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AIBS Enacts Governance Changes to Advance Strategic Plan

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December 2011

    The purposes of the Institute shall be... to foster and encourage research and education in the biological sciences... [, to] assist societies, other organizations, and biologists in such matters of common concern as can be dealt with more effectively by united action... [, and to] provide a voice for biologists in the public forum.
    --Excerpt, AIBS Constitution, Founding and Newly Revised

Changes are sweeping across the biological sciences and the practice of biology. Leading research areas and questions are changing rapidly; for example, 10 years ago, sustainability and systems biology were only just emerging, whereas today they fill the pages of journals and occupy time in classes. Interdisciplinary problems are changing the conduct of research, collaborations, and the education of students. All of this necessitates a changed approach to the life sciences at four-year colleges, community colleges, universities, research institutes, funding organizations, businesses, and scientific societies from that of 10 years ago.

AIBS must keep pace. In early 2010, AIBS began long-range planning to evaluate the Institute's past performance in order to assess its future role as an organization representing biology and to focus its efforts in effective and sustainable activities.

As is the case for many scientific organizations, individual membership in AIBS has declined for 40 years from a peak of 15,000 members in 1970 to 2300 today. But in contrast to most scientific organizations, AIBS also has scientific societies and other organizations as members, whose numbers have increased from 61 in 1975 to almost 160 member organizations today, representing more than 250,000 individual biologists. Clearly, there is a strong perception by the leaders and members of scientific societies and organizations that AIBS plays an important and unique role. How, we asked, can AIBS enhance that?

AIBS collected and analyzed data about and from the AIBS membership, surveyed individual biologists and biological organizations, and spoke with the leaders of key organizations that influence biology. Articles in BioScience will soon summarize this research. One point came through clearly: Changes in AIBS's governance would improve AIBS's ability to fulfill the mission of fostering united action as it was envisioned in its founding constitution.

Recommendations on changes to AIBS's Constitution and Bylaws were solicited from AIBS members during an open-comment period in the fall of 2011 and were incorporated into the final versions where that was feasible. In November 2011, in accordance with the amendments procedure, a vote was held among AIBS individual members, who voted overwhelmingly to approve the changes. AIBS's new Constitution and Bylaws, effective 2012, are on the AIBS Web site at http://www.aibs.org/about-aibs/documents.html.

What are the goals of these changes?

  • To have the leadership encompass a greater representation of all of biology,
  • To allow for strategic appointments to the Board, and
  • To extend the terms of leadership positions to make it possible to sustain initiatives over multiple years with leadership continuity.

How do these changes affect the Board?

The Board will now be able to

  • Convert the elected-sitting-past-president succession to a president office and a vice president office, each with two year terms,
  • Allow for multiple terms for a president and vice president with a limit of three consecutive terms in the same office,
  • Create officer positions elected by the Board,
  • Add four to eight Board-elected seats,
  • Maintain four Board seats from the organizational membership--the AIBS Council--and to reduce individual membership Board seats from four to two
  • Add a Board member from the organizational or individual membership to the Executive Committee

These changes will allow AIBS to broaden its representation beyond a historical core of ecology, evolutionary biology, and environmental biology to areas such as cellular and molecular biology, development, and genetics, along with emerging areas, including synthetic biology and computational biology. They will also ensure that the diversity of the AIBS leadership is maintained with respect to skills, work setting, career stage, and other professional factors to maximize opportunities for AIBS and its programs to benefit from an inclusive range of human talents.

With these governance changes now in place, AIBS's long-range planning continues into 2012, with the goal of producing a new AIBS strategic plan before the end of the year.

Richard O'Grady is executive director of AIBS and ex officio member of the AIBS Board of Directors.

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