Vol. 63, No. 3 | Fall 2018

Notes From The Historian

At the 2018 ABS meeting in Milwaukee, I was approached by several younger colleagues who had questions about the nomination process for ABS officers and the long-standing policy that any 5 members can nominate a candidate for office. My subjective impression was that they were concerned that the latter could somehow lead to hijacking of nominations by a privileged few. They also asked whether all Executive Committee (EC) members are required to be from R1 universities (i.e., universities that are ranked as having the “highest research activity”). This interaction suggested to me that some of our members are unaware of the history and culture of ABS and the procedures related to elections and membership on the Executive Committee. As a result, I will be writing occasional “notes” to shed historical light on various issues and also will be holding a “Lunch with the Historian – Everything You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask” at future ABS meetings.

This note deals with the questions asked during the interaction described above.

The early history of ABS – A democratic and egalitarian society: When the ABS was founded in the mid 1960s, a major concern among the founders was that the society be as democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive as possible. At the time, this concern was primarily, but not exclusively, about student members. Many early scientific societies were quite stodgy, with “elite” governing boards made up primarily of the senior men (yes, usually only men) in their respective fields - and they tended to be self-perpetuating, with relatively limited opportunities for more junior members, or students, to be involved in decision making or leadership in their societies. For reasons that have never been completely clear to me, the ABS intentionally chose a different model. All members, including students, should be eligible for offices in the society, as well as for service and leadership roles on committees. To avoid cliques and in-groups, all officers on the EC were to be elected by the entire membership, again including students. All members were encouraged to participate in, and vote on, important decisions brought up at the ABS Business Meetings (a good reason to attend Business Meetings!). Additionally, the members would always have the last say on society dues, by voting on any changes or dues increases recommended by the EC. Candidates for ABS office were to be nominated by the last 3 past presidents, but to ensure that the ABS could not be taken over by a small cabal, the founders decided that any 5 members of the society should also have the right to nominate candidates for office, simply by signing a letter of nomination. Overall, no arbitrary distinctions were to be drawn between ABS officers and other members of the society.

Have these provisions actually worked? Three examples come to mind. A) In the late 1970s, a group of 5 students were dissatisfied with the candidates the society put forward for editor of the journal; using the 5-member rule, they nominated Jeanne Altmann for editor. Jeanne won the election and was editor from 1978 to1982. What is most striking, however, is that, at the time, Jeanne herself was a graduate student, albeit an unusual graduate student - her research and publications on primate behavior were well-known and she had already published her now classic paper, “Observational study of behavior: Sampling methods.” B) At one point, around the early 2000s, the EC voted to increase membership dues in all the various categories. In the Business Meeting, however, the members objected to increasing dues for Latin American faculty and students. After a protracted discussion, the membership voted against increasing dues for Latin Americans, thus overruling the earlier decision of the EC. C) Sometime in the early 1990s, at the ABS banquet, the meeting hosts arranged for a special EC head table on a raised platform (a practice common in some other societies). Most EC members took their plates and came down from the platform to join the rest of the membership on the floor of the venue. One EC member said to me: “We don’t do that sort of thing in ABS!”

As the ABS has grown, some changes have been made (e.g., the editor is no longer elected by the membership – for reasons too complicated to go into here). However, the founders’ commitment to equality and inclusion continues to the present day – only now it is most evident with regards to women, under-represented groups, and undergraduate students. ABS has roughly equal numbers of women and men among its members, and many women hold positions of leadership; this, unfortunately, still is rare in many other scientific societies. In 2013, when the NSF withdrew funding for the Turner program (our undergraduate diversity program), the ABS EC voted to allocate society funds to keep the program running indefinitely, thereby making a significant financial investment to support our diversity outreach efforts. Thus, the legacy of the founders has been up-dated and maintained.

Are EC members required to be from R1 institutions? Absolutely not! A quick look at ABS presidents, as an example, should suffice to lay this supposition to rest. It is true that most presidents have had outstanding and nationally-recognized research records – that is usually how they become known to the members who subsequently vote for them. However, many have come from institutions that are not R1, and some are from undergraduate colleges that are not even included in the R-ratings. A few examples of recent, well known, ABS presidents who did not come from R1 institutions include, in chronological order, Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, Lee Drickamer, Ann Clark, Ken Yasukawa, Susan Foster, and our current president, John Swaddle. Canadian and Latin American institutions are not R-ranked, so we can add Regina Macedo (among others) to this list. The same pattern is true for all other EC positions.

The bottom line: There are no requirements regarding institutional research rankings to run for office, and serve, on the ABS Executive Committee. The only pre-requisites that count are commitment and a willingness to be of service to the ABS.

Do you have a question for the Historian, or a topic you would like to see covered? Please send them to [email protected]. I may not have all the answers, but I will do my best to respond to any queries, either individually or in “Notes from the Historian.”






ABS Historian, Zuleyma Tang-Martínez

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