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HEPBURN REPORT

Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sections
to the President, Geological Society of America

March 2005
Committee Background and Charge

The Geological Society of America’s Programmatic Overview Committee reviewed the various types of meetings of the Society during its meeting in March 2004.  At this time an overall decrease in attendance at Section meetings during the past three years was noted.  GSA President Rob van der Voo appointed an ad hoc committee to review the Sections and Section meetings and make recommendations.  This committee consisted of representatives of all six Sections, with the Section Representative to Council acting as the Chair and with the GSA Director of Meetings as liaison.  His charge to the committee was:

(1)   How can GSA Headquarters better assist Sections in their organization of Section meetings (albeit without breaking the bank);
(2)   How can we make the Section meetings more attractive, so that attendance is enhanced; and
(3)   Anything else pertinent to the meetings of the Sections that this Committee may wish to recommend.

This committee has communicated by e-mail and teleconferences and held a face-to-face meeting in connection with the Annual Meeting in Denver in November 2004.  In addition, input has been sought and received from a wide variety of GSA members, including discussion with the Secretary/Treasurers of the Sections, many other current and past Section officers, and Section meeting organizers. 

GSA Sections are independent organizations within GSA that function with broadly similar, but somewhat different, sets of by-laws, organizations and methods of operation.  A Section Secretary commonly holds office for several years, providing some continuity, whereas the other officers typically have one-year terms.  Sections are largely supported by revenue from their annual Section meetings as well as a $2 allocation for each Section member from GSA dues. 

It is thought that the conclusions and recommendations of this Committee to the Sections (presented below) will be helpful to all Sections.  In some instances, we recommend procedures that are already in place in some Sections, but that the Committee feels should be considered for all Sections.  However, it is clear that the Ad Hoc Committee can only make recommendations to the Sections.  To be adopted, the individual Management Boards of each Section must approve them.

Justification of Sections and Section Meetings

Problems of Sections and Section Meetings

Overall, attendance at Section meetings decreased from 3792 in 2001 to 2627 in 2004, or by about 30%.  Decreased attendance at Section Meetings affects Section finances, recruitment of GSA members, Section support for students, and meeting costs.  Meetings provide the main source of income for Sections.  Lower attendance also usually means a greater cost per attendee since a good portion of meeting costs are fixed, thus producing a negative feedback.  The reasons for decreased attendance at Section Meetings are likely varied and complex.  However, the following are perceived by the Committee to be among the principal causes:

Sections are generally organized around a Management Board led by a Chair, a Vice Chair and various Members-at-Large.  Chairs are commonly elected for one year.  Secretary/Treasurers are elected in all but one Section to serve for several years. They are effectively the principal operating officers of the Sections.  Some Secretary/Treasurers have been re-elected to this office for several consecutive terms.  Local Meeting Chairs and organizing committees generally serve for one particular Section meeting.  The Ad Hoc Committee repeatedly heard examples of a lack of communication and direction among these Section jurisdictions and between the Sections and Headquarters.  The committee feels that commonly too much responsibility is being placed on the Secretary/Treasurer for the well being of a Section.  In many instances, the Ad Hoc Committee perceived the organization of the Sections to be too unstructured.  Former officers and members of Management Boards indicated that it was not always clear who had responsibility for what, and it was too easy to assume the Secretary/Treasurer or “someone else” would let them know what needed to be done and at what time.  Management Boards typically meet only once or twice a year.  There is little evidence to suggest that, in most instances, they are seriously proactive in their approach to Section activities.

Potential Solutions - Recommendations to Sections

1. Place the Highest Emphasis on Having a Quality, Diverse Scientific Program at Section Meetings.

Recommendation 1: In order to accomplish these goals, it is recommended that each Section form a Section-wide Program Committee charged with the responsibility of organizing the technical and scientific programs for the Section meeting.

2. Provide Greater Support for the Meeting Chair.

One of the strongest complaints the Ad Hoc Committee heard was that Section Meeting Chairs felt they had little guidance or support from previous meeting organizers and thus had to start essentially from scratch.  The Ad Hoc Committee strongly recommends that Sections help to alleviate this problem by forming a Meeting Advisory Committee.  This committee might consist of the Local Meeting Chair, past Chair and future Chair, plus at least 3 other members serving on a 3-year rotating basis.  These members should include other past Chairs or those with meeting organization experience.  Such a committee would provide a resource and planning function for the Section meetings and continuity from year to year. 

It is also envisioned that this committee would assist the Management Board in locating future meeting sites.  Sites need to be chosen for their attractiveness to Section meeting attendees in terms of their location, accessibility, facilities and cost.  Sites should not be chosen simply on the basis of who is willing to act as host and meeting chair.  If the GSA staff can do the logistics, the Local Committee would not need to be at the site, opening up a larger pool of potential Local Committee members.  Meeting sites need to be chosen well in advance.  Five years ahead of time is needed so that logistics and facility costs can be efficiently planned and contracts professionally negotiated.  Longer lead times will also give the Local Committee more time to prepare all aspects of the meeting.

Recommendation 2: It is recommended that the Management Board of each Section form a Meeting Advisory Committee.  This committee would assist with the planning of the Section Annual Meeting, provide support for the Local Meeting Chair and be responsible for advising the Management Board on future meeting sites.

3. Section Fund Raising

The Ad Hoc Committee feels that opportunities to acquire additional funds for the Sections, and particularly for the Section Meetings, are being lost because they are simply not being sought in an organized fashion.  We believe an innovative, proactive Fundraising Committee working at the Section level could help acquire sponsors that will make meetings better and assist in keeping registration fees down.  Such fundraising activities would likely target more local, perhaps smaller, funding sources than the national GSA Foundation.  It is thought that a Fundraising Committee might be made up of individuals appointed to multi-year terms to provide continuity.  At least two individuals should be appointed to this committee a minimum of three years before each Section meeting with the specific responsibility of seeking funds for that particular meeting.

Recommendation 3: It is recommended that each Section form a Fundraising Committee to seek sponsors for Section Meetings and opportunities for outside funding of Section activities.  This committee should be appointed by the Management Board of the Sections and work with both the Local Meeting Organizing Committees and the GSA Foundation.

4. Section Organization.

As noted earlier, the Ad Hoc Committee heard numerous examples of a lack of communication between Section Management Boards, local meeting organizing committees, the Section Secretary/Treasurer and Headquarters.  Furthermore, the Committee feels that perhaps too much responsibility is being placed on the Secretary/Treasurers.  They are expected to be all things to the Section and while they are dedicated volunteers, they seem to be over-worked.  The Ad Hoc Committee feels that the Management Boards of the Sections need to review the structure of their organizations.  Clear lines of responsibility need to be laid out and followed.  More responsibilities need to be formalized so that everyone knows their roles and duties.  Individuals on Management Boards and local meeting organizing committees must be proactive in their Section duties.  They must also help to lighten the load on the Secretary/Treasurers.  The Ad Hoc Committee, thus feels that this is an appropriate time for Sections to re-evaluate their organizations.

Recommendation 4: It is recommended that Section Management Boards formally review the organization of their Section, take an increased role in the function of the Section, clarify duties of the various parts of their organization and make sure that lines of communication between all groups are clear and known.  Management Boards need to assume a proactive role to assure the success of the Section and Section meetings.

Potential Solutions – Recommendations to GSA Headquarters

1. Have Section Meeting Logistics Handled by the GSA Headquarters Meetings Department.

Having a professional Meetings Department staff member dedicated to Section Meeting logistics would go a long way toward alleviating many of the current problems with running Section meetings.  This recommendation was unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed by all the members of the Ad Hoc Committee and all of those we consulted, particularly by people who had been past Section Meeting Chairs or on local organizing committees.  Such a person at Headquarters would be responsible for assisting the Section Management Boards and Local Meeting Chairs with site selection and review, contract negotiations and general logistics support for the meetings.  Tammy White, former GSA Meetings Department Director, indicated that she felt a half-time person added to the Headquarters Meetings Department staff would be adequate to undertake these responsibilities.  The advantages that such a person would bring to the Sections include the following:

Support for a Meetings Department Staff Member to assist with Section logistics will need funding from Headquarters.  Since meeting revenue represents the main source of income for Sections, registration fees for the meetings would need to be raised to prohibitively expensive levels to cover this cost and would be counterproductive.  Sections currently pay $15 per registrant to Headquarters for registration assistance and this cost would not change.  However, raising the registration cost to cover an additional Headquarters Meetings Department staff person would be difficult, particularly as we wish to continue to attract students to the Section meetings.  Registration fees for students, who are now provided substantially reduced registration fees, would have to be raised, or else the burden is placed upon the professionals attending the meetings.  Neither option is feasible.  This added cost would also likely cut into the support that Sections provide to students for meeting attendance and research.  If Sections were asked to fund this expense, the Ad Hoc Committee feels that most could not afford to do so over the long term and would thus continue to run their meetings much as they do now.

Recommendation 1:  It is recommended that Section meeting logistics be handled by the GSA Headquarters Meeting Department, preferably by one person assigned these duties.  It is further recommended that this person be funded by the national GSA and not directly billed to the Sections.

It is also recommended that GSA Headquarters:

Recommendation 2: Continue to hold training sessions for Section Local Chairs.

All present and former Section Meeting Chairs we contacted found these sessions to be very helpful.  Such sessions, led by the Sections Meetings Department Coordinator, would also provide an important personal interface between the Coordinator and the local organizers. It is also suggested that a couple of past local meeting Chairs be included in these sessions to highlight potential problems and solutions.

Recommendation 3: Increase and expand cooperation and coordination between the GSA Foundation and the Sections.

The GSA Foundation needs to play an active role in encouraging and assisting the Sections in fundraising activities.  GSAF input should be part of any training session for the local Chairs and holding a separate session for Section Fundraising Coordinators or committees should be considered.

Recommendation 4:  Help to formalize regular contact and input to the Section Meetings from the Divisions, the Allied and Associated Societies and the applied geology community.

The Ad Hoc Committee is unsure exactly how to best accomplish this, but input from these groups is greatly needed to diversify and expand Section meetings.  We suggest that both the Divisions and the Allied and Associated Societies establish a new position of “Liaison to the Sections.”  The charge to this liaison would be to help Sections find interested representatives of these groups to serve on Section Program and Meeting Committees.  A Division representative for each Section and/or a Section representative to each Division and Allied and Associated Society should also be appointed.  It is further proposed that a representative of the Sections be invited to the national meetings of the Divisions and Allied and Associated Societies.

Closing Comments

GSA Sections, like the national organization and our science in general, are facing a number of significant challenges.  This report is an attempt to outline some of the current problems that Sections are facing and offers some potential solutions.  The Committee hopes that each Section and the national GSA will adopt the recommendations of this report.  The Committee also hopes that this report will serve as a starting point for on-going discussions and evaluations by each Section of their organizations and operations.  While the national GSA has built-in feedback mechanisms that continually review its operations, these are largely lacking at the Section level.  Therefore, the Management Board of each and every Section must take a clear, proactive role in accessing their Section on a regular basis.  Business as usual will not insure the continued successful operation of the Sections.  The national organization also needs to be mindful of the important role played by the Sections and offer all the help and guidance that it can.  The Committee is confidant that with continued vigilance by both the Sections and the national GSA that the Sections will remain strong and continue to play a vital role in the Geological Society of America.

Submitted by the Ad Hoc Committee on Sections, March 2005

J. Christopher Hepburn – Committee Chair & Councilor
Richard J. Diecchio – Southeastern Section
Joan Fryxell _ Cordilleran Section
Carrie Jennings Patterson – North-Central Section
George C. Stephens – Northeastern Section
Diane R. Smith – South-Central Section
Walt Snyder – Rocky Mountain Section
Tammy White – GSA Liaison - past GSA Director of Meetings