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Interview of Peter Boyce by David DeVorkin on 1997 February 19,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Obtaining position as American Astronomical Society (AAS) Executive Officer (1979-1997); starting up the newsletter, travel grants, research grants; moving the executive office to Washington, DC; computerizing the AAS; increasing interaction with Congress; support of statistical research; astronomy education; fundraising and budget; increasing membership; possible merger of AAS and ASP (Astronomical Society of the Pacific); Carl Sagan and Robert Kirschner Congressional briefings; interactions with Ivan King, Dave Heeschen, Art Code, Maartin Schmidt, Bernie Burke, Andrea Dupree, John Bahcall, Don Osterbrock, Arlo Landolt, Harold Weaver, Margaret Burbidge, Hank Gurin, Jarus Quinn, Don Wells.
This is the second oral history interview session with Peter Boyce, in his office. The date is February 19, 1997, and the interviewer is David DeVorkin. Okay, Peter, when we finished last time, we were just about to get you hired on as the third executive officer of the American Astronomical Society. Let's step back and reconstruct how you became the executive officer. How did you hear about the job, what were the thoughts that went through your mind, and what were the negotiations that you went through in order to become hired?
Well, I can't remember how I heard of the job. It was just that it was fairly well known around the astronomical community and, of course, at this time I was still at the National Science Foundation, having had a year as a Congressional Fellow, which is very much the kind of thing that broadens one's horizons. So I was casting around to see where I might go, and this job came up, advertised in Science, or whatever it was. I looked at it and said, "Well, I really wouldn't want that job."
But then I began to think that, as I had said earlier, that this could be a really good position to strengthen the astronomical community. So I made a list of things that I would like to do that I felt the Society was not doing, if I were to become executive officer. So I kind of sketched out an ideal world, and went into the interview process, and went through the usual preliminaries. Then I said, "Well, I don't think the Society is serving its community very well. I've never felt that I was getting much out of it," and later went through this whole list. I said, "Well, the first thing, you've got to contact the members of the Society. You've got to open the communication."
There was Gart Westerhout and, I believe, Ivan King was on the committee. At that time he was the president-elect of the society. Margaret Burbidge was there. There were about five people. I don't remember who the other people were. I said, "Well, first you've got to have a newsletter, because we've got to keep the community informed." They said, "Yes, what a great idea." Then I said, "Well, also, times are changing, and we're going to have to make the community more aware of the political process, because we depend so heavily as a community on federal funding. So I think we ought to improve our congressional relations effort." He said, "Yes, that would be a great idea."
Then I said, "Well, also, NSF [National Science Foundation] has now made it possible to have block grants for travel to international meetings, and I thought this would be a great purpose for the Society to have a block grant, and have a little program to support the international travel." They said, "Wow! That's a good idea. Yes. Yes." And went on down the line. They had tried to do a small research grant proposal earlier, and I thought that was an excellent idea, and we should probably see what we could do to restructure it to get it funded. There was one other thing that I don't remember right now, that I remember suggesting to the group. If we're going to basically open the lines of communication and if we're going to be in Washington, we ought to become more aware of the political process and how it works.
You agreed that moving to Washington made sense.
Oh, absolutely. That was important. And I think the Society had already concluded that before they — I mean, that was part of the ad that made it attractive. So then I went out of the room, and they were virtually on my heels calling me back and saying, "That's it. You've got the job."
Where was the interview and when was it?
The interview, I believe was in the AUI offices.
Here in town.
Here in town.
That was approximately when?
It must have been fall of 1978.
Did you ever learn if you had competition for the job?
Well, I know there were other people being interviewed. I have no idea who they were.
Okay. So they got back to you right away and said the job was yours. But was there any discussion about practical things, the amount of money available to build the office, the size of the staff, and the types of people you would hire, and the relative power of the executive position relative to, say, the secretary of the Society, whether you would have a vote on the council, and that sort of thing?
Well, it turns out the executive officer already had a vote on the council, which sort of seemed important to me at the time. But the only discussion was really about my salary and the fact that I would try to get by with one person in the office.
It was a two-person office. The first year we lived rent-free in the back of the AUI offices.
And who was the person you hired, and what was that person's duties?
The other person was just basically receptionist, secretary, and I hired a man who was at NSF, Bill Rampley.
He was the receptionist/secretary?
That's right. He was doing that kind of work at NSF for the Astronomy Division.
So did you have any assurances that you would obtain the funds to be able to make the office larger, or did you feel that you could work with the status quo?
Neither of us really paid much attention to it, either me or the committee, to growing. I mean, I had looked at the job, and really there was not a lot to be done. I talked to Larry [Lawrence] Fredrick. He was another person on the selection committee, by the way, as the secretary of the Society.
But these things that you had suggested doing, the newsletter, more congressional relations, work, they all took time, they took energy, they took money. Did you feel you were going to be doing it all yourself?
Yes, basically. There was a lot of unnecessary busy work going on in the executive office in Princeton. They did a job where they were typing it out, making stencils, and sending it out, and mimeographing stuff. It seemed to me that we could make use of computer technology to do things far more efficiently. They had two and a half people in the office, and I thought we could do the kinds of things I wanted to do with two people, provided we really went right after it and used computers and so on.
When did you find that it was going to take more people?
When things became quite successful and we saw that we could contribute in other areas. The first year — oh, the other thing that I was going — if we want to step back a minute, the other thing that I said was that the job register was put out as a list of jobs every quarter with two updates a month. They had two different mailing lists, one for the quarterly announcements and another one for the updates. They were all on addressograph metal plates. There was just a lot of old-fashioned stuff that I felt was not going to be of any interest in this modern day and age.
1980 was just barely beginning. It was pre-PC.
That's true, it was pre-PC, but there were the little eight-bit machines.
That's true. Radio Shack-type.
Z-80-type machines. Each of us, Bill and I both had a computer on our desks.
From the beginning?
From the beginning. We used eight-inch disks at that time, and we used a program called Electric Pencil to do the newsletter, and we cranked out — we changed the job register to monthly and just did a newsletter four times a year, I believe, and started out by telling people how a bill went through Congress. The previous communication with the members of the Society had been through little notes that Larry Fredrick put in the meeting announcements, and now they're coming out on a fairly regular basis, this newsletter about Society ideas and the elections and all that kind of stuff, plus news that was of interest to the astronomical community as a whole.
The newsletter just went over really well. Then when we announced the first program of travel grants; that was received very well. Then we went to NASA instead of NSF and got the small research grant funded, and that went over very well. So we really began to do things that were visible to the community, and all of them received real high response from the community, because in comparison to what had been done before in terms of communicating with the membership, this was just head and shoulders above what had happened before. And then there was an excitement in the air about moving to Washington, and quite a few people did get enthused about visiting Congress, and so on.
Were there people, in your knowledge, who resisted the move to Washington and resisted this greater visibility and role for the executive office?
Oh, I heard a lot of grunting about offices in Washington costing so much, but by and large, we produced more material that actually touched the users, the members, than had been done before. There's always been an undercurrent of "expensive Washington office," but, in fact, by and large, the community has adopted this really well. I don't know about resistance to moving the office to Washington or discussions that led up to the move.
There was no resistance?
Not on the council anyway. And in fact, I suspect that there was a difference of opinion with the old executive officer, with Hank Gurin, that tended to solidify the council in favor of the move, so they were ready to sign on to a Washington office wholeheartedly.
Do you know what that difference of opinion was?
Hank didn't want to move. The bylaws at the time were really weird, because it turns out that the bylaws stated a couple of things which, in fact, were illegal, or attempted to bind the hands of the council in a way that wouldn't have stood up in court. I remember one statement was that the salary of the executive officer shall not be changed without the express consent of the executive officer. The other one is that the location of the executive office would not be changed during any term of appointment, which was three years, without the consent of the executive officer.
Both of these are things which the council, under the articles of incorporation, has absolute charge of and the bylaws cannot contravene that. I mean, that's part of the statute under which the organization was founded. But nevertheless, it was put in there to protect Hank, and I suspect that there were some hard feelings on Hank's part that he felt the council kicked him out. I know he resisted this as long as he could, although he gave me full support. I mean, there was nothing that Hank ever did which made my life difficult. He just did everything he possibly could to make it easy.
When you handed me the constitution of the American Astronomical Society that you had annotated and edited, and I think you also handed me a draft letter to Landolt, Weaver, Schmidt and Code that you wrote July 20, 1984, you outlined your philosophy about the relationship of the constitution and the bylaws and how they had to change. Was this your first big entry into changing the policy of the Society?
Basically, yes, I believe that it was. It wasn't that much of a change in policy, but there was a lot of things that needed modification, such as the dues had to be approved at an open meeting. Well, this was suitable for the 1920s; it was not suitable for the 1970s, 1980s, when you'd hold a business meeting and you might get fifty people in the room if you were lucky, and those fifty people could make life very difficult, and had no background, no prior chance to study the budget of the Society, and were in no position really to vote on the dues of the operating expenses of the Society, if you will.
So it was time to change that. Actually, let me say that the first real foray into changing the policy was when we adopted the ERA amendment, where the council adopted the amendment that we would not meet in states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. It was part of the effort to raise the visibility of women in astronomy in particular, and science in general.
What was your role in that?
Just keep things together, keep trying to act as a positive force toward making sure the women in our society got equal treatment.
But you must have had to have dealt with some astronomers who didn't agree.
Had to deal with some astronomers who didn't agree, but the council, fortunately, all agreed.
All agreed. That's good.
They passed that unanimously.
Was that something drafted by you?
No, that was pretty much under way, I believe, when I came on board. I believe we changed it at the Wellesley meeting, whenever that was. But I think that was in 1980. I think this was in the first year. It was the only council meeting I can recall where all councilors actually showed up for the meeting.
Because of this issue?
Yes, because of this issue.
It's a very important issue, and I think it would be certainly one of the issues that you would want to describe sort of as a watershed period in the new activist, much more activist, role that the Society is taking in cultural matters, issues dealing with a larger American community. I'm wondering if this didn't give you a feeling of empowerment in your new position, that you saw the executive offices being something fundamentally different than it was before, or much more proactive.
Oh, yes. Yes. But, you know, I was really carried along on the shoulders of so many good councilors.
Who would you identify as being the most influential and the most supportive?
In terms of the ERA or in terms of the expansion?
Well, let's start with the ERA and then the expansion.
The ERA, Arlo Landolt and Harry Shipman were really good supporters. Harold Weaver was less of a supporter for the ERA, which didn't mean to say that he voted against the Society's stand at all. He just wasn't sure how much business the Society had doing that. And this was the stand of a lot of the members. Now, we lost a dozen, maybe as many as sixteen members, who absolutely resigned when we passed the ERA, but no more than that. Got a lot of nasty letters, fifty or so, but —
What was the gist of the letters?
That the Society shouldn't be doing this; the women were treated well; and they were taking all the jobs from the men anyway. [Laughter] Nice logical arguments like that.
Sure. Now, in redrafting the constitution and bylaws, you indicated in your letter of July 20 of '84 that you sought the services of a consultant at a place called the Support Center, a nonprofit organization whose purpose was to increase the effectiveness of other nonprofit organizations.
This association world is full of associations of associations. [Laughter]
I see. Were you already familiar with this kind of network when you took the job on?
Oh, no. No, no. Just that there are 3,000 nonprofit associations in Washington, headquarters in Washington. So there's a huge network of support groups and associations of associations in this area.
How did you become part of that network?
Well, the second year, after the first year, we had to look around for quarters, because it was clear that we were going to add another person to begin to take up some of the task of writing newsletters and helping to organize the meetings, because we were playing more and more of a role and meeting organizations in conjunction with the secretary of the Society. So we needed more space that AUI didn't have. So we looked around. I guess the entry, now that I think about it, was through the American Institute of Physics. We're one of the member societies of this umbrella organization. And driving, riding, flying up to New York, whatever we did to go to Executive Committee and board meetings, I got to know people from AIP societies in the Washington, D.C., area. In particular, Jarus Quinn of the Optical Society struck me as being particularly sensible.
What was his first name?
Jarus. J-A-R-U-S Q-U-I-N-N. He'd been running the Optical Society for a few years when I moved in, but only two or three, and he was going through all the same discovery processes, or had been through the same discovery processes as I was. So we would fly up together, land at LaGuardia, rent a car, and drive to, or go and take a taxi into New York, whatever. But we spent hours talking about how you did this; how you organized meetings; how you did the accounting; what kind of bylaws do you have. He was very gracious in sharing a lot of this information.
Once you do that, then you find there's the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives, which is a good organization of societies that are very similar to the AAS. So you go and you meet people from the American Society of Foresters, and the photogrammetrists, and the Mathematical Society, and people from small organizations who have staffs of three to five to twelve, who are all wrestling with the same problems you are. This is an extremely helpful resource that I found.
In 1979 when you took the job on, the Society had — I'm trying to find the numbers here —
Thirty-five-hundred members, you were going to say?
Thirty-five-hundred members, budget of 1.7 million?
That was, of course, all from membership-type dues?
Well, no, that included the journals as well.
The journals. Okay. Number of grants, zero; size of the winter meeting, 700. I'm taking from the document you wrote in June '94. Incoming e-mail messages per day, zero; of course, 1979.
Now, given the size of the Society and the fact that you were managing two journals, or at least responsible for two journals at that time, and you had a two-person office, as you got to become familiar with other similar offices in Washington, of which you said there was some 3,000, did you find that you were understaffed, overstaffed?
Oh, very much understaffed. But then again, we had, when I took it over, the secretary was doing virtually all the meeting arrangements. The treasurer was doing all the accounting. These are two big areas. The editors and the publishing houses, U.C. Press and the American Institute of Physics for the AJ, were handling virtually all of the stuff that was required to deal with the journals.
What about membership reconciliation, things like that?
The membership records were actually being done at the American Institute of Physics, and all we had to do was straighten out discrepancies and errors and complaints.
Did you see that there was a need for all of that to change?
Where did that come from and was that shared by the council?
It was shared from the council when Harold Weaver stood up and said, "This is ridiculous. I'm supposed to be teaching courses at Berkeley. Here I'm spending all my time doing the books," he said. "That's the stuff we should be having done for us by the executive office." Because by then, three or four years later, the budget had grown to like two and a half million dollars, and just general inflation. We had added these other programs, so we had grants, and we had to start doing NSF-style accounting for the money and NASA-style accounting for the money.
So those grants started right away?
They started right away, yes.
This is as a result of your going out and getting them?
Okay. So this sounded like it was something the council wanted. There was no question that you would start sharing or taking over the budget, the handling of the budget. But what about organizing the meetings?
Well, actually, organizing the meetings came first. We began to do more of that, and Larry had done it for quite a while. Then as Arlo started to take over, it seemed there was sort of a disconnect between the meeting arrangements, which Arlo didn't want to really do a lot of organization for. He really wanted to turn over a lot of the actual how you handle the rooms and making sure that there was enough room to put on a meeting, and you had enough parallel sessions, and all that kind of stuff.
The council began to look more and more for the executive office to make recommendations about this. For instance, I made a recommendation that we ought to have posters at our meetings, because I had seen the Division of Planetary Science poster sessions, and they worked extremely well.
So the Division of Planetary Sciences had posters before the AAS did?
That's right. Then they went away from posters, and the AAS, of course, in the mid-eighties made the poster session the focus of the meeting. So now we have two-thirds of our meetings or papers are given as posters, and the Job Center is there, and the coffee is there, and this is where you find and meet people. It's where the displays are. So we changed the whole focus. That was due in large part to a committee of councillors that I worked with that was headed by Anne Cowley.
So in a way you were reflecting very progressive feelings among powerful members in the Society that things had to change.
I think so, yes. But I also tried to help show them why things should change.
You gave them ammunition, in a sense?
Was this by gathering data from other like societies partly?
Oh, yes. Just all kinds of ideas. Jarus one time said he had trouble getting people into the poster session in the afternoon. What they did was bring in a keg of beer. He said, "Free beer and the attendance went way up." So we began to have little afternoons, when we could get people to pay for it, we would have some free beer and wine, but mostly a cash bar in the afternoon poster sessions.
So there's all kinds of ideas like this, and it was all going together, trying to bring more stuff into the executive office as the jobs grew to be more than could be done by a volunteer person, and as the amount of time that volunteers had to give to the Society was shrinking at the same time, it just became very clear that you had to depend more and more upon a professional staff whose business it was.
Especially in the case of a newsletter, where your newsletters — now, you started the newsletter.
I started the newsletter.
And you came with the idea of starting the newsletter, but it was more than just a newsletter of Society activities. As you said, it included a sort of a primer to how Congress works.
Well, the first thing I wrote was how to write a proposal.
How to write a proposal.
Because I had just come from NSF. That was the Issue 1, I remember, going back and looking at it some time ago.
Was that something in your mind that you generated or did somebody ask you to do that?
No, I generated it. All the ideas for the newsletter came from me.
Newsletters in this town, in Washington, usually are, I would imagine most of them are political or informational of some sort. There are newsletters on energy policy. There are newsletters that people subscribe to for all sorts of different reasons. You must have been aware from your NSF years of the role of the newsletter in defining a constituency, in defining a body of people who can lobby for various things. Did you see the newsletter as an agent of not only communication but something more?
Well, yes, I did, but that was not my goal. I've always had a great streak of altruism, I think, in me, and my goal — because I remembered sitting out in Flagstaff, fairly remote from a lot of what was going on in the community, and just doing my thing and thinking when I got to NSF, "Gee, there's a lot going on here that it would be useful to let the members know about." I did it not as a vehicle to mobilize support to go to Congress, but as a vehicle, as a tool for providing information that members would find useful.
Did you find that the council agreed with that motive? Or were there members of council who wished —
They found it useful, too. What were you going to ask?
Well, were there council members or influential members of the Society who wanted this to be more of a political instrument?
There was from time to time very strong pushes to do something very political in the newsletter, which I resisted. I felt it shouldn't play the latest song that somebody brought the music to me. [Laughter]
But I do recall a number of newsletters where people were alerted to drops in funding.
That's right, for the whole field. This is for the good of the whole field.
Oh, for all of astronomy. Yes. You would report on the NSF budget. You'd say there were serious problems here because NSF budget in this area might be dropping, which could affect some big programs. It was clearly — to me, the message I got was that, "Here's something that you should write to your congressman about."
Well, as funding went away, people like John Simpson at the University of Chicago started a group called the Space Science Working Group to try to shore up NASA's budget. In fact, we were quite successful. We got quite a few tens of thousands of dollars added, one year in particular, to the data reduction funds. When this began, we would get some positive results from having done this. And don't forget, this was all following the early seventies effort by John Bahcall, which resulting in saving the space telescope, or the large space telescope at that time.
So any astronomer who knew anything about what was going on politically realized that astronomy actually had been able to utilize dealing with Congress to save major projects which would otherwise be threatened. So it was always the idea that you move to Washington to be closer to Congress, and if you're going to be closer to Congress, then the newsletter has to be a part of the communication process to get your members to go and make their views known. The one thing I did bring was that experience on the Hill showed that it's the constituents, it's the people from outside who have the biggest effect on Congress. The lobbyists here in Washington are people — Washington representatives are a dime a dozen. They're being paid to say the best thing that they can make up.
But when somebody comes from the home state, then it's going to be very clear that they're speaking from their heart to the congressman. But they can't speak knowledgeably unless they have the information. So in that sense, yes, it was always seen as a vehicle right from the very beginning, right from the start, of how do you go about writing a good proposal to NSF. And is it true that the proposal for $99,000 is twice as likely to be funded as one for $101,000? Which was not true, by the way. But there's a lot of rumors that would go around the community that were absolutely false.
So your role was to acquaint a far-flung community with central sources of funding, policy changes, what was happening in Washington that could affect the discipline generally.
Right, and then to help them as they tried to make contact with their own congressman.
What contacts did you retain on the Hill? How did you keep track of what was going on on the Hill or at NASA?
Oh, good friends — well, good friends at both agencies, but particularly good friends in the House Science Committee.
Who were your primary friends there, if you can recall?
Bill Smith was one. He's still with the House Science Committee. Various people. Moss. He's now a National Academy, but he was staff director for George Brown — Tom Moss.
George Brown's certainly very important.
There was a person I met doing lobbying work on the Hill who was in the Senate, one of the Senate science committees, the one, I think, overseeing NSF, who went back to Virginia, and now is here as the head of SEURA, the South East Universities Research Association. His name was Dennis Barnes.
So you kept up these contacts.
So I've kept up the contacts for a while, yes. Then, of course, you get there and you meet them, you talk to people, you bring in interesting astronomers. You arrange congressional talks to congressmen and staff by astronomers and things like that, and you never, ever overstate your case or lie. Then you begin to get an aura of respectability.
How did you organize these congressional talks? What was the mechanism?
Well, what you do is you get one of the committees to sponsor a lecture on the latest in astronomy. We had Bob Kirschner come and talk about Supernova 1987A. We happened to have a whole bunch of astronomers in town at the time for a NASA meeting, and they all trooped over for this five o'clock lecture, more for the wine and cheese we ordered. [Laughter] So Kirschner got up and he said something that was sort of questionable, and Bernie Burke roars out from the back, "Bob, I don't believe that."
Heads all swiveled around, and somebody else piped up, "No, Bernie, Bob's right, because did you know that such and such — " And we got into a discussion on scientific issues, and this is something the congressional staff could understand. This was trading information and bringing everybody up to date. Then they all settled at the end and said, "Yeah, you know, Bob is basically right. Bernie has this concern, but in this case it doesn't apply because if you try something else you have to worry about what he's saying, and because things having to do with spectroscopy, and so on."
Did you plan these briefings this way?
No. This was just wonderful, though. Afterwards, every staffer who was there said, "This is great. So this is the way you guys work, huh?" You can go to the Senate gallery or the House gallery, and watch them trade back insults and then see how they vote and see how it all works together. Well, this was the equivalent that they could understand of how astronomers get together to decide, okay, who's really right. It was one of the best things we ever did.
Had other scientific societies sponsored these kinds of events?
Oh, yes. There's a lot of things, people do this. So you want to do it fairly carefully.
What do you mean by carefully?
It's like silver bullets. You want to choose your lecturers carefully. Because Carl Sagan went up one time and drew a huge audience, a lot of congressmen, too, and then lectured at them like they were freshmen. Boy, I think he did more damage than good that time.
Oh, I see. What is the congressional staffers — what are they looking for? Apparently they were looking for process or some sort of — what did they find in this interaction between Kirschner and —
Well, they found process. They found a portion of the human interaction that scientists go through that they could relate to, and they just glommed right onto it. The rest of the stuff, you go in and you talk about plasma fields around the sun, and the person who's going to be setting the NASA budget for, well, for all the space science, says, "Plasma. Gee, I remember in high school biology, that's a part of the blood, isn't it?" They can't relate to what it is we're doing unless you really get down there, and as Steve Maran does so well with the press, explains to them just why this is important in terms that they can relate to.
Well, Carl Sagan evidently was trying to do the same thing, but where did it go wrong, in your estimation?
I think he came across to them as if, "I'm Carl Sagan, and you really should listen to me." They are senators, and they're used to having people listen to them.
Yes. But as you say, senators showed up. But for the Kirschner thing, I imagine it was mainly staffers who would be much more interested in the give and take.
Would the senators have been interested in that?
Oh, I think they would have been, yes, but I don't think they would have spent the time to even listen to it. I think their minds would have been elsewhere. They live such a hectic day.
Give me some idea of the frequency that you have done these programs on the Hill. Is it something you did a lot early on, or do you do it consistently all year?
No, I did it a lot early on. I helped do a couple things when NASA set up, through the Space Council or something, set up a whole series of lectures on space science. We co-sponsored a couple of those. But basically, I used to do an awful lot more on public policy than I could later on, because then we took over the budget for the Society. And even though the revised bylaws streamlined some of the operations, still the Society is now 6,500 people, and the winter meetings get 2,200 people, and the whole scope of the job, that we have half a dozen different federal grants now, and two people working on just the accounting, and it just takes a lot more time to keep the day-to-day operations of the Society together for the executive officer than it used to in the first five years I was there.
Let me turn the tape over.
This is tape one, side two. But it would seem to me that this was a very important function, acquainting the Hill with how astronomers act, how they work together, the fact that it's a vibrant and ever-changing kind of a discipline, keeping them involved. Were there other reasons why you didn't continue on with it? Was it a lack of feedback?
Well, when I first started this, the presidents were extremely supportive of it.
Who would they have been? Spitzer, probably?
No, Spitzer wasn't there. I came in with Ivan King. Dave Heeschen was the next, and Dave did not want to do that himself, but he recognized that this was something that is likely to be, or was being demanded by the younger people in the Society. So he sat there one time at a council meeting and he just pounded his fist on the table, and saying, "I will not go up to Congress, but I realize the Society needs it and wants it. So the vice president is authorized to go and say anything they want in the name of the Society." [Laughter]
But you got support from Heeschen to do this?
But got support from Heeschen to have the program and to have somebody else do it. Very, very interesting approach. Art Code was the next president. He was really strong for it. Maartin Schmidt was exceptionally strong for it. When I got Maartin a seat at a hearing in the Senate, he was sitting next to some other Caltech person who was representing the biologists. The biologist's eyes flew open, said, "Maartin! I didn't know you were into this kind of thing."
Was this a training ground for him and for the others, this direct contact with Congress to see how it worked?
Yes. They really hadn't seen much of this. Then Bernie Burke, of course, is a political animal. As much as he did in this area, he always used to consult with me about plans and how we did things. It was a very good, cordial, collegial relationship. But then we had Don Osterbrock, who really didn't like doing this kind of thing, didn't think the Society had a lot of business doing it.
So would you put a link to your lessening attention to what was going on at the Hill to Osterbrock's tenure?
Probably, yes. Yes, definitely. Don wanted other things, more detail in some reports, in many ways a lot more bureaucratic.
Did he have some sort of moral problem against working on the Hill, or was it just a priority of his?
Yes, he probably did, because when Andrea Dupre, the current president, was senior vice president at the time, and we worked very, very hard, Andrea and I, and a bunch of other people, to get then Vice President [Dan] Quayle to come and talk to our meeting in 1990, Osterbrock refused to be on the podium with him.
I never noticed that he wasn't there.
Charles Townes was. Or do I have the wrong meeting? This was in Crystal City, right?
Yes. Was Charlie there? Maybe we got Charlie to sit in, because we were embarrassed as all hell.
Yes. I didn't realize that. I remember Quayle being there. Yes.
But Andrea and I and somebody else were up there with him.
But I remember Charles Townes as well, but it may have been a different session. That's fascinating.
But Don just didn't want to do it. He was busy spending — he really asked us to spend a lot of time justifying what we were doing, and why we were spending Society money, at a detailed level with a lack of vision, I felt, that the previous presidents — it was in great contradistinction to the previous presidents.
Was it that he objected to Quayle personally, or he just objected to this whole political —
I think he objected to the whole political thing, but he certainly objected to Quayle personally.
Interesting. I remember in the local organizing committees, a few of us would sort of look up at the ceiling, thinking about Dan Quayle, but we all would read with Jerry Mead and others who said, "But he's the vice president."
He is the vice president. [Laughter]
He is the Vice President of the United States, and his presence is a very important element in the visibility and the viability of the Society. He endorses what the Society does by his presence.
No matter what he happens to say. But didn't you write these — who wrote his remarks?
Oh, we did a lot of speech-writing on that speech. Andrea worked on it, Harley Thronson worked on it.
Who's he? Harley —
Thronson, from Wyoming. He's the guy who some years ago had ten rules for how to contact Congress, how to write, how to visit — keep your visit short, keep it to the point, leave something behind, always thank the person, that kind of thing.
Oh, I remember that. Was that in the newsletter?
Yes, we did that in the newsletter. Then AIP picked it up and published it in their booklet without attribution — twice.
They did it twice.
Well, since Osterbrock's tenure, have things changed, or did it sort of break the camel's back and change the flavor of the executive office?
That changed the flavor of the executive office. Then John Bahcall came, and he wanted to do it all himself.
And of course, he's very good at it. But still. He seemed to be, anyway.
That's what his press releases say. He's fairly effective. He works at it differently. He tries to go to the highest-placed friend, and he spends a lot of time making sure he has high-placed friends.
That carries us through pretty much through up to the present, just about, with Bahcall. That's only the last —
Yes. Sidney [Wolff] was then very much in charge of it. But by this time we were into a program of electronic publishing. We had taken over in 1990 the membership rolls from AIP, and the number of complaints actually went down by an order of magnitude, because we were closer to the people and we knew them. We knew the names and had been trying to take the staff out to meetings, so they could get to meet the people.
That really makes a big difference.
So everybody here cares what happens to the Society. They care what happened to the individual people. You just can't buy that kind of loyalty from a contractor.
That's for sure. Have there been pressures to contract out services?
That's good. But you have been contracting out recently to local arrangements — not local arrangements — you know, when I —
That's right. Yes. What led to that decision?
Because we'd always been contracting it out. In essence, it had always been part of what the local organizers did, and we couldn't get people to invite us if we're going to have to saddle them with all this. Besides, it was teaching a new group every six months how to do it, and never any chance to have them learn from their own mistakes. So we just paid a professional to do it instead of having the local organizers do it. Besides, local organizers have less and less time to give to this kind of thing. As the meetings get bigger, and as the demands of the local universities on their staff and faculty grow, and as budgets shrink, nobody has time to donate anymore.
Yes. Exactly. What I want to do at this point, if you agree, is to look between 1979 and 1994, at least '94, up to the present. You identified in this document, "Positioning the AAS for the Next Century," June 1994 you wrote this, which I thought was a very interesting document, how numbers changed between those two; 3,500 people in the Society in '79, 6,500 in '94. Your winter meeting sizes went from 700 to 1,800. Your e-mails went from zero to 250. Things were getting a lot more complex.
Now, during all of this time, and again from this document, you identified a listing of specific accomplishments that you feel that the executive office added in value to its service function to the Society. I would like to go through them and ask you how they were initiated, how successful they were, what made them work, and how it's changed the Society, in your view, as an organism. Because if you go all the way back to the 1930s, the 1920s, it was pretty clear if you look at the structure of the Society, a very few people were in the Society.
As van de Kamp said, "There were the generals."
It's still the case, actually. [Laughter]
Very few people run the Society. It's sort of like the executive officer, the secretary, and the treasurer.
Oh, yes, mechanically, but these people ran the discipline, too.
And the Society was pretty much a reflection of the power structure and the discipline at that time. I'm wondering if all of these things that we'll go through, and you listed quite a few things, first the newsletter, which we've already talked about, started the newsletter, then developing close relations with NSF, NASA, and Congress, whether this didn't change the overall flavor of the Society and spread out the power structure, making it a more pluralistic society. More people were informed and could be empowered.
That's always been my goal —
Talk to me about it.
— to help the small person, maybe, the small organization take this information which was so important to the power structure of the Society, if you will, the few elite places, and make it available on a wider scale. Maybe it's because I got my training in the Midwest. In Michigan, we had to set up the National Observatories in order to get access, which was being denied to us by the West Coast. I don't know. This always seemed really an important thing for me, that information ought to be shared pretty widely so the people can make use of it if they want to.
Under B, you say, "Develop close relations with NSF, NASA, and the Congress, and began reporting public policy information to the membership."
You've already discussed that to a great degree. You said, "A practice which has been continued at a low level for fifteen years." It didn't start at a low level, but as we've already discussed, I guess, with Osterbrock coming in and sort of breaking the momentum, it is continued, but at a lower level.
Yes. Okay. But this has helped to spread information out. What kind of markers, what kind of factors, can you point to that demonstrate this, that indeed the Society's become more pluralistic and more people have become empowered?
Because now you have somebody very influential in the NASA infrared community, Harley Thronson, coming from the University of Wyoming. Wyoming, give me a break. You know, think of that in the 1940s.
Yes, exactly right.
Or thirties. So, yes, people like Harley, other people in the smaller places. Arlo Landolt from LSU is not in the major power structure, but Arlo is now back for his second run as secretary of the Society. Look at the previous secretaries. They've all been reasonably well connected.
Yes. Certainly, during the period I was thinking of prior to World War II, the secretaries came from the elite institutions. Even the executive office, until it moved here, it was sitting in Elysian Fields at Princeton, very much responsive to two very powerful people in the community, Schwarzschield and Spitzer, who have, I think, given their power, very egalitarian views.
A lot better than some, I imagine, yes.
I shouldn't be doing all the talking. But still, they were in Princeton.
Yes. But that's right, and I think that the other thing that I think we can also point to along the same vein is that the percentage of women in the Society has doubled.
In your tenure.
In my tenure.
From '79 to '94.
Or approximately [unclear] —
I don't try to take credit for it, but I certainly was a strong supporter of everything that was done by the committee on the status of women.
Where did that — well, actually, I hope Susan Simpkin [phonetic] will be writing about that, but what was your role? What was the executive officer's role in bringing about the Committee on the Status of Women, since we're talking about it?
Well, since I sit on the — well, it was in existence when I came.
Oh, it was?
Yes. Not bringing about, but helping them, providing them support, getting some money in the budget for stamps and postage and mailing for the status newsletter and various other things like this, some under the table, some legitimized right from the beginning, and some that started out as general practices which became legitimized. But mostly it's just having a voice along with Arlo and the more vociferous councillors about the importance of making sure women are part of the role models in the Society. Again, the women are not generally from the power structure organizations of the old-time astronomical community, but I think this is all part of the trend to get people from smaller places involved in the higher levels of the academic astronomical politics, if you will.
Does this power structure still exist?
To some extent, yes.
How would you characterize it? Who are the ring leaders? How does it span generations, so to speak?
Well, it's passed on from Schwarzschield and Spitzer to Bahcall, and Bahcall, if you will, at Princeton and various people at Caltech now, and Neila Sargant chairs, I guess, the SSAC at NASA, whatever the successor is, the Science Advisory Committee.
Yes, that's right.
Marc Davis at Berkeley is certainly well connected in the power structure, and that gets passed on.
So it sounds like it's largely institutional. There are still collections of a few very powerful institutions that have passed on these critical roles.
But I still think we have made it possible for people from less well-known institutions to get the visibility, to be relatively influential players, if that's their desire.
Well, the third point speaks to that, too, the third point you raised, "Continually improved the meeting format to serve a larger percentage of the members. The size of the meetings has tripled in the last ten years. The percentage of members has increased by 80 percent." This also implies that a percentage of members attending are also participating somewhat, rather than just showing up. They're doing something.
Well, the percent of the people who show up and actually give papers has remained relatively constant. It depends more on geography than anything else. If people have to travel a long way to get someplace that's fairly isolated, you get a higher percentage of the attendees giving papers, but in the Washington area where you have the biggest collection of astronomers who don't have to travel to come to the meeting, they will just come and show up and listen, so you have a lower percentage of them actually having to give papers to get their way paid to travel to Washington. So there's a lot of things like this you want to be sure not to draw conclusions about, because everybody says the summer meeting is less important than the winter meeting because there's so many fewer people come to it, yet when we had a summer meeting in Baltimore, which was a hotbed of astronomy, it was the biggest meeting ever.
When we have a winter meeting, for instance, that is a little more difficult to get to, like Las Vegas or Texas, the attendance often falls below what we find for the big summer meetings. So really a different driver is actually driving it. It's the same way with the women, and this is an interesting comment. When I mentioned that the percentage of women in the Society under age thirty-five is about 30 percent, and it falls off to 8 percent above age fifty, the women immediately say, "Oh, that's terrible. You're driving all the women out of the field," when in actual fact, it's that there were fewer women going in a long time ago, and that at every age group, even up to age fifty-five over the last five years, we have numerically more women in the Society at every age group than we had in 1990.
Somebody was just misreading your statistics.
No, they put their own interpretation on why you would — then you have to go back and say, "No, that's not the case." So people, even astronomers, are very quick to jump to conclusions.
During this time you also moved the editorial work of the bulletin to the executive office to better integrate with meeting planning process.
The major function of the bulletin was to publish the abstracts. Since we collected them all here and sent them off to AIP, it just seemed like it was logical for me to be the editor of the bulletin. That was not a big discussion item or a big thing, it just, "Yes, okay, we'll do that."
The bulletin also reports on observatories each year.
Observatory reports, yes.
I know that that's been an issue in the past. A number of observatory directors don't want to have to keep putting those reports in. Others say they're very important. I remember some of the historians were even consulted, "Was this valuable material?"
What do you see as the bulletin's primary role? These are different aspects of the Society. They're different than what you put in the newsletter. You have abstracts in there, you've got the meetings reports, you now have the obituaries, you restate the constitution and bylaws every so often and put them in there. This is a big job. Getting, I imagine, observatory directors to provide their annual reports must have been a gargantuan job.
Well, that had always been done. Hank Gurin got that started.
But there has been resistance by the directors, and I'm just wondering, how did the office, or how did the council make a decision as to continue to do that?
Oh, they just listen to people like Arlo, who say, "This is wonderful to keep track of where people are, what's going on at the different observatories." A number of the, say, perhaps less prestigious, people who have tried to attract students, but the major attempt to try to shut off the observatory reports were made by the National Observatory directors. But a lot of the others, who also have departments to run and attract students, say, "But the reports, that's what we mail out to graduate students to get the good ones to come here."
Do you also send the reports to the Hill?
So none of these things are used for anything other than internal purposes?
I think the Hill wouldn't know what to do with it. It's not the right kind of stuff to send to the Hill.
Does the newsletter go to the Hill?
No. I've thought about it, but then I wondered, debated, the wisdom of physically sending something to the Hill which is going around telling our members how to vote on these issues.
Not the smartest, probably, thing to do, but I was just curious.
See, it would serve no purpose to that.
Yes. But they would get an idea of what you considered to be important. Or is that supposed to be left to a different level, to the Astronomy Survey Committees and that sort of thing?
Well, certainly that is exactly where you want the Astronomy Survey Committee to go, is to the Hill, and really tout that, yes, we have done our homework, we have done the priorities. Some things which astronomers would find very, very obvious are very important to the Hill, such as the fact that we get together and discuss priorities, we get together and discuss on a year-by-year basis how these priorities need to be perhaps shifted a little bit on the basis of realities of the budget and so on.
Other things. One of the other things that stand out here, you mentioned you initiated, or the office initiated, the AAS Small Research Grant Program and also the initial International Travel Grant Program. Were these, again, things that boiled up from the membership, or were these ideas that you had that you felt that the office should provide and there wasn't a mechanism for?
The travel grant was my idea, because I knew about the fact that you could, in fact, apply for a block travel grant, something which was not known at all. So I applied for and got that. But in fact, the small research grant had been dreamed up earlier, either by Margaret or one of the other officers earlier on. They had made a proposal to NSF which got turned down, because NSF statutorily felt they could not send off a block of money for regranting.
It is a curious thing that I'd like to know more about. It is something that is commonly done by professional societies?
So what was the idea behind doing it?
Well, we do a lot of international travel. We have a lot of international meetings.
I mean the small research grant.
Well, as times were getting tighter, and we have the National Observatories' astronomers in a relatively good position, with just a little bit of money, to be able to do forefront research, and since it costs NSF $6,000, when I was there, to administer a grant, it doesn't make sense to award $5,000 grants.
You made this argument first to NSF, they couldn't do it, and so then you went to NASA?
Yes, and NASA was all for it. But this was something that I said was in the works when I came, they just hadn't been able to successfully negotiate it.
I was just interested in the rationale behind it. What you're saying is that these grants are too small to be efficiently administered when it costs more to administer than the amount of the grant.
Yes. Well, the idea was that you should take a little bit of money and spread it around to people in small places, or people, who for one reason or another, different set of reviewers for their proposal might have lost NSF funding, or young people in particular who were just starting out who haven't a chance of getting NSF funding yet, give them a chance to get started at the $2,000 to $3,000 to $4,000 level.
How many grants have you given out since it started, because I know it started some —
We give like twenty a year, and it's been going for seventeen years.
You have a committee that deliberates on this?
Yes, the committee meets at the AAS meetings. They aren't appointed until the last minute until we know who's going to the meetings, and they're often composed just of councillors. But this is part of the way to keep the overhead down.
So there's no formal refereeing process; you just review them right there at the meeting?
That's right. I mean, it's an outside committee. I've always chaired the committee so far.
There are a lot of other things that you mentioned here. The AAS effort to help colleagues in the former Soviet Union with voluntary contributions; expanded the information in the AAS membership directory; provided electronic network usage instructions in the directory beginning in '89.
That was the first of any society that I know of to have e-mail addresses in the directory.
I want to talk about, or have you talk about, the importance of going electronic in the Society, keeping a society like this running efficiently. I know you've always been the advocate for it. What convinced you that electronic publishing, electronic communications were the way to go in managing the Society?
I suppose it was Don Wells at NRAO. He was one of the founders of the Working Group on Astronomical Software. He kept pushing me to start using e-mail, so we got our e-mail account at Space Telescope, and another one at Goddard for the Society. Once we started using it, I mean, it's so obvious.
Well, it's obvious, but I can imagine that there was, and probably still is, a certain fraction of the Society that doesn't like to work this way.
One percent now.
Now it's down to about only 1 percent?
What's the average — oh, yes, that's right. You said that the amount of abstracts submitted electronically now is —
We get about 1,000 abstracts for a big meeting, and one to three of them will be in paper.
Are they from historians? [Laughter]
Sometimes. [Laughter] Or would-be historians writing about Perry on the North Pole.
Oh, him. Right.
No, but it's not historians as much as people from — well, we had a crank last time who had a terrible time getting on, even though he's on one of the e-mail networks. People from outside the country sometimes just don't have the connectivity.
You find generally astronomers do and that they respond well to it?
They respond extremely well to it. Because then their abstract goes up on the Web within three weeks after they send it in, and people can then look at the program a little more carefully and see whether or not they really want to attend.
That's interesting. I've never actually looked at it.
Apparently a lot of people do, because when it's not up there, soon enough, we hear about it. "When are you going to put those abstracts up?" [Laughter]
I imagine the job register and the means of communicating availability of jobs, is also a very important part of the Society.
That's very important, and it was received extremely well when I went to just a regular publication every month instead of this quarterly-plus-supplements type of stuff that was going on before.
Of course, in the 1930s it was done through individuals like Ray Dugan, or R. H. Curtis. It was just kind of a old-boy network sort of a thing. But was it sort of still that way when you came in, or was it very much out in the open?
It was more and more out in the open. I think the requirement for advertising and EEO and all that stuff changed the whole way people thought about it. I still had, as recently as three years ago, somebody tell me, "Well, I'm sending this job in because I have to, but I really don't want to publicize it. I want to call up my friends and ask them who do they have for students."
So there still is that.
There's still some of that, yes. But the point is that you get a lot of people who might be very good, who otherwise you wouldn't know about, and I think, by and large, the general feeling I get is that people are very glad we have such a complete listing of jobs. I made a strong effort when I first started. I made a strong effort when I first started. I'd go down Science magazine and look at all the jobs for astronomers, and I'd call up the people and say, "Why didn't you place it in the AAS Job Register, or Physics Today, in particular?" Gradually I got, "How much does it cost?" "Nothing." "Oh, all right." So we'd get people into this. Well, now we're charging for jobs just to help pay for the cost, because we had a mailing list of 2,500 people, a monthly mailing list. Now that it's gone electronic, the advertising actually pays the full cost of that production of the Job Register now.
So you have somebody who is hired to maintain the Job Register?
Because this is now the costs, I guess, get incurred. Your office staff is much larger than two people now.
Right. It's now twelve.
It's now twelve. Is one of those twelve, part of their job is the Job Register?
Part of their job is the Job Register, but then Judy, that's Don up front, and then Judy, who's been with me a long, long time, is now in charge of all of the publications coming out of the executive office. So she makes sure it goes out, and it's formatted, and gets put up on the Web, and all that kind of stuff. So people share jobs a lot and share responsibilities, because when you go electronic, everybody depends on everything else. You no longer do your little part and then throw the piece of paper over the wall into the next cubicle, but what you do has to mesh with what the person on the other end is expecting and what the accounting office is expecting, and has to integrate with the membership database, and all that stuff. So it's a whole shift over the past five years, in just the way of operation, that is probably relatively invisible to the outside people, but critical to positioning us so that we can continue to serve the community.
You say here actually that you encouraged and supported the formation of the Working Group on Astronomical Software. That actually came from the executive office?
Don Wells and a couple of other people said, "Gee, we've got all these software programs and people don't know about them." Don accused me of banging his head together with somebody from the optical community to get them to produce the FITS format when I was at NSF, which I did. He said, "But now we need to maintain it and expand it, and it seems like the Society and the Society meetings would be a good forum." So I helped Don establish a working group. That might have even been the impetus for saying we could have working groups in the bylaws if indeed they are part of the bylaws.
That was my next question, because I'm wondering how the power of the executive officer, you, changed from when you were hired to now.
[Laughter] I have less now, or I had less now in some sense.
You're no longer executive officer.
No, but I mean it seemed like in recent years — when I got hired, I was in the honeymoon, and everything I did was, "Oh, this is great, we never had anything like this before." Now people have become very, very used to things and are a lot more critical, and a little more turf to be defended, perhaps. I don't know.
In forming the working group, let's say, did you have to have that ratified by the council?
That sort of thing you can't do —
In either case I couldn't do it. In fact, the formation of a new group would be something that the executive officer still would have a lot of power to do, or not do, or to help.
But it would still have to be ratified by council.
But it would still have to be ratified by council.
Have there been people who in the Society have been concerned with the executive office being in too much power —
Oh, yes. I think so.
— and taken steps to limit the power and authority of the office? Could you tell me who they were, what their arguments were, and how you dealt with it?
I'm really very fuzzy about this sort of thing. Maybe I tend to forget confrontations and unpleasantness.
What are the issues?
Basically the council has been very, very supportive, and I have not tried to do anything that really would precipitate stuff like that, because I've seen too many strong executive officers in various other organizations either come to grief or lead the organization down a road where they really had no business going. So I've always been a pretty strong believer on, if the council doesn't think it should be done, then it probably shouldn't be. It's very funny, the things like the electronic publishing, I just did. I decided we would take some money from the meeting budget and we would have electronic abstract submission. I just did it. I just announced it, and nobody seemed to care. I just added it as an additional service.
That's right. That's more of a service than any kind of policy change.
And it worked so well. E-mail names in the directory. I just sort of said to the president, "Well, I think we're going to run e-mails in the directory." This sort of thing has been the prerogative, I felt, of the executive officer all along, and still should be, because it's the operation of the Society. I think it's very important. Sometimes the differences of opinion have come when the council, or presidents, or whoever, have tried to meddle in the operations.
Of the office.
Of the office, or of the Society. The day-to-day kind of operations. See, the real tension arises because the council wants to get in and do stuff. Astronomers love to do things. I guess everybody likes to do things. So they get on the council, and they're going to make something happen, and they don't realize how big a job it is sometimes to make something happen.
Let me change the tape.
Tape two, side one. Take for example, John Bahcall, who wanted to work the Hill himself. Did he, in fact, use the services of the executive office?
Only when he wanted to mail out a letter to the whole community. But I think an executive officer has to be flexible enough to recognize that some things, as long as the president isn't going astray in a way that will harm the Society, the presidents will, by and large, have to have their own way.
Yes, and that was just his style.
When you talk about hands on, he's very hands on.
Yes. But not in the collegial way that, "Well, gee, I was thinking about doing this. What do you think? Who do you know? What can we do? Can you make an appointment for me?" that Bernie Burke was.
I see. John would just go off and do it.
And then tell you later.
Yes, if at all. I think I talk too slowly for John. John's input/output speed is very, very high. I don't think as well on my feet as he does. I probably don't think as well sitting either. [Laughter]
You probably do. We've already talked about revising the bylaws and the constitution to reflect modern association management practices. This was the example that you gave me. What were the things that had to change, that you feel?
Well, there had become a real understanding that it wasn't the members who ran the Society, but it was the council. The council legally has the responsibility for the Society, for the business decisions, and they could be held liable for bad business decisions, as has happened.
You mean for losing money in investments and stuff?
Yes, or for not watching to make sure the investments were put in a bank that wasn't a friend of the treasurer's, as has happened, not with us, but with other places. Sibley Hospital was the big example that set the association community afire a few years ago, when it was discovered that a good friend of their president owned a bank, and millions of dollars of hospital funds were put in that bank, which was paying like half-a-percent interest. Then the board of directors were actually judged in court to be liable. And trying to get this concept across to the council that this is the kind of thing you need to worry about, not whether we're going to have spouses pay twenty or thirty dollars to attend a meeting.
Did you have, in fact, trouble convincing some people that this was very important?
Changing these bylaws?
How did you go about convincing them that this was necessary? Give them the Sibley Hospital example?
Well, yes, that and the fact that by this time it was Arlo and Harold and I who used to meet before the Executive Committee meeting and settle the business of the organization. Harold and Arlo were really —
Harold Weaver, the unsung hero of the astronomical community. We made more money under Harold's stewardship of the funds than we've made ever before or since, I believe.
Because he knew how to invest the money?
He knew how to invest things. He was free with letting me invest in stuff that I thought was worthwhile. Computer equipment, there was no hassle.
You mean buying computer equipment.
Yes. When we wanted to do a new program, Harold would get up and argue for it. Or when it was clearly time that the executive office should be doing something, Harold would get up and argue for it. So when it came time to rewrite the bylaws, we pointed out a few absurdities, like the ones I've pointed out to you, and just said, "Look, this is — "
You might want to go over them.
Oh, that was just the —
Oh, the executive officers.
— executive officers.
Exactly. Being able to approve or disapprove his own salary.
Right. But then it was really quite a pain in the neck to always find a registered agent in the state of Illinois where we were incorporated. We decided to move the incorporation into D.C., where then the annual reports and all that stuff was much easier to handle. Besides, the IRS stuff kept getting sent who knows where, but sometimes to our registered agent in Illinois, sometimes to Swain Hall West in Indiana from —
From [Frank] Edmondson.
Edmondson when he was still secretary.
Oh, so he would receive the IRS —
Yes, he would receive the IRS forms. I can't tell you. We worked and worked and worked, finally got that changed, and then the IRS computers crashed, and they went to the backup tape, and suddenly stuff was going back to Swain Hall West. [Laughter] Anyway, Harold and Arlo and I convinced the council, and I think we started it probably under Art Code, and, if I remember correctly, finished it off under Maartin Schmidt.
Did the executive office have any connection at all with the astronomy survey committees, the various committees?
Oh, yes. Always.
What was the role of the office in —
Well, it wasn't the office. It was the executive officer. I was on the manpower part for every single one of the decade reports, of the last two decade reports.
Were you there as executive officer or as a member of the Society?
As the executive officer.
And your role, therefore, was to provide —
Well, because as executive officer I knew more about the statistics of the field than anybody else.
Right. But that's an interesting byproduct. Were you hired or did you have a goal to gain control over those statistics —
— or was this something that just emerged?
It just emerged. It makes sense, that's all. Or it made sense. We did, in 1990, do the first real Society survey.
Yes, I saw that in your list. What is that survey? I don't recall it. I probably answered it.
Well, I hope you answered it. I'm now pulling out the survey, the red book.
Okay. This is the "AAS Membership Survey Final Report Recommendations." Was this sent back to the council?
That was sent to the council.
The committee members were Frank Shu, Anita Bahcall, Anne Cowley, Allen Dressler, Jay Gallagher, John Huchna, and it was prepared by Pam Hawkins.
Now Pam Blondon. She was my assistant. She really took charge of this. The only person there who did anything was Frank Shu, of course.
Who created the questionnaire?
Pam and I created all that stuff.
So you did that. You didn't have outside advisors?
We went to AIP for some of their advice. They're reasonably good about gathering statistics.
And asking you what your goals are in gathering those statistics.
Yes, well, we did a lot of asking ourselves. I mean, the council wanted to know all kinds of things, then they decided, no, we shouldn't be asking anything. It took us three council meetings to get approval of that survey.
What was the resistance, and what were your arguments for why this had to be done?
Mostly it was, "Looks like things are changing. We've got more women. We'd like to find out how good our programs are. We'd like to find out why people are dropping their subscriptions to our journals. We'd like to find out or at least get a baseline on what people do during the day, so we can see how much time it takes to — " At that time there was a lot of questioning about having to write so many proposals in order to fund one research associate, because you could pick up a quarter of one on this grant, and a half a one there, and so on. So we tried to find out a little bit about the community, a little bit about the Society, a little bit about women's issues, and there was a lot of discussion pushed very hard by the women who wanted to know about discrimination issues.
But there must have also been a lot of concern about the future of getting jobs, getting and holding jobs, tenured jobs, that sort of thing.
Yes, that's part of it. We wanted to sort of check on the AIP statistics. They do a 10 percent sample. There are some alarming trends there. We found that the AIP statistics are remarkably accurate at predicting what a 42 percent return gave us here. Then how you parlay this into jobs, and how many — there's all these rumors about, "The women are getting all the tenure-track jobs," or, "Women can't get tenure-track jobs, because when it comes down to that, they all go to men." So the only way to do was find out who's got tenure-track positions, and let's stop saying, "Well, my friend got passed over, so therefore the world is coming to an end." Or, "I got passed over, therefore the world is coming to an end."
Did this help dispel these myths?
I suppose so. It's always surprising when people see that men and women are getting tenure track jobs in proportion to the number of available men and women in that age range.
I see. So that's what basically you found.
Yes. So the system is working well, and the number of women is increasing. People are very satisfied with our journals. People are, by and large, quite satisfied with the meetings. So what have we learned from it? I don't know. [Laughter] Just that things aren't maybe as bad as some nay-sayers would like to say.
In 1970, around the seventies, Bart Bok and others led a campaign, for lack of a better word, for Departments of Astronomy to limit the number of graduate students that they would have at any one time. This is when the big job crunch started.
The thing that — well, go ahead. Were you going to add to that?
Well, I'm wondering if there's been any follow-up to that kind of thing where they were asking departments simply not to try to train so many students, and to cut back.
There's always this pressure, but the Bart Bok thing in many ways was a little bit of a fiasco, and in some ways it was quite positive, because a lot of the upper-echelon departments, the Harvards and Berkeleys and Princetons, cut back, and the new departments like Texas and Arizona and —
— UCLA took up the slack. So there was absolutely no dropoff in the number of students that were actually produced. It's just that they were coming from different, some would say, lower-quality schools. But on the other hand, this did tend to broaden the astronomical community a great deal.
I mean, it became okay to have a degree from Texas or UCLA.
That was an unintended result of this.
Oh, absolutely. If you had told people ahead of time what was going to happen, in the first place they would have said, "That's ridiculous. Nobody would go to those schools," and the second place, they would have said, "Hmm, if that's really what happened, maybe we shouldn't do it."
How has it played out now, twenty, twenty-five years later?
Memories are short enough that people are once again saying we're producing too many students. So then you've got to go back to the numbers and say, "Okay, the rate of growth of the Society is twice as large as the number of new students coming into it every year." So they're coming in from other fields. So why would you want to limit the astronomy production when the majority, or at least half of the new people doing astronomy enough to sign up as members, actually have their training in physics, or math, or chemistry?
Well, is that then something of a concern for the way the discipline is changing? I've read parts of Berendzen's reports and other reports that show that over time more and more people are fundamentally physicists who are coming in to do astronomy. Does this say that possibly Astronomy Departments, the astronomy education itself, graduate education, graduate training in astronomy, is something that should be looked at again and maybe —
Oh, I think it is, and I think that's part of the rationale behind the current education initiative of the Society led by Susan and Steve.
Susan? Susan and Steve who?
At U Mass.
Steve Strom, yes. And Susan. I think it is Smith. Let me go back and put my own philosophy on this, which is maybe what you want, and that is that while I was at NSF I'd grown up with a little bit of radio astronomy at Michigan, but really in an optical environment. Went to Lowell, was in a totally optical environment, came to NSF, and discovered how much x-rays and infrared and radio astronomy and millimeter astronomy was contributing to advancing our knowledge of the universe, and how it was so clear to me that the kinds of proposals that I would get from an all-optical place, versus the kind that I would get from a hot-shot infrared group, were just night and day.
And that the infusion of new ideas, new techniques, new abilities to work at low temperatures, and with detectors, and pushing the bounds of what's possible in terms of detection and signal processing, astronomy was richer by hundreds and hundreds-fold by having these outside people come in. So I think anything we can do to encourage the infusion of new ideas and let's just duke it out and see who survives at the end is, in the old Darwinian fashion, is very, very good for the field.
So if astronomy programs themselves can't adapt to be competitive, it's their fate.
That's right. Now, on the other hand, I'm also very much convinced from seeing the kinds of proposals that you get in a small research grant programs, and the travel grant programs, particularly from young kids, nobody is taught the rudimentary things about communicating, or managing a project, or understanding where money comes from and how you deal with people to get the resources you're going to need, so that our graduate training is woefully deficient in areas like this, the kind of stuff that used to be done by mentoring, and which now even the mentors are probably not any good at.
So I'm very strongly supportive of the push to try to broaden graduate education to include this kind of thing, to include dealing with the public, to include teaching, and to bring into the Astronomy Department, and expose them to the excitement of a modern astronomy, the people who will be the future-high school, grade school, and even undergraduate teachers of our kids.
I don't quite get the picture. Where do the classroom teachers fit into this?
Steve is trying to make them as part of the graduate education, to try to make a contact between the graduate, the people who are becoming, going to be new astronomers, bring them into contact with and share experiences with the people, undergraduates who are going on to get teaching degrees for science teaching.
And who are not specializing in astronomy at all.
And the purpose is to —
The purpose of this is (a) so that they can understand and have a better feeling for what science is all about and even how to think rationally and draw conclusions, and —
You mean graduate students or the undergraduates?
Undergraduates. And on the other hand, to really get the graduate students into a much broader mode, where they should be thinking that the responsibility is to do more than just do research, be a clone of their professors, but to also then have some contact with and learn how to talk to, deal with, and understand the supposedly intelligent non-scientist.
If you were to look at the two big societies —
This has gone a little bit off your original question, but, in fact, I think it's very much tied up.
It is, because if you were to look at the American Astronomical Society and its education programs, and look at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, which is a very different type of group, certainly to the outsider, at least, the ASP has a much more visible public component.
And it also has much more attention to public education as well as formal education, astronomy in the classroom, and all of these other types of programs that they have been working on. What has been the reason that the AAS has stayed away from this even greater push that the ASP is so well known for?
Well, in the first place, there was a strong push not to step on ASP's toes.
When would that feeling have started?
Oh, all along. I mean, when I first came I talked about this kind of thing, and Harold says, "Well, you know, they do it." Osterbrock says, "Well, this is a good thing for the ASP, and we're the professional society, so we don't have to dirty our hands with that. We can leave it to the ASP."
Who's saying that?
Convenient excuse to not have to get into the education aspect. Oh, a whole bunch of people.
You don't have to name names, but just give me an overall feeling that it was used as an excuse.
Santa Cruz, Berkeley often.
Of course, those were strong hotbeds of ASP members.
Yes. But what surprised me so much about the Bahcall Report is that in this strong hotbed of research at Princeton, our push toward doing more with education got a big boost with John Bahcall. He felt this was very, very important.
It surprised a lot of people, positively.
Yes. But I mean, there are people from all over, even people at Harvard, where Irwin Shapiro's Project Star is viewed in some quarters as just a way to get money, "He doesn't really believe in it." He's got to believe in it. He talks so passionately about it.
It's a huge program. It's a whole division, enormous amount of money, and a lot of independence.
You have different people. You have some people at Berkeley who say we have no business doing education, and then Alex Fillipenko, who's just gung-ho for it, thinks this is a very, very important cause. But you put Alex and Marc Davis in the same room, I think you'd find a major difference of opinion.
What has been the executive officer's position on this all along? If you were to typify your own position in lobbying one way or the other, what have you done?
Oh, I think we have to use astronomy as a magnet to get kids to study more math and physics. If we can get one more girl to take an additional year of math in high school, then she has put off making a decision which forever affects her career, and too many times I've heard the reports that guidance counselors tell the women, "Well, don't worry about taking math your senior year, you can always take it in college." That's wrong, because by the time you get to college, you're a year behind, and you'll never make it up. So I just think we need to show how interesting, how exciting it is, and how wonderful it is to use your brain to draw a logical conclusion. You know? [Laughter]
What has the Society been able to do?
So this is my own personal thing. And I've been pushing at low level to do the kind of thing that Steve and Susan finally achieved. There's no time, and if the council doesn't want to do it, there's no funds, and I'm not that good at it. I mean, I can do some things, but I just didn't feel up to the task of plunging out and doing stuff. I don't feel comfortable doing that for education as much as I do for electronic publishing, because you can measure results from electronic publishing, and when you start doing things in education, you're stepping on people's toes, and the turf walls go up instantly. I mean, I saw it happen between the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Physical Society, and AIP. As soon as AIP wants to do something worthwhile in education, the other two societies said, "Whoa, that's our turf. You can't do that." Instead of welcoming the additional resources that might be available, they view it as a competition. I just didn't feel like fighting there, because it's ten years, at least, until you can measure any results. It's like fine wine. I started brewing beer instead of making wine, because I got the results quicker. I can plow the feedback into it, see. [Laughter]
To get the various factors straight, it sounds like people used the presence of the ASP educational projects as an excuse not to do it in the AAS.
Some people did that, yes. They did it for different reasons. Some people would say, "Okay, we don't have to, therefore I don't have to think about it," and others would say, "I really care about the ASP, and if we start being seen as doing education, too, then there's no room left for them." I even proposed to Harold Weaver and a couple of other people, even to Bob Haviland, it might be advantageous at some point to think about merging the two organizations.
That was my next question.
Bob would do it; Don Osterbrock would have a heart attack. They tried to change the name of the Society, you know.
No, I didn't know that.
What did they try to do?
A couple of years ago they tried to change it to the Astronomical Society or something like this. I was a little bit miffed. Despite all my complaints about other people's turf, I thought it was a bit pretentious to choose the Astronomical Society. But the board was ready to go ahead and do it, and Don said, "Are you kidding? This was founded at Lick Observatory, and it's the Astronomical Society." [Laughter]
Sometimes his position can be, for whatever motives, the result comes out just fine. We don't have too much time left, but I want to make sure that we've covered the bases. Your essay, with Margaret Burbidge, in the Centennial book will be primarily on the move of the office to Washington, and the result of that move, as I understand it. Does this fit your sense of what you're writing on?
I would like to sort of go over some of the factors in that thing, that positioning article about the growth and how, as things got more complex, you just had to centralize and could not run a 6,000-member organization out of your back pocket anymore.
Right. Exactly, and that's fine. That will make for an excellent chapter. What have we not covered, in the oral history, at least, that you feel should go into the chapter? That may be a tough question for you at this point.
I think we've covered a lot. I've wandered much more at this time than I had last time, I realize that.
Well, I realized we couldn't do it in a chronological way. It would have been exhausting to go through council minutes meeting after meeting after meeting, looking at decisions that the council made, where did they come from, what was your role in various different initiatives, that kind of thing.
There's a couple of overriding considerations that I think I'd like to be known for, that I think I've done for the Society. One is sort of innovation in communication, first with the newsletter, and then later with the electronic publishing.
How will you write about them? How will you discuss how you created them, how they were developed, how they were received? Just curious about how you're going to set up the chapter. This may help you, when you get the transcript, to think through.
Yes. I was going to treat them a little bit separately. One would be in time, the stuff that was done right at the beginning — the newsletter, the job register, the grants programs, just for the things about, okay, let's get a little burst of energy going, and the contact with Congress. But then I was going to treat the electronic era stuff separately, because in my mind I feel it's separate. But maybe that's not the right thing to do.
That sounds okay to me.
Then the other thing, of course, was the growth of — I don't know until I see how long all of this is, but there are a couple of important things. One is the women's issues, to the extent that the executive office has played a role in that. The other thing that I hadn't thought about, that this brought out, was the ability, sort of democratization of the field that the information makes possible.
Yes, I think it's a very important point.
I realize that's been behind a lot of the stuff that I've done, is to make the good people in Wisconsin have equal access to the important information, that the good people in Caltech have, or, you know, pick your names.
Well, historians like to call it a more pluralistic —
— society. Far more diversity, as they say in Washington.
But the other thing then is that I think I've been able to do is basically listen to the membership, either through the council and directly. So many of the ideas for improving the meetings have come as a result of suggestions.
Suggestions from —
Both from Anne Cowley's committee, from specifically the person who has been the most imaginative, most supportive, and most helpful to the executive office is the director at Victoria, Jim Hesser. He served as vice president, he served as councillor. He is extremely thoughtful, incredibly imaginative, and understands the constraints of business and operating a large organization.
From your standpoint, this brings up the role of the councillors of the Society and of the Division. Do you find that Hesser is a good example of an activist, and takes the position of councillor is very important? Do most councillors do that?
How do most councillors see their responsibilities?
Well, they don't know, because they don't know what it is to be on the Council, and so many of the decisions get made by the Executive Committee, or get arranged beforehand. It must be very frustrating to just be on the Council. Besides, it's very hard when you're on the Council and your role is to really set policy, to not connect the policy with real stuff, the day-to-day operations, and so they want to get in and meddle with the operations.
The operations being in the executive office.
Yes, or elsewhere, the journal or whatever.
Have your newsletters, have your efforts at communication helped educate councillors? You shook your head.
You know, I wonder how many of the councillors actually have enough time to read the newsletters. I tried very hard at first to make things short, to edit, to cut, and as time and the time pressure got greater and greater, I found that we were accepting more stories as written by the authors. I think that's really bad, because you need to sharpen this stuff up.
Does the executive office organize briefing documents for the council that they get ahead of time so they can deliberate over issues?
Is that the responsibility of the executive office, and has that always been the responsibility of the executive office?
No. It used to be the responsibility of the secretary, and that was one of the big problems is some of the secretaries didn't do a very good job at this. I think Arlo was one to keep just the last meeting's format and just put new words in under the agenda items. But what was worse was, of course, Roger Bell, who felt that setting the agenda was his prerogative, his and the president's, and that the less the executive office knew about what was going on, the better.
So you certainly had very different interactions with different people.
Yes. I mean, Arlo comes at least three or four times a year to visit the executive office for various reasons. Roger Bell, in his six years as secretary, was in here twice.
And he's at —
He's at Maryland, a twenty-minute drive.
I would like to say, if you could find a way without naming names, to talk about these invisible functions that the office has performed, it would be a very important part of your contribution. What does the office do to help the Society function in the best, most informed, most efficient ways? What has it been allowed to do, and what has it not been allowed to do?
I've got to talk to you about Helmut, but go ahead.
They're making very, very valuable comments that this is just not a history book, this is a book about contemporary concerns and contemporary opinions. I want you to feel free, no matter what Osterbrock says, to express your opinions. I hope he never reads this. [Laughter]
This tape, yes.
The tape. Right. Right.
I know I've been fairly free today, too.
By the way, you understand that you have literary control over this material. I will be sending you, or giving you, two different literary permission forms. It'll be deposited at the AIP; it'll be deposited at our department. We have two different forms, but they're basically the same thing. You can control access. This doesn't have to be a public document, although that's possible. It can be a document that can be read only with your permission. It can be a document that can be read by anybody but can only be used, published, or cited, with your permission. So there are these various options, anyway.
I'd love to keep it semi-private for a couple of years or something.
You can specify that, and I'll be giving you those. But anyway, my point is that with Helmut with others, they have seen this, and I've talked to them about it, certainly with John Bahcall, this is a chance to provide a vision of the status of the community of astronomy in the United States, as expressed in the Society, in the executive office, the various — like John Bahcall heard about the astronomy surveys and that sort of thing. It's the vision that Society people have in these different aspects at this time. Some of us are writing historical chapters.
It sounds very interesting.
I think so, but not all of us are writing historical chapters. I don't expect you to write from a historian's perspective. That's not what I'm asking you to do. I hope that's helpful.
That's very helpful. Yes.
So is there anything else we should cover at least on tape at this point?
No, I think I've said, in summary, maybe just to reiterate why I was very happy to leave the position of executive office. Sidney and I were talking one time.
Sidney Wolff. She's the president of the Society. She said, "You look tired." I said, "I am, Sidney. I don't like preparing reports for the Council, and budgets, and stuff like that. I've done it long enough, and I find myself getting very grumpy." She said, "Well, what if we could structure something for you?" I said, "Gee, I don't think I'd like to give up the power." But the more I thought about it, I thought, I will never, ever have a chance to have a sympathetic president like that say, "Okay, I'd like to set up something so that you can do what you want for three years."
Yes. So I took her up on it. Now, there's a lot of undercurrent. I suspect that Bob O'Dell was trying very hard to get rid of me.
For what reason?
I'm not sure.
I know that back in, oh, God, when we were doing the Baltimore IAU, that you had some serious health problems during that time.
Yes, I had a minor cerebral hemorrhage.
Aha. That serious.
Fortunately, it all went away.
Yes, but people were very concerned.
Was that a warning? That was back in '88 or something.
No, that was a genetic defect that just burst.
So that came and went, basically.
That came and went. The Society was good to me at that point.
I got two months off with pay. They brought Larry Fredrick to come up once a week and sit in the office. That was great, actually.
You also started doing a little research at that time.
Was that part of the recovery process or just because you wanted to do it?
Well, no, it's because I wanted to do it, but I had time.
You had the time. Oh, I see. Because they let you lay off of your executive duties, and you filled it with research.
So is that it?
There's one other thing, but anyway, Sidney was really good about that. I had just seen too many societies like the Physical Society where Bill Havens was there for twenty-seven years, and he was a very negative force at the end. Anytime you suggested doing something, for AIP to do something, not even APS, Bill Havens would say, "Oh, no, we tried that fifteen years ago and it didn't work," without even listening to how it might be different, or how times might be different. I could just see the level of energy of APS kind of collapsing down, and I just thought, man, he wasn't happy, and it wasn't good for APS, and I vowed I would not stay in this position of executive officer until I was seventy-five. I mean, that's another fifteen years. That would be a real disaster.
Are you sixty?
You're older than I thought.
I'm older than dirt, according to some people. [Laughter]
Heavens to Betsy. Okay. Thanks a lot for this interview. I'll turn off the tape now.