Posted by: Administrator | 09/10/2009

Charles Goldie: Election Statement

The Nominating Committee decided that only factual information could be included in the material provided by the candidates to be sent to voters. Candidates are left to make their cases for election elsewhere, so this is my case for election as General Secretary.

Members will first wish to know why, after resigning from the position in August, I am nevertheless standing for it again. The reason is that my quarrel was with the present Council of the LMS, to the extent that I could no longer remain on it, but the LMS Council will be largely renewed with effect from the AGM on 20 November. I was General Secretary from the 2006 AGM until resigning, but never had in mind that my period of service as an LMS Officer should be only three years, so am willing to take up the role again.

The Society faces hard financial choices in 2010. Its income is made up firstly of publishing profits, secondly the return on investments, and, very much lastly, membership subscriptions. Publishing income is likely to suffer a marginal decline, at best, and a continuing high level of change in the the environment of scholarly publishing makes for appreciable risk. From its investments the LMS takes a predetermined proportion of capital value, smoothed against short-term fluctuations; the return must therefore decline for some years. All current income is committed, the main heads being the Society’s representational efforts with government and funding agencies, and the small grants scheme. Very difficult choices will have to be made as to where either or both of these should be cut in the face of declining income.

To what extent the LMS ever succeeds in convincing the EPSRC of the need to fund mathematics is completely unclear, but as former President Brian Davies used often to point out, the scale of the EPSRC’s support, and of its present cuts to that support, dwarf the Society’s grants scheme by orders of magnitude. The penalty for failure to persuade EPSRC not to cut its mathematics programme is no less than the loss of a generation of postdocs in our subject in the UK, who should form the core of the profession in the future.

Our small grants scheme is itself under stress, as the much increased difficulty of winning EPSRC grants leads to increasing numbers of applications. The scheme is predicated on demand not much exceeding supply, so that an application that meets the rules and makes a good simply stated prima-facie case will generally be funded, with no onerous rigmarole. Increased demand coupled with reduced funding would be likely to lead to radically reduced success rates, necessitating a fundamental re-think for the scheme.

In my view our grants scheme must bear its share of cuts if and when they are necessary, as to protect it in absolute terms would force excessive cuts to the society’s other activities.

A further problem for the LMS finances is the urgent need to devote resources to nurturing and developing the membership. Currently there is no staff member working primarily on membership, and it is not the main focus of any Officer’s responsibilities. That needs to change. The Society needs a membership administrator, a sustained recruitment drive and a young members’ programme. Given the will and the resources it will not be difficult to know what to do: other learned societies have all of these and there is ample good practice to imitate.

Currently, every new member represents a drain on LMS finances, as the cost of benefits to members exceeds the amount coming in from subscriptions. Obviously that needs to change. Until last year the Council increased personal subscription rates, in order gradually to correct the imbalance, by 10% per annum, and that practice should be resumed. Indeed, I believe that rates should increase until subscriptions bring in real net benefit to the Society; they should be comparable to those of other societies such as the IMA, RSS, SIAM, Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry, where currently ours are appreciably less. That would give opportunity to allow deep discounts to new members and those in their first few years, again following the lead that other societies have found to make good sense. Our current rule that membership is free after 35 years is obsolete, and though I benefit from it I think it should be phased out.

Any recruitment drive needs to be conducted in collaboration with the IMA, as in competition the LMS would be likely to lose out. It has become trite to assert that the LMS and IMA should cooperate, following the failure of the “merger” project, but such cooperation does indeed need to be worked on and deepened. In an e-mail circulated to the Council on my behalf before the final vote I committed myself to accept the decision over the “merger”, whichever way it went, and to work to make it a success. Naturally I stand by that commitment: the New Society is off, and I hope to join with others to develop another model for the future of the LMS and ways of furthering its objectives. I have no personal scores to settle, and if elected will endeavour to work with my brother Officers (unfortunately all male next year) and the new Council, the fraught circumstances leading up to the merger votes being no longer present.

Those fraught circumstances led to unacceptable conduct at Council level: it was not for nothing that of the 8 Officers of the Society, four (President, Treasurer, one Vice-President, General Secretary) resigned mid-term. I consider it essential that the Council develops a code of conduct for itself and abides by it, thus restoring the standards of behaviour that obtained when I was first elected to it.

This is believed to be the first year in which there are contested elections for Officer posts in the LMS (contested elections for Members-at-Large of the Council and Nominating Committee began in 1999). I welcome this development and would like to see it survive in future years, though the difficulty of finding candidates will be real.

I believe I have good strategic grasp of the issues facing the LMS in current difficult times, and invite Members to vote for me in the ballot.


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