increased competition from for-profit journals for the best submissions. And the increasing emphasis on open access puts us ever closer to a tipping point after which libraries will no longer pay for subscriptions. All of this means that we need to find new sources of revenue to continue to deliver all of the products you expect from us. Those new revenues, in turn, incur start-up costs that strain the bottom line. How we reinvent our Society is intimately tied to membership, and the products you expect from us and the choices we make today will impact the Society for many years.

Public Affairs
We spend much effort representing the plant biology community nationally and globally. It has become somewhat of a cliché to say that these are trying times for science. But I believe that having a strong voice for plant science is one of our most important duties. We have a vigorous and not inexpensive effort in place to educate our legislators, their aides, and you about issues regarding science policy. ASPB has been and must continue to be a leader in advocacy not just for plant biology, but for all science.

Over the next year, you will hear more from me on all of these topics. Please be an active participant in ASPB and in all aspects of public policy. Be a part of the solution to the challenges we face together.

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