Dispatches from the Mothership: One New Councilor’s Adventures in ACS Governance

I’ve been an ACS Councilor for a grand total of two and a half months. And I’ve probably received at least 50 emails, been to two pre-conference (conference = National Meeting) meetings, and read something close to 200 pages of documentation.

This time commitment has not been a small one.

Considering I really didn’t realize what I was signing up for when I said, “Sure, I’d love to be on the election docket for CHED (Division of Chemical Education) 2021”, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to make sense of this new position I’ve been elected to uphold. I originally thought that ACS Councilor was just another position on the Executive Committee (ExComm) for CHED. I failed to recognize that Councilor means that one is on a Council, specifically the ACS Council. The ACS Council, labeled the “popular deliberative assembly” here is one of two governance bodies (the other is the Board of Directors) that pretty much oversees and directs all of the strategic planning and on-the-ground work of ACS. So it’s like the legislature of ACS. And, like the U.S. Legislature, the real work is done in committees, a listing of which can be found here.

Did I know I was signing up to be part of the ACS legislature if elected? No, no I did not. Did I know I was signing up for at minimum two new committees – CHED ExComm and the ACS Council – but more likely three or four committees when I agreed to run for CHED ACS Councilor? No, no I did not.

When I figured all of this out, did I freak out a bit? Yes, yes I did.

Why did I freak out a bit? I freaked out a bit because this is a bigger responsibility than I thought it was. And the time commitment is more extensive than I anticipated. For a person who bears the responsibility of elected positions very seriously and has very little time to commit to most things right now while she’s trying to complete her dissertation on top of her full-time job teaching 5 classes a semester for 3 semesters a year, yeah – this was a worthy freak out moment.

But I decided to make time because being an elected CHED Councilor is important to me.

I’ve now attended the New Councilor Orientation and have been assigned a wonderful mentor. There is no small amount of time invested by ACS in new councilors to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. And the staff member assigned to the Council, Semora Smith, is amazingly responsive in emails.

It seems like an awesome opportunity to make an impact in the Society. I think I’ll hear a fair amount about the Society’s upcoming events before they are announced to the broader membership. And I’ll understand the governance of ACS more effectively. Two things I’ve learned so far that I’d like to highlight are:

  1. The additional Core Value added to ACS Strategic Plan

ACS governance added an additional core value – Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect (DEIR) - to the Strategic Plan recently. This added core value prompted another Goal (Goal 5) to be added as well – Embrace and Advance Inclusion in Chemistry – which highlights the Society’s commitment to DEIR. I’m not sure, however, the Society exactly has a plan to both accomplish this goal and make this core value one that is fundamental to the Society. If they did, I think they’d probably list it. So, the Society needs your ideas and thoughts on how to make this stated core value an actual core value. How can you contribute? Contact them at strategicplan@acs.org.


  1. Town Hall for President Elect Nominees

There are four nominees (click on their pictures here to download their bios) for ACS president elect this year and there’s a town hall on March 23rd where you can ask them questions. I’m personally vying for John Warner as ACS president elect because I think climate change is a significant issue facing ACS, and as one of the founders of green chemistry, he is an ideal candidate to lead ACS (and the larger chemical industry) while confronting this issue head-on.

But that’s just my opinion. Go to the Town Hall to form your own. And then remember to vote when the national elections happen.

Still, as well as I’ve been treated during the onboarding process for Councilor, I have issues. Any ACS member can be part of most of the committees (there are a few that are Councilor only), and yet the process for getting to know what a committee does and how to join it is this: showing up to their open meeting during the National Meetings.

Uh, what?

Yes, the process is show up, introduce yourself to the chair, network with the people there, etc. to be considered for the membership of that committee. Now, to be fair, this is completely reasonable if you’re not oppressed (and therefore have the ability to be heard when you speak up or introduce yourself), not physically disabled or neurodivergent, and have enough money (either provided by your institution or your own bank account) and time to attend National Meetings in person. But, if you don’t fall into this “reasonable” category, this process is a very unreasonable one.

So, what’s the alternative? The Committees [with the exception of the WCC (Women Chemists’ Committee), which has a website, social media, etc.] could have more available online than just their descriptions and their rosters. They could have Slack or Discord channels that could be made available to anyone interested in the committee so that the interested members could see what actually happens in this kind of committee work. The committees could have websites with regularly updated information, calendars for events, contact info, and some kind of social media presence (like the WCC) to make it as easy as possible for interested members to learn more and ask questions. And the committees could engage in transparent processes so that other committees don’t replicate what they are doing AND the membership and the world outside of ACS would know what’s actually being accomplished within that Committee.

Transparency, communication, deep listening to those who have been oppressed in chemistry and STEM, and inclusive hospitality is how I think ACS can transform itself by making DEIR an actual core value. And I think building a culture that prizes more transparency and communication from governance and committees is one place to start.

So here’s my version of “be the change you want to see in the world” (by Arleen Lorrance if Quote Investigator is to be believed). I cannot demand transparency and communication without embodying it myself. That’s why this blog exists and will continue to be updated with highlights, important events, things to think about and discuss, and ways to become more active in ACS. Feel free to engage in these ideas and help me build a better Society by adding your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter (handle: @RissaChem) publicly or via DMs, or via my website, where you can contact me directly.