Delegate Report on the Annual Meeting of Sigma Xi 2006
Over 1000 delegates and participants converged on the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan for the annual meeting of Sigma Xi, The Research Society during November 2 through 5. President James Baur laid out eloquently the mission of delegates to spread their ideas, bring back tips to their chapters, participate in Society governance, vote thoughtfully for Society officers, network with other delegates, and have a little fun! As in the past, the official business of the Society is conducted in scheduled delegate assemblies and meetings targeted to Regional and Constituency groups. Consistent with the mentoring role of the Society, the Student Research Conference allows undergraduate and graduate students to present their findings for competitive evaluation by senior participants (including myself) who volunteer to act as judges. The format for the meeting was lengthened by one day relative to earlier years, which certainly contributed to a more relaxed pace and permitted inclusion of an expanded range of illuminating scientific presentations for the pleasure of all participants. The complete range of activities is much to large to recount here, so interested individuals should visit the Society website (www.sigmaxi.org) for a full summary of the annual meeting. I will now pass along some highlights of this experience.
At the national level, the recurring and underlying theme of the policy discussions appears to be the chronic deterioration in dues-paying membership. The Society’s response to this challenge has been to considerably expand the number of science-promoting programs as well as broaden the criteria under which scientists, engineers, and teachers might participate in Sigma Xi. One proposal discussed in the delegate assemblies and Regional meetings is a re-definition of Associate Member status. Currently, this class applies to individuals who do not qualify for full membership (based on publication or patent authorship) but exhibit potential consistent with eventual attainment of qualifications for full membership. These discussions were vague but seemed to be aimed at inclusion of science professionals such as high school teachers. It should be noted that Sigma Xi already offers a dues-paying Affiliate status for those who do not qualify for membership yet desire to support the goals of the Society. Thus, there seems now to be in place options for inclusion of a variety of science supporters without compromising the honor society aspect of Sigma Xi. It should be stressed that no consideration is currently being given to amending the criteria for full membership. This issue will likely re-emerge at the 2007 annual meeting.
As part of an effort to encourage greater chapter accountability, the Board of Directors of the Society proposed an amendment to the bylaws regarding Good Standing of Chapters. The intent appears to be requiring election or reactivation of an average of one new member (full or associate) per year over a rolling three-year period plus sponsorship of at least one chapter activity per year. This amendment failed in the Assembly of Delegates due to some confusing language but will almost certainly be re-submitted for consideration next year.
Closer to home, the Quinnipiac Chapter continues to maintain high visibility in the Northeast Region of the Society. Albert Notation is completing his term as Associate Director of the Region. We should note the occasion by commending Albert’s generous service to the Northeast Region as well as the Quinnipiac Chapter in the capacities of Program Chairman and President. I was elected to a position of the Regional Nominating Committee for a three-year term. An important and potentially far-reaching matter was introduced in the Regional caucuses. The Board of Directors is floating the idea of holding the Society-wide meeting, instead of annually, once every two years. The Regions would organize gatherings of their constituent chapters in the off-years. Although this plan would reduce costs at the national level it raises numerous questions regarding participation success, conduct of Society business, and maintenance of Chapter Good Standing. Currently, the bylaws require that each chapter send a delegate to the annual meeting at least once every three years. The new scheme could involve a change requiring sending a delegate to each annual meeting, which could be a burden for smaller, weaker chapters. I note that a one-day conference of the Northeast Region has already been scheduled for April 21, 2007 at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. This is a continuation of a successful event held this year at Cornell.
I can attest to the fact that the Quinnipiac Chapter continues to be among the Society’s strongest based on the level of activity and involvement by our members. It is hoped that our Research Paper of the Year contest will continue and spur member participation and be emulated by other chapters. Nevertheless, we need to do better by attracting new members or reactivating old ones. We are much more likely to retain members and attract new ones by actively encouraging those on the sidelines to step forward and take on responsibilities for the good of the chapter. I had a revealing one-on-one conversation with a Board of Directors member who intimated some consideration at that level for imposing “term limits” on delegates. Several of us delegates have become familiar faces at the annual meeting. Although this is useful for reasons of continuity, the Board wants to use every instrument available (including the annual meeting) to broaden participation among the membership. Although I have always found participation in the Sigma Xi annual meeting to be satisfying and enriching, I have to agree with the idea that others should enjoy this experience. We have many in our midst who could perform this function even better than I could. Thus, an important “tip” that I return with is let’s find another member from our Chapter to represent us in Orlando in November 2007.
Richard B. Peterson
Voting Delegate to the 2006 Annual Meeting and Vice President of the Quinnipiac Chapter