Vol. 67, No. 1 | Summer 2022
 

Notes from the ABS Historian


ABS Historian, Zuleyma Tang-Martinez

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the ABS and its members as ABS Historian for the last 8 years. However, this will be my last Notes from The Historian because I will be stepping down at the end of the Costa Rica annual meeting in July, 2022. I am pleased to leave this position in the hands of my very capable and dedicated successor, Dr. Sue Margulis, who has agreed to serve as our next Historian.

Over the years, with some regularity, I have had members (especially new members) ask me questions such as , “Why doesn’t the ABS do X, Y, or Z”, or make comments such as, “If the ABS really cared about X issue, the Executive Committee would do such and such”. Such comments are usually well-intended, and reflect a desire to encourage positive changes in the society. I appreciate such questions and comments and have taken such queries as an opportunity to explain the nature and functioning of the ABS, including that its members are the mainstay of the society.

The ABS is, first and foremost, a “society”. That is, it is not an independent or rarefied entity but, rather, is comprised of a collection of people – its members - that is, you, me, us - all of us are the ABS. Thus, what the ABS does or what it stands for depends, and should always depend, on its members. If a member (whether a member of the Executive Committee or not) detects a problem or a need, then that member is responsible for making their concerns known and helping to solve the problem. It is important to remember that the Executive Committee (EC) helps to run the society, but it is composed of persons who are elected by the ABS membership and are expected to represent and answer to the members. Moreover, the EC is not a permanent body or self-perpetuating body because it constantly changes as new members come in – no elected position in the EC is longer than 4 years and most are 3 years – so there is signifcant fluidity and turnover. In fact, part of the role of the Historian is to serve as the society’s institutional memory because, with new members coming into the EC every year, some EC members may not be aware or understand what has happened in the past that may affect decisions in the present and for the future.

The fact that EC officers are elected as representatives of the members highlights the importance of ABS elections. Historically, a relatively small percentage of ABS members vote in elections, yet voting for the “right” candidates is an important way that members can influence what happens in their society and what positions the ABS is likely to take on various issues. It is not only important to vote, but also to do a bit of research on the candidates for the various offices and make sure that you vote for those candidates who you feel are most likely to share your values and concerns.

If you believe that candidates are selected by the leadership and, therefore, that you have little say as to who is nominated, you are only partly correct. Typically, the slate of candidates is selected by the last three Past Presidents (who, of course, were elected by the membership in the first place, so they represent the members). However, that is not the end of it, because any 5 members of the ABS can write a letter to jointly nominate any one they want, if they are not satisfied with the slate that is initially put forward. That nominee will then be added to the slate before the vote takes place. This mechanism was established by the founders of the ABS precisely to guard against all the power going to a small clique of leaders and, instead, opening up the nomination process to all members. Although this nomination mechanism is seldom used by ABS members, there have been times when a candidate nominated by the membership received more votes than the candidates nominated by the Past Presidents, and was elected to office. The most notable case is, perhaps, the 1977 election of Jean Altmann as ABS Editor of Animal Behaviour, after she was nominated by 5 graduate students. (As a clarification, because of the growth and complexity of the journal and the publishing process, the ABS editor is no longer an elected position).

More generally, the members not infrequently initiate change and set new directions for the society. The following are just a few examples (among many that I could cite) in which members have played pivotal roles influencing change and policy in the ABS:

  • In 1993, several ABS members presented a resolution at that year’s Business Meeting advocating that ABS not hold meetings in any US states that passed discriminatory anti -LGBTQ constitutional amendments (at the time, Colorado had already passed such an amendment and about 8 other states were preparing to vote on similar amendments). After some discussion, the resolution was voted on and was passed overwhelmingly by the membership. ABS abided by this resolution until it became moot because the US Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado-style amendments were unconstitutional.
  • In 1995, I proposed to the EC that we should have a Latin American Affairs Committee. I argued that ABS should be the Society for all the Americas, that we only had a handful of members in Latin America and less than a handful ever attended ABS meetings, and that we needed an outreach effort. The EC loved the idea and gave the go ahead to organize a new committee. The Latin American Affairs Committee is now one of the established and very active ABS committees - and Latin American participation in the ABS has increased exponentially.
  • As part of the effort described above, the EC also instituted lower membership dues for members from developing countries. Nonetheless, some years, later the EC decided to raise dues for everyone – a few dollars increase for each category, including for developing nations. Since dues increases must be approved by members during the Business Meetings at ABS annual conferences, the EC brought the proposal to the Business Meeting, expecting that it would pass with little controversy. But, the members balked and absolutely refused to approve the new, higher dues for developing nations; instead, they amended the EC proposal right there at the Business Meeting, raised the regular dues by a few more dollars for members from developed nations, and rejected any increase whatsoever for developing nations. The members then voted and passed the amended dues schedule. The members had the last word, and the EC simply implemented the decision made by our members.
  • In 2017, group of about 5 - 6 members presented a resolution at the Business Meeting, proposing that the ABS switch its investments to a socially-responsible fund. This idea had first been broached in 2014 and was met with mixed reactions. However, the 2017 resolution received a very positive response from the membership and the EC members offered to take the issue under advisement and research various options. Over the next year, the small group of members wrote a brief report and submitted it to the EC (to supplement theEC’s own research). The EC supported the change and brought it back to the Business Meeting for a vote by the members. Voilà, in less than three years the move to a socially responsible fund had been approved and implemented.

These examples present a good opportunity to remind members about the importance of attending Business Meetings – yes, at times they can be rather tedious, but at other times, resolutions are voted on and important changes that help guide the values and direction of the society are decided. All ABS members are always invited to participate in the Business Meetings - so the next time you see one on the annual meeting program, please plan to attend.

To summarize, I have tried to emphasize that the ABS, as a society, is ours – the members’. That is true whether we serve on the EC or not – we are all members and we have both a right and a responsibility to actively help guide our society in the direction that we feel is most appropriate. We elect the members of the EC to serve as our representatives. In my experience, EC members take the opinions and wishes of the membership extremely seriously. They also are particularly devoted to the welfare of our student members and how to best assist their development as scientists. This is not to say that the EC (or the ABS) is perfect and never makes mistakes. It may not act immediately or may not always respond in the way that you had hoped. However, all EC members generously volunteer their time and energy – and do their utmost to listen to all ABS members and to make the ABS the best possible society. So, bottom line, if you would like ABS to consider an idea you have or to move in a particular direction, please speak to someone on the EC and request that your concerns be heard and addressed. Or, present a resolution at a Business Meeting. I think you will find the ABS and the EC responsive and very open to suggestions. The ABS was deliberately founded (in 1964) as a non-hierarchical and egalitarian society (which was somewhat unusual for most scientific societies of that time). The ABS and the EC continue to strive to live up to that legacy, and your concerns and involvement in the society will be welcomed and valued.


 

 
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