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  • AOU and Other Societies to Evolve Into New Society for Ornithology

    Sue Haig
    • In a unanimous vote at the July 2011 annual meeting, the AOU Council approved a motion to move forward with planning to form a new society, with ultimate hopes of uniting and strengthening Western Hemisphere ornithology. The plan could involve a merger of AOU and one or more other ornithological societies into a western hemisphere ornithological society tentatively named the Society for Ornithology.

    In a unanimous vote at the July 2011 annual meeting, the AOU Council approved a motion to move forward with planning to form a new society, with ultimate hopes of uniting and strengthening Western Hemisphere ornithology. The plan could involve a merger of AOU and one or more other ornithological societies into a western hemisphere ornithological society tentatively named the Society for Ornithology.


    This new Society for Ornithology would result in a clean slate for designing new governance and new journals, as well as provide broad opportunities to promote the field of ornithology, ornithologists, and avian conservation. Most significantly, plans include development of four new journals housed under a single editorial office. Online journals would appear online monthly, and in paper form quarterly. Focus will vary from cutting edge basic research to descriptive ornithology and will include a new journal on avian conservation and management. This new editorial effort would result in cessation of the Auk, and perhaps certain journals of partner societies that join in this sweeping reform.


    The new society might include regional sections and topical working groups that will meet bi-annually. Meetings of the unified society could be hosted bi-annually in years opposite of section and working group meetings.


    Plans for further development of the Society for Ornithology involve immediate invitation to all OSNA societies and other ornithological groups interested in helping pioneer this historic change in western hemisphere ornithology. The Cooper Ornithological Society already has indicated a strong interest in the new effort, and talks are underway with the other societies.


    A business plan is now being developed for presentation to the AOU Council and other partner groups by early February 2012. The AOU Council and partners will meet in Dallas in February to discuss and further develop the business plan. A comment period will be provided to members of all partnering societies following development of the draft business plan. The AOU Council will vote on this final business plan (from an AOU perspective) at the NAOC in Vancouver (August 2012). Until then, comments can be posted below or sent to AOU President-Elect Susan Haig susan_haig@usgs.gov.


    Additional details can be found in the presentation made at the AOU Business Meeting in August 2011, available under the Downloads tab or by clicking here: AOU 20XX Annual Meeting Presentation.pdf






    Check the Ornithology Exchange regularly for further progress on development of the Society for Ornithology.


    This announcement was originally posted in Comments about the Society for Ornithology forum topic.


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    Wow, big changes for American Ornithology! I am very interested in how things pan out. It's saddening, however, to hear the (Great) Auk is going extinct again. Perhaps the journal was doomed to "cessation" by its moniker. In any case, the future looks bright with a newly named society and newly named journals.

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    Yep--the changes are huge but the support for them has been overwhelming. It takes a while to get used to such drastic changes but ultimately, I believe it will be better for all of us, the birds, and the field of ornithology.

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    I might suggest a different name for the committee... AOU 20XX makes thispotentiallygreat new initiative seem very AOU centric. True that AOU is pushing this forward, but this concept only works if all socieities get on-board and some of these smaller societies are already getting sensitive since this was promoted with very little discussion among those society's...many of whom were still unter the impression that "Strengthening Ornithology" was the initiative de jour

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    Thanks, Reed. We will change it as we begin to develop the business plan. I have to remind everyone that we are just (next month) beginning the planning stage for this new initiative and every OSNA society has or will be asked to join in the next week. My travel schedule has prevented me from personally contacting every society. However, I will be finishing this task when I return to the States tomorrow.

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    The Power Point mentions more than once ornithology in the "Western Hemisphere" yet I see only North America mentioned (OSNA). Any efforts to include our Spanish and Portugese speaking neighbors from the southern half of the Western Hemisphere?

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    The powerpoint presentation on this topic noted that creation of the Society for Ornithology would allow: "Unprecedented cooperation in ornithological research and conservation."

    A truly omnibus Society for Ornithology should probably think about how to accommodate and interact with Partners in Flight, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and the many other conservation-related initiatives in existence in the Western Hemisphere. Professional societies can't be limited to their academic (research) interests. As such, I see the Society for Ornithology systematizing the NAOC and somehow extending its reach to include these other initiatives in a like manner. Whether that's possible or not, or how comprehensive it can be, is entirely unclear to me.

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    In response to Steve: we have extended an invitation to the Neotropical Ornithological Society and hope to have many Latin American societies join us.


    We will extend invitations to PIF, DU, etc. once we get our act together -- defined as having a business plan where we know what costs will be, a timetable for tasks to be completed, etc. This is a monumental effort, hence we need to go in stages. However, we are getting great responses from at least the AOU, COS, AFO, and WOS. Other groups are considering their options and waiting until they see a better developed plan--which should be available in mid-February or so.

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    Comments on Plans for the Future of American Ornithology

    Declines in membership in the major North American societies dedicated to ornithological science over the past several years led to a broad proposal, circulated in 2009 by Mercedes Foster and Jed Burtt, then presidents of COS and AOU, resp., for the societies jointly to explore ways to strengthen ornithology (i.e., the science and the societies) in North America. The major societies agreed in principle to explore, and most of them appointed representatives to a series of joint committees to study different aspects of the problems, generally thinking of a “federation” model. Those committees moved slowly, and little progress was reported. Some in the AOU became dissatisfied with this approach, and a group of six developed a plan of their own, which was presented to, and accepted by, the AOU Council at the 2011 meeting in Jacksonville. A power point presentation of the highlights of this plan was given to members attending that AOU meeting and is available elsewhere on the Ornithology Exchange: http://ornithologyexchange.org/forums/files/file/4-aou-20xx-annual-meeting-presentationpdf/

    This plan would replace the AOU, the oldest professional society in North America devoted to the scientific study of birds, with a new (tentatively named) Society for Ornithology—which would actually be a not-for-profit business rather than a scientific society. It would have a paid full-time staff to manage affairs including publications, fund raising, membership, and meetings, under the supervision of a board of trustees composed of elected officers and councilors, mostly (emphasis added) professional ornithologists. “Development and fund-raising will be the major focus of a full-time staff.”

    The Auk, now in its 128th year and considered North America’s premier ornithological journal, would be discontinued, as would the journals of other societies that chose to become part of the new society. In its (their) place the new society, with a single editorial office, would publish four on-line monthly journals (some also quarterly in hard copy). With focus from “cutting edge research to other areas including conservation”, these publications would be “of the highest caliber”—presumably of greater importance than the current ones.

    The power-point presentation, from which the above is taken, notes that new ideas as drastic as these take time to be considered. Members of the present ornithological societies need to consider “what plan is best [sic] for the profession of ornithology . . . .” However, an AOU committee is currently developing a plan which its mid-year Council meeting will formalize, after which it will be released to the membership and to other societies. Final acceptance is expected at the 2012 NAOC in Vancouver. Other American ornithological societies will be invited to dissolve themselves and merge with the new Society for Ornithology. If they choose not to do so, presumably the AOU would make the change by itself.

    How this plan and new society will stem the decline in membership, and the decline in finances that results, has not been indicated. The decline in membership is often related to the fact that students and young professionals can now obtain free access to the societies’ journals on-line, and do not have to join the societies (i.e., pay dues) to have access to the current literature. How replacement of The Auk (and perhaps other current journals) with four new on-line journals will change this is not indicated. New incentives for membership are not mentioned, other than unspecified “professional support from . . . undergraduate days through tenure or senior scientist status.” Will those who do not now want to be members of long-established professional societies suddenly want to become members of a new society?

    Is it necessary to cease publication of the 128-year-old Auk to establish a high caliber journal? Why not publish the papers that would make the journal “of the highest caliber” in the present Auk—if they are not already there. If they are not already there, why not, where are they, and where will they suddenly come from for a new journal or set of journals? Will four journals from one editorial office ensure the mix of subject matter and viewpoints that the current suite of society journals provides?

    We can grant that the nature and function of scientific societies and journals are not now what they were when the present societies were founded, or even a decade ago. The organizations have changed greatly over the years, but have not kept pace with society and technology. New and better ways of learning about birds and of disseminating and using what we learn need continual updating. Efforts to accomplish these goals should be most fruitful if what we now have is used as a base for building rather than cast aside. It is difficult to stop the world and start it again the way we think it should have been. When a drastic solution is proposed, let’s be sure it is for the correct problem.

    Richard C. Banks, Sept., 2011

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    Hi Dick--thanks for your note and concern about AOU. This is an awkward format to address all your questions but I will try to do it in a way people can see your questions and my response. Here goes:


    1. How this plan and new society will stem the decline in membership, and the decline in finances that results, has not been indicated.


    The decline in membership is not due to free student memberships --the cohort we lose most are the postdocs and new asst. professors--who never come back.


    We hope to jumpstart membership in more ways than I can outline here but for starters:


    A --Be more communicative with members more than we currently are. Our committee spent a great deal of time reviewing professional societies that are undergoing our same challenges and the one aspect all identified as key in their recovery was better and updated communication. This will come about as a result of launching a weekly online newsmagazine/website similar to the Ornithology Exchange, send more frequent emails to members about news in ornithology, b e more active in preparing press releases to important papers published in our journals and our members.


    B. Launch a far more active conservation program. Chairs Michael Reed and Jeff Walters are working on a far more active and involved conservation effort for every aspect of what the new society will do. We have lost most of our members to SCB and TWS. And...we need to be more involved with conservation in any event.


    C. Publish online, probably free access, journals where our publication turn around time will be quicker that we are currently and access will be instantaneous--see more under "journals".


    Funding new initiative:


    A the idea is to hire an executive director (and later a development director) who will spend significant time fund-raising. We currently have no active fund-raising effort.


    B. We hope to attract new members or "fallen-away" AOU etc. members who are excited about the new efforts. I've heard from quite a few "fallen away" members who say they are now thinking of coming abck.


    3. New Pubs.


    I'm afraid to say that submissions to the Auk are woefully down. And submissions seem to come primarily from the US and Canada. In 18 mo, I believe there were only 6-7 mss submitted from Europe etc. Everyone seems to have shifted to the Journal of Avian Biology.

    Our ISI rating is not close to JAB and is below the Ibis at the moment.


    Thus, while it contributes to our problem, online access to journals is not the major problem with the Auk. On the other hand, one could argue that the AOU endowment could publish the Auk infinitum. However, publishing a journal no one submits to or reads makes it a foolish exercise.


    So...we are trying to improve this situation in every way we can think of. Thus includes:


    1. Changing the journal names so they are more attractive and informative to students and young faculty members that are pre-tenure. The name Auk does not excite deans. Frontiers in Ornithology might do a better job. Changing the name of the Auk is one of the things we have gotten the most positive response on among all the changes we are proposing.


    2. Having 4 journals under one editorship (4 asst editors): the idea there is to have one main editor and 4 journals with distinct missions so we can be sure each journal publishes the best papers in its realm. By this, we are trying to avoid the trickle down of papers --a person gets a paper rejected by the Auk and then keeps re-submitting it to other journals until someone finally bites. Our approach would put a halt to that.


    In addition, adding a conservation journal will, again, make the society more progressive than we have been in the past, make a more substantial contribution to avian conservation, and...we might start getting people to submit to the J of Avian Conservation rather than JWM or Conservation Biology, etc.




    Perhaps this is enough for now. The bottomline is we did not trying to revolutionize North American ornithology because we had nothing else to do. We did it to address some cancerous problems that needed to be remedied perhaps 10 years ago.


    Thanks again for your comments. Please let me know if we need to talk more, Sue

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    Relative to your responses above:


    Membership--Perhaps many of those postdocs who drop membership were recipients of free student memberships who do not now want to pay $90 for what they had received free, or who now consider themselves behaviorists, ecologists, conservationists, etc., rather than ornithologists.


    Increasing communication may be beneficial, but starting a newsletter similar to OE seems redundant. One might make better use of the present Ornithological Newsletter, even encouraging OSNA to take it monthly--unless it would be phased out under the new plan.


    AOU has always been supportive of conservation, but it has been a society for avian science, not for conservation per se.


    How does on-line free access publication translate into increased membership? Publicaton time in The Auk is currently very good.


    Funding--"We currently have no active fund-raising effort." Why not? There has often been an endowment committee; reactivate it! That does not take a new organization.


    Those "fallen away" members have not been active or enthusiastic on the OE. Will their return increase funding significantly?


    New pubs--


    The fact that most submittals to Auk are from US and Canada is not new; that is the base of the AOU. Perhaps people are not submitting to Auk because of its ISI rating, but will they submit to a new journal(s) which will not have any ISI rating for a couple of years? What are other reasons for the low submittal rate--editorial policy, high page costs??


    Changing the name of The Auk has been a high agenda item for some for more than a decade. Educating deans seems not to have been. I am not an academic, but I refuse to believe that deans are totally ignorant. Some have even published in The Auk.


    Four journals under one editorship concentrates an awful lot of power in one office.


    Why not let the wildlife management and conservation societies publish papers in their fields, and have The Auk continue to publish papers in the avian science/biology field?


    I believe that much or most of what you want to accomplish can be done within the framework of the present society and its journals. I think that efforts should be directed that way.


    Dick Banks

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    Hi Dick--the bottom line is that we are losing most people to the more topically-centered societies. As you know, organismal biology is not well supported in universities across North America. Many do not even teach taxonomic based courses. Another major function of SFO will be to promote the field of ornithology to universities across N. Am. Can't have ornithologists if there is no training for them.


    Membership--we believe that online publishing will decrease publication costs which will mean we need fewer members to continue. Currently the AOU endowment is oaying fr the Auk, not the members. Clearly, we should not continue that practice.


    As part of the business model we are proposing, we would hire an executive director who would spend a significant amt of time working on fund raising and development. We hope/plan that this person would be able to raise enough funds to make paid membership not as important to the survival of the society as we recognize the free access to pubs electronically does cause a steep decline in membership.


    I should note that AOU has not done significant fund-raising in the past as it takes time and we do not have volunteers or paid staff with the time to do it. This will need to change if we want to succeed in this post-paper journal era.


    Our efforts are not just aimed at recruiting members for their funds (although it helps). Just as much, we need to have a flourishing field. At this point, that means more than a journal and annual meeting. Since most ornithologists are concerned with conservation, we would like to make the society more attractive to that focus. Of course, that does not mean advocacy nor disregard for traditional studies--just branching out.


    As for conservation, most members of AOU are involved in conservation efforts and send the fruits of all these efforts to other journals. So once again, the Auk is not getting the best papers anymore. And there is a huge niche for avian conservation papers as Conservation Biology does not publish taxa-specific work unless it addresses a theoretical issue and JWM can only publish so many papers. We feel this new journal will not only get people interested in SFO but will truly contribute to avian conservation. Most members we have lost join SCB.


    Editorship--there are checks and balances too detailed to go into at this point.


    OE--will probably be the news magazine.


    Auk--the name has been an issue of contention for many years. As much as I love the Auk, especially younger authors are not getting the credit they deserve for publishing important papers when the name of the journal is an extinct bird. It is negatively effecting their tenure decisions, hence why not change it? Saying that cavalierly here does not reflect the 6 months of sickness in the pit of my stomach over losing some traditions in ornithology. However, we need to consider this new society to be an evolution of our field into a new era rather than mourning. Or as one Council member stating--this is the Phoenix rising from the ashes.


    In any event, I believe the train has left the station. We continue to have unprecedented support for our efforts. Sue

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    Sue--I have to question the implications of your statement that the endowment (rather than the members) is paying for the Auk. I do not have access to budget figures; proceedings of the meetings, with that kind of information, seem not to have been published in the Auk for the past couple of years. Certainly, income from membership dues has not been sufficient for many years to support all the activities of the AOU. A proportion of the proceeds from the endowment have made up part of the operating budget for years. If the Auk is costing more than the part of the operating budget allotted to it, so that the principal of the endowment has to be used, then there is bad management and the Auk (or other expenditures) needs to be reduced. Maybe the contract with US Press has something to do with that.


    But you want to hire a fund raiser to get more money for publishing, while stating that "online publishing will decrease publication costs . . . ." And that it will both result in and require fewer members. But a decrease in memberhip is stated to be a major concern. I think I am getting confused about the real reasoning behind the new society idea.


    Another point of confusion is your statement that "most members that we have lost join SCB." I would like to see figures that support that. Even if so, this would be despite the fact that "Conservation Biology does not publish taxa-specific work unless . . . ." So, perhaps these people are not interested in our taxa, which is why they leave AOU.


    Incidentally, what are the annual dues for SCB relative to AOU and COS?


    As for the name of the Auk, that is (I think) a different issue. I recall quite well the effort to change it in tht late 90s. If this is just a more round about way of accomplishing that, it should be stated. But if it has to be changed, maybe Phoenix would be a good name. (No, I'm not serious. About that.)


    Obviously the train has left the station. Let's hope there is a switch in the tracks so it does not cause too much damage. I am underwhelmed by the support that has been expressed in this forum.





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    In response to plans for a new society of ornithology, Dick Banks has eloquently expressed a number of serious concerns about the future of AOU and its publications, views which I ardently share. My perspective is somewhat different; as an amateur ornithologist, birdwatcher, bookseller/book collector of bird books and journals, and AOU member for nearly 30 years (dues were $16 in 1982). I can't imagine how anyone will find time and/or inclination to read four new journals especially monthly online versions. What we've seen in the past decade or two has been an extraordinary proliferation of easily accessible electronic information. While this has provided many positive benefits, serious challenges have emerged. Who of us has time to sift through this barrage of material or to remember and find an item of interest or importance in the future? And, are we really better off gazing at a monitor and clicking away on a keyboard for hours on end?


    If the AOU chooses to exist principally in cybespace, it will in my view, lead to a further decline in print publications and membership. One need only examine what has happened with the Ornithological Monographs. Beginning about 2005, the AOU decided to include copies of OMs free to members as benefit of membership with a consequent increase in dues. You received a copy of each new OM whether it was of interest to you or not. Then, with the journals division of UC Press at the helm, the AOU embarked upon an effort to persuade members to opt for electronic versions to save the planet. With OM 68, members were given the choice to opt out of print copies and most did. Now, an average of 450 members receive the print version; no one knows how many members access the online versions, but I have my suspicions. As far as after market sales are concerned, neither UC Press nor Buteo Books has sold more than a handful of OMs in recent years. Give it away and/or make it free online and both demand and desirability diminish. As to AOU membership, it declined substantially during this process.


    I say keep The Auk and save the AOU. Were it not raining, I'd prefer to be outside studying birds. And instead of poring over ephemeral comments and composing one, I'd find it more rewarding to pick up an old number of The Auk and actually learn something about birds.


    Allen Hale

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    Allen--the storm is drowning us regardless of whether the Auk is online or not. The world has changed, scientific societies have changed, and we need to change with them or become the Auk itself. I'm not going to repeat the discussion I've had with Dick here as you can read it above. As you suggest, there are better things to do than re-hash points that have been made over and over again. Thus, I'm going back to my day job so I can study birds and not kill trees in the process, Sue

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    The message being given out is that there is “overwhelming support” for proposed changes. However, I have recently had colleagues approach me to express concern. They assume that as a Past President of AOU, I know what is going on, and the fact that none of us does is part of the problem I’ll try to explain here.


    There does seem to be general agreement that the subject of revamping ornithological societies is well worth investigating. However, there is a great deal of uneasiness about the way it is being done. There is a definite sense that change is being railroaded through, by a relatively small group of people, and that AOU is the gorilla in the room that is pushing the agenda. (It doesn’t help that AOU’s President-Elect is spokesperson.) While members of each society will be invited to submit comments, the timeline between call for comments and final approval by AOU, at least, is really quite short--suggesting that the process is cosmetic and unlikely to bring about substantive alterations. The public announcements that have been made fuel concern by indicating there is a “plan” – not a “proposal” – and that the details of the plan are quite concrete, such that there appears to be a done deal. The final message of the PowerPoint (“New ideas, as drastic as presented here, take a long time to truly consider and appreciate. Please embrace

    this change”) sums up the problem: “Embrace the change” suggests a train that has already left the station, and members are not being given “a long time to truly consider.” Finally, it appears that AOU Council will have the final say on whether AOU goes ahead, without any substantive role by members or Fellows (see more on this below).


    If the summary above misrepresents what is going on, then it is clear there has been a serious failure of communication with members. If it IS accurate, then AOU is giving itself a black eye and should consider some different approaches. Whether or not the membership of each society is going to be involved in decision making, it is very important that they be brought along at every stage, so that plans don’t founder at a late stage simply because peoples’ backs are up. Besides causing some ill feeling about being pushed and rushed into something that constitutes a cosmic change, there is the potential for real disruption based on rumor about what is going on. (For example, one person who was planning to submit a paper to Auk said he decided against it, because he’d heard that Auk was going belly up. Might this be a general feeling that is contributing to the decline in submissions?)


    My opinion is that the public discourse at this stage should be focused much more on process than on promotion of possible outcome. I would recommend an announcement that lays out what steps will be taken when, who will make decisions, and showing branch points where things can go in different directions as each decision is made. A major part of this should be a target date for public disclosure of the full proposal(s), and society decisions should not have to be made until after the full proposal has been made available for comment and revised accordingly. Because any future society will differ according to which/how many current societies join in, and given that AOU is evidently the first that will vote, how will other societies be able to take part in planning that AOU will be leading? It should must be clear who will collect comments, who will be responsible for revising proposals, and who will make the final decisions for each society.


    If I am asked for input, and especially if I am asked to vote, here is what I would want to see in the proposal:

    • Proposed mission statement.

    Will the current mission of AOU (“…to advance the scientific understanding of birds, to enrich ornithology as a profession, and to promote a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds”) be essentially unchanged, or is there intent to become something different?

    • Justifications for major aspects of the proposal.

    - Pros and cons should be presented not only for merging, but for a new business structure, for 4 journals (why 4, vs. 2 or 3?), for a single editor vs. 4 editors and a single managing editor, for a paid administrator (instead of paid editors), etc.
    - Depending on the balance of pros/cons for each of the above, there might be alternative models proposed for particular aspects. Presentation of pos/cons and viable alternatives will help ensure that comments are relevant and constructive.

    • Fully costed business plan, with alternatives based on how many societies would be joining in.

    - This would have to include clear indication of how 4 journals could be supported under each scenario (number of merging societies), what the cost of membership and subscriptions would have to be, and how many of each would be required (compared to current numbers). How much annual fundraising would be needed? Number and size of endowments being merged would clearly affect these numbers.
    - Fund-raising items in the budget must be realistic. Fund-raising is a real profession, and can’t be done part-time by an Executive Director. A good one is expensive, and the office requires a decent budget to do its work. Is there really a viable target market for funders of a scientific society? Supporting ourselves by selling journal and advertising space at very high prices (like medical journals) is not an option for us.

    • Discussion of the fate of society ‘culture’

    - Each society has a suite of traditional awards, honors and events, many of which would presumably be merged or discontinued. While detailed proposals could wait until later in the process, some acknowledgement of the problem, and a process for decisions being made when the time comes, should be included in the initial proposal.

    • Information about the process (and timeline) each society will follow to decide whether it plans to join.

    - What is the “final decision” to be taken at NAOC? For AOU to go ahead? For all societies to have decided whether to go ahead? If AOU goes first, how long will other societies have to make their decisions?
    - It needs to be very clear who is going to make decisions for each society. Within AOU, for example, will it be Council alone? Fellows? EMs and Fellows? If membership in general is to have the final say, will it be via a majority of people at an annual business meeting, or via mail ballot to all members? Only Fellows can change AOU By-laws, so presumably they would have to vote to wind up the society. However, Council alone controls the Endowment, and they could effectively transfer all AOU’s funds to a new society without anyone else’s approval. While this might be legal, it could open a can of worms and cause tremendous ill feeling.
    Decisions will be made differently for each society, but members of each one will want similar detail on how they would be affected. These may seem niggling details that can be worked out with good will – but it’s precisely that good will that could be lacking unless there is a lot more work done now to “win hearts and minds.” Simply telling people that this is a great idea and will be good for ornithology is far from sufficient.
    Ricky Dunn

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    Ricky--I appreciate the time you have taken to outline your concerns and information needs. There are several major points that I'd like to make in response.


    1. As a former AOU president, thus current member of the AOU Council, not to mention AOU member, you have had access to more information and invitations to comment than you are outlining. I believe you were the only living former AOU president (aside from Dick Banks who was ill) not to be in attendance at the Jacksonville council meeting where these ideas were presented and discussed. You also have an invitation to attend the mid-year council meeting, at AOU's expense, to voice your opinion. I do not believe we have heard whether or not you will attend. The announcement of the plan to develop SFO, with the associated powerpoint presentation, has been available on the AOU website, here on the OE website, and there has been an announcement in the OSNA newsletter and in the media.


    2. While you seem concerned that, as AOU president-elect, I am responding to the questions about these ideas, you did not suggest who it is you would like to hear from. I developed and chaired the committee to evaluate and develop the future of the AOU and now chair the committee that is developing the plan for SFO. There is no one who knows more about this than I do. Although, I would more than welcome other members of the SFO committees to chime in at any point.


    3. It is not novel to think that the issues you outlined are needed--we are working on them now in a business plan format and via committees lead by members of every interested OSNA society. Thus, I cannot answer questions about the details of the Society for Ornithology at this moment. As mentioned previously, committees are drafting outlines that will present various options for moving forward and are researching the costs associated with specific ideas so all societies will have a variety of options to consider. Someone had to do this background work before we could present and evaluate what might be best for AOU or any other OSNA society.


    4. We are in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation here. We were trying to be as open and straight-forward as possible with every OSNA member/society by announcing ideas we were considering so early on. Thus, we proposed our ideas to the council and attendees at the Jacksonville meeting less than 2 weeks after developing them and we announced it to all OSNA societies (via contacting presidents of each society) shortly after the Jacksonville meeting. By doing so, we left ourselves open to criticisms such as you are rendering that we did not have a complete plan. However, had we developed a plan in secret and then announced it with all the details worked out, we would be criticized as well. We thought we would error on the side of openness and take our lumps--which we are doing to some degree. However, I am not lying in telling you how much support we have been sent--mostly by mid-career and younger members—those we most often lose. You need to review our membership trends, and those of the other societies, to get a reality check on what is happening to membership. We need to do something about this.


    5. We presented an outline of the process we are following to all OSNA presidents several months ago. It was their responsibility to share with their councils and members as they saw appropriate. I will repeat it below.


    Overall, I believe a little patience this fall will be rewarded with a detailed plan that will address your concerns and those others have expressed with plenty of time to revise the evolving plan. I hope you can embrace this path we are taking to evaluate our future.




    Fall 2011:

    · Develop business plan for SFO

    February 2012:

    · AOU Council meets to evaluate business plan.

    · SFO executive committee solicits comments from interested OSNA societies and AOU members. Other societies can solicit opinions from members as they deem appropriate.

    Spring –Summer 2012:

    · SFO executive committee meets monthly via teleconference with interested OSNA society presidents or representatives to revise business plan.

    · SFO executive committee refines plan as per recommendations from OSNA societies.

    · SFO Executive committee meets with OSNA presidents at NAOC to further discuss plan.

    · SFO committee chairs present proposed plan to AOU Council at NAOC with a request to fund the beginning of SFO.

    · Other OSNA societies can vote to join SFO, reject joining SFO, or choose to join at another time.

    Fall 2012:

    · Proceed with development of SFO if business plan is approved by AOU, if not other societies.


    NOTE: approval to proceed does not mean AOU or any other society will disappear. AOU would continue for a few years while SFO was developed. Other societies would similarly follow this path (more or less) at their discretion.

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    Regarding key issues relating to the SFO concept, you said "we are working on them now in a business plan format and via committees lead by members of every interested OSNA society."


    I know, as an Officer of WOS, that WOS has declared itself to be an "interested OSNA society" by designating Tom O'Connell as a WOS representative (without knowing precisely what his involvement will entail). However, I am not aware of any WOS members leading whatever committees may exist, at least not as people representing WOS.


    The major area of confusion at present, I believe, concerns the phase now underway (according to your outline), to "Develop a business plan." It is not clear how that step is happening, and I suggest that this situation is not as "open and straight-forward as possible."



    I ask that you make public the committee structure for the current planning process, and the membership of the committees, so we'll know who to contact if we have comments about specific aspects. This simple step might help alleviate concerns among many ornithologists.


    ~ Bob

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    We are developing a business plan in the following way:

    1. Small committees made up of 3-7 members each and from across OSNA societies are drafting ideas, options and costs for the following key areas:

    Management and governance: Sue Haig (chair)
    Publications: chair under revision due to illness of initial chair
    Communications: Dylan Kesler (chair)
    Conservation: Michael Reed (chair)
    Outreach and Education: Amanda Rodewald (chair)
    Financial Management: John Fitzpatrick (chair)

    2. The committees are each drafting short reports (less than 10 pages) which I will then merge into a document we will call the draft business plan. This document will be the proposal for discussion at the AOU Council meeting in February 2012.

    3. From the AOU perspective, we will discuss the options presented and further refine what we would like to see if the new society were established.

    4. We will then send out the proposed business plan to all OSNA societies for their comments and those of members.

    5. We (SFO committee chairs) will meet with OSNA presidents or representatives monthly from March until the NAOC to discuss each aspect of the plan. The different societies can enlist comments from their own members as they see fit.

    6. A final draft business plan will be presented at the NAOC to the AOU Council with a request for funding the start of SFO. Other societies can choose to join SFO then or later (or never) on whether they want to join our efforts.


    As for society reps, we are not asking reps to just represent their society. Rather we are asking them to brainstorm like the rest of us as we design SFO. Again, this is not a federation, we are designing a new society.


    I am sorry I have not contacted Tim. Bob Beason called a few weeks ago and I have had the flu or been traveling since. We are more than happy to have him join one of the committees. I just have not had time to invite him yet.


    The bottom line is that we are not looking for comments from the societies or the general membership at this time. There will be months and months of time to alter or incorporate new ideas prior to the NAOC and afterwards. We just feel this small committee approach is the most efficient way to get the ball rolling.


    I ask for your patience with this process. We have devoted many hours since July to develop this first draft. There are many ornithologists from across OSNA working very hard on this. Sincerely, Sue

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    Sue: I was disappointed in the “shoot the messenger” tone of the response to my initial post, although glad to see the appended schedule, and even happier to see the informative response to Bob Curry’s subsequent query. That is what we need more of.


    I hope we’ll also learn more soon about how and by whom final decisions will be made. As a specific question, it seems that a positive vote by AOU Council in Vancouver would mean giving money towards formation of the new society. Does that mean it would go ahead without any approval by Fellows or other members (either then or at a later stage)?


    The main message I was trying to convey, which appears to have been missed, is that the SFO Committee should give more attention to communications and optics if it wants to be successful in the long run. Those of you working so hard on this probably overestimate how much has filtered through to the membership (even to those of us who are reading everything available – and I assure you I’m among them). Someone needs to be checking the pulse of the people who aren’t spontaneously giving you feedback so you can proactively respond to their concerns.



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    Ricky--I am afraid people are interpreting lack of communication as an indication there is something we are not talking about, Rather, at this stage we have nothing to talk about as committees are just off putting reports together. There will be a lot more to talk about, and people will have the chance to provide input, once we have the draft SFO proposal put together for the Council.


    As for the process AOU will go through, we need to wait for the february council meeting on that as well. I cannot say what the Council will recommend.


    Thanks again for your interest, Sue

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    Ricky--I am afraid people are interpreting lack of communication as an indication there is something we are not talking about, Rather, at this stage we have nothing to talk about as committees are just off putting reports together. There will be a lot more to talk about, and people will have the chance to provide input, once we have the draft SFO proposal put together for the Council.


    As for the process AOU will go through, we need to wait for the february council meeting on that as well. I cannot say what the Council will recommend.


    Thanks again for your interest, Sue

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    I have no doubt that you are working as hard as you can for what you believe is in the best interests of North American ornithology. But how can you effectively speak for a few thousand OSNA members when you are not interested in their input until you have a completed business plan to present? I agree that your approach is an efficient way to “get the ball rolling,” but you haven’t asked “us” if we want your ball to roll, or if we do, which direction we want it to roll.


    In her recent post, Ricky identified this key flaw in the approach you are taking to form the SFO. I am disappointed that you simply dismissed her suggestion that the general ornithological community needs to be substantively involved (or at least informed!) of the plans that you and a very small fraction of North American ornithologists are undertaking.


    You indicated that you’ve received overwhelming support for forming the SFO. That’s not surprising, since you are communicating with those who are involved in the planning, and you’ve elected NOT to communicate your vision of a new society with the wider ornithological community at this time.


    I’ve spoken with scores of ornithologists about the SFO. Most initially were unaware of these plans, but after reviewing the 28 July draft document, a very large majority are against the idea, many of them passionately so. Ignoring the opinion of the ornithological community beyond the AOU Council and the SFO planners until after you have finalized the basic plan is a serious mistake.


    I urge you to reconsider that decision. I’m aware of the plans for the SFO only because of my seat on the WOS and RRF councils. But as a longtime member of the AOU, I am dumfounded that my representatives on the AOU Council voted unanimously to disband the AOU and form a new society without even asking me and my fellow members what we would think about such a monumental change. I think you would be wise to heed Ricky’s suggestion by not only informing the OSNA membership what your vision for their future is, but also (and especially) inviting AND LISTENING TO the membership’s feedback.



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    John--have you read the previous posts where I outline our plan for gathering input from everyone? And have you also considered that we cannot propose something to the membership without figuring out what to propose to them? How else would you be proceeding? Clearly asking members if they would like to give up the AOU without having a plan for what we might do instead seems a bit ridiculous.


    Next--the AOU Council in no way voted to disband the AOU. That was very clear in the announcements you have gotten via email, on the AOU website, and on the OE newspage. They voted to let my committee further develop a plan for a new society so they could further evaluate the idea at the mid-year Council meeting in February.


    As I have stated previously, we have reps from AOU, WOS, COS and AFO on our committees. We have invited the presidents of AFO, COS, and WOS to the mid-year meeting. I won't go into detail about the rest of the plan for comments as I have done it several times above.


    Ricky and I corresponded quite a bit privately after her note. By the time we were done, it did not seem like there was much left to comment on on OE.


    I will await your ideas for a better plan for how we should proceed in communicating to the members w/o any sorting of planning document. Sue

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