Spring 2006 Executive Officer's Report
Bernard V. Khoury Announcer,
Vol. 36, Iss. 1
Retirement Retrospectives and Ruminations
Having served now in the position of Executive Officer for almost 16 years, I announced last year to the AAPT Executive Board my intention to retire following the selection of a new executive officer. The search committee for the new executive officer, assisted by a national search firm, has been diligently soliciting and evaluating nominations and applications for this position. While finding the “right” person is more important than finding someone by a certain date, it seems likely that the search committee will present a candidate to the Executive Board sometime this spring.
In anticipation that an executive officer designate will soon be announced, I want to offer personal comments about my own service as your executive officer. When I took this position in 1990, I never imagined that I would remain at AAPT for so many years. After all, I had never remained in a single position for more than eight years. While I had held a number of jobs in the support and administration of research and education throughout my career, the excitement and challenges of those jobs seemed to expire after five to seven years or so.
Why was AAPT so different? Basically, the excitement and challenges posed by issues in physics education and in the management and leadership of AAPT never waned. With a constant evolution of issues and with increasing attention to science education at the national, state, and local levels, there has been no lack of challenges and opportunities. As I reflect on my tenure, I note several strategic issues that drew my attention and energy.
The first such issue on which I worked was the proposal to relocate AAPT’s headquarters to the American Center for Physics (ACP). This proposal involved serious financial implications for AAPT, and it also offered the potential for enhanced cooperation with other physics-based associations. After countless meetings, spreadsheet calculations, and negotiations, AAPT joined in the new headquarters venture with (APS) American Physical Society and (AIP) American Institute of Physics. For 13 years ACP has served our organization and our members well. It has facilitated jointly sponsored activities such as our regular conferences of chairs of physics departments and our annual workshops for new physics faculty. By a host of measures, the AAPT decision to join in the American Center for Physics was a wise one that promises years of program facilitation and prudent financial investment.
Related to the ACP initiative was the commitment to improve the long-range financial strength of AAPT. For over a decade AAPT has undertaken prudent budgeting and operations so as to allow for a steady accumulation of financial reserves to ensure the long-term viability of AAPT. The reserves now exceed our annual operating budget. AAPT is now ready to deal with any likely financial exigency, and we are able to draw some operating income from that endowment reserve. AAPT can initiate new programs to benefit our members without fearing a temporary financial shortfall.
As executive officer, I have worked closely with the Executive Board. I have worked more closely with the 25 AAPT staff in College Park. While some of the staff are relatively invisible to many of our members, I can assure all of our members that our staff are dedicated to supporting the mission of AAPT to “enhance the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.” I have increasingly relied on them, and I am grateful for their dedication. Our members can be assured that our staff are talented, professional, and important contributors to all that AAPT has accomplished.
As for strategic directions that have guided AAPT for over a decade, I point to my particular favorite, “Physics for All.” While physics has typically seen itself, and physics has typically been seen, as an appropriate area of study primarily for the “best and brightest,” this has become much too narrow a perspective on our discipline. Physics has much to offer to all citizens, especially to those whose needs are primarily conceptual rather than mathematical. More importantly, physics benefits immensely from the understanding and support of broad segments of our society. Without such broad societal support, physicists could become estranged from national perspectives and needs. Society has always needed physics. Increasingly, physicists and physics need society. Unless we understand this mutual synergy, both physics and society will suffer.
Another theme that has pervaded the past decade has been the prominence and success of physics education research. This work has had a profound influence on many physics departments. It has helped to redefine many curricula in schools at every level. It has brought energy and vitality to AAPT meetings and conferences. It has manifested itself in the formation of the first formally defined “topical group” within the membership of AAPT. Two programs have had a significant impact on AAPT activities and visibility during my tenure. The AAPT/PTRA (physics teaching resource agents) program has brought vitality and energy to high school teaching across the nation. It can justly claim to represent the most successful “systemic change” in secondary school science.
The AAPT/NFW (new faculty workshop) program has shown the way to provide professional development and improved teaching to new faculty in colleges and universities, where scholarship includes success both in teaching and in research.
AAPT has accomplished much, yet there is much more to do. I look forward to working with a new executive officer in advancing an evolving AAPT strategic agenda.