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Sue Haig

AOU Members Response to SFO Vision

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AOU members, please use this [thread] to post positive and negative comments about any aspect related to SFO. The most useful will be an outline of how you see a solution to an issue you are concerned about. We are just in a planning phase so all ideas are more than welcome.

Edited by Chris Merkord
Changes in square brackets, for clarification purposes

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The Concept is an exciting one, and I wholly approve, but the devil is in the details, of which there are many. At this point I would like to make a few specific comments and suggestions:

1. The name "Society for Ornithology" is problematic. The term "Society" is very 19th century. What is being done is actually uniting a disparate set of institutions, hence the better major term would be "Union." also the proposed name is non-geographic, whereas what is being proposed is very much Western Hemisphere (e.g., "American"). I am guessing there are legal issues pertaining to this, but I would strongly support the use of the existing name "American Ornithologists Union" which, by far, captures the essence of what sort of institution is being created. A union of interests, for the Americas. Society for Ornithology implies a universal or global membership, which is unfair to the European, African, and Asian bird groups out there. This is a bit like American baseball having a championship and calling it the "World Series." Let's not repeat that silly error.


2. The new institution is and will remain a professional society, populated by professional ornithologists. Please let's make sure the Mission does not attempt to replicate the good work being done by bird conservation groups. The work of the new institution should complement that of the American Bird Conservancy, the Bird Conservation Alliance, and the National Audubon Society. And there should be no conflict with the Society for Conservation Biology. All of these bodies do great work and should be supported, not competed with. Great care should be taen to make sure there is no confusion of mission or mission drift.


3. I love the idea of electronic journals, and would hope that the Auk, Condor, and Wilson all agree to be subsumed into the new focused-issue journals. I have zero interest in receiving hard copy journals, and these should be banished as soon as practicable. PDFs should rule. This would reduce the great cost and great waste.


4. The idea of a strong core professional staff is brilliant and should be supported. Though I wonder how well the new institution will do with regard to fund-raising in this very competitive market. AI doubt this will be a strong-point.


Good luck with this valiant effort!


Bruce Beehler

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My guess is that there will be great resistance to simply folding all societies into the AOU name. Maybe you are being facetious? If we are going to create a new vision and new organization, let's be bold and use a suitable new name as well.

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In the "Vision" document, the Outreach sub-committee recommends "reevaluation of the need for an Ornithological Council." However, I think that many ornithologists will agree that the many valuable functions and services of the existing Ornithological Council should continue if and when the SFO comes into existence.


I have two suggestions about how to we might do this:


(1) Add another staff position to the SFO management structure that is equivalent in qualifications and duties to the current OC Executive Director position. (This option would be appropriate if the majority of 12 current OC member societies join the SFO, in which case the current representational structure of OC would no longer be tenable.)




(2) Include full continued support for OC in its current form, including overall funding from SFO equivalent to (or greater than) the current levels now contributed separately by the various societies that may merge within SFO.


~ Bob Curry, Vice-Chair, Ornithological Council

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It is disturbing to this Canadian that the AOU group preparing this document seems to contain no Canadian representation, despite the strong roles played by many Canadians in the AOU over the years. The SCO-SOC is in a different position than many other societies - WOS, COS, AFO etc - in that it is a national society; many members are sensitive to being folded into an "American" super-society. While many of us are also members of AOU, WOS, COS, and AFO, we feel strongly that there is a need and role for a Canadian national organisation.

While sharing Bruce Beehler's concern that a new name should reflect the Western Hemisphere scope of the Society, I doubt that many would support simply using the existing AOU name. That would look like a take-over of the smaller societies by Big Brother, and would cause confusion in future over "which AOU" was meant.

A professional staff is a great idea, for sure, and the clear roles for different new journals would be excellent. How each society consults and involves its membership in these momentous decisions is critical; so far this seems to have taken the form mainly of informing them and assuring them that their officers are looking after their interests. The opportunities for members not attending NAOC seem to be very limited.

Tony Diamond (SCO-SOC President, 1999-2000) (Fellow, AOU)

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One of the difficulties in commenting on SFO proposals is that responses may vary depending on which hat you are wearing. Thus, a COS member might be in favour of SFO (not wanting to give up COS identity unless AOU does the same) – but the same person, speaking as an AOU member, might prefer to preserve AOU, with or without other societies merging into it. Because so many AOU members are also members of other societies, this kind of ambivalence is likely to be widespread.


Sure, there are sound reasons for making some changes – but nearly everything proposed could be done by making changes within AOU, without losing the continuity of over 100 years. Why throw out the baby with the bath-water?


I wonder whether it might be better for AOU to undergo its own renewal process, without the complication of involving other societies. Not an easy task, but probably a lot easier than trying to deal with conflicting agendas across numerous societies.


Finally, I repeat some requests for information that I posted last November, as the crucial info it calls for has not been forthcoming.

  • 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.

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