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AMS Committee on Meetings and Conferences (COMC) 1999 Annual Report

COMC met September 17, 1999 at AMS headquarters in Providence. In attendance were Karen L. Collins, Robert J. Daverman, John H. Ewing, Donald E. McClure, Joel H. Spencer, Michael Starbird, and Sylvia M. Wiegand. Also present were H. Hope Daly, Susan J. Friedlander, James W. Maxwell, Jennifer Reid, Bernard Russo, Diane Saxe, Lesley M. Sibner, and Robin Hagan Aguiar.

1. International Meetings

As has been the case for the past several COMC meetings, the subject of our International Meetings took particular attention. Susan Friedlander reported on the joint meeting with the Australian Mathematical Society held in July 1999. Lesley Sibner spoke on an upcoming meeting in France, and Bernie Russo on an upcoming meeting in Hong Kong. There was a very positive feeling toward those meetings. The connections with mathematicians in other countries are both pragmatically beneficial and speak very much to our feeling of mathematics as an international language. There was concern over which frequency of international meetings we should aim for. These meetings take an unusual amount of time and effort from the Secretariat. For the moment the Associate Secretaries are all most enthusiastic about those International Meetings that they organize - of course, that might cease to be the case if their frequency became too high. After spirited discussion, COMC felt that one meeting a year, excluding Mexico, was appropriate. COMC unanimously agreed that:

Joint International Meetings are held with other mathematical societies; Mexican and Canadian meetings are in a separate category. While COMC recognizes the benefits to the mathematics community of International Meetings, ordinarily the goal should be to hold no more than one such meeting per year.

Of course, meetings in Canada have never been considered International. The separation of Mexican meetings was consistent with COMC's position that the Mexican meetings, while administratively handled with the other International meetings, be considered special. All other international arrangements are on an ad hoc basis, while the Mexican meetings have been on a regular biennial basis and we hope to continue that tradition.

2. National Meeting Scientific Program

Michael Starbird presented the Report of the Subcommittee on the Scientific Program at National Meetings. The subcommittee consisted of Mike Starbird (chair), Karen Parshall and Lesley Sibner.

The subcommittee was concerned about the several large lectures at the National Meeting that were designed in principle for the general AMS audience. They recommended that attempts be made to encourage the speakers to make their talks understandable throughout the entire talk. A lively discussion ensued, concerning just how one could go about doing this. The Special Sessions, which the speakers are currently encouraged to organize or co-organize, provide one natural spot. The large lectures could be targeted for general audiences with the understanding that the speaker would give another more technical presentation at his or her Special Session. Instructions to the speakers could better emphasize what the Society is looking for in these talks. To that end, Michael Starbird has agreed to work with Associate Secretary John Bryant in drafting such instructions. There was a general understanding that some speakers are gifted lecturers and others, to put it mildly, less so. That being the case there are natural limitations on what we can do to improve talks. It was nevertheless felt that a positive, noncynical approach could lead to talks of much greater value to our membership.

The subcommittee also looked into the plenary nature of Colloquium Lectures. Plenary slots are at an extremely high premium at the National Meetings. It was recommended that the second and third Colloquium Lectures not be plenary, only the first.

3. Summer Conference Program

James Maxwell gave a report on the Summer Research Conferences. These have been of concern for several years, both for the financial questions and for their mathematical viability. After a lot of back and forth, funding has been received for this program for the next (provisionally) five years. Kudos to the AMS staff for keeping with this very worthwhile project.

COMC has always been very enthusiastic about the idea of the Summer Conference Programs, but in the past there have been problems with getting sufficiently many qualified programs. With the financial problems now in hand it remains to see whether there will be a new burst of applications to run these programs. In part, this reflects the plethora of conferences now available. Still, with appropriate publicity and a good committee, we are hopeful that new life will be brought to this very worthwhile program.

4. New Subcommittee

Karen Collins was appointed Chair of the Subcommittee to Review the National Meetings, with an emphasis on the overall program including the many governance meetings. Michael Starbird will continue on the Subcommittee and will follow up on the proposals made at this year's meeting. Bernie Russo will be the Secretariat's representative. They will begin by designing, with AMS staff, the Focus Group held annually at the National Meeting.

5. Next Meeting

COMC will be meeting in the spring beginning in April, 2000. The next meeting date has been set for Saturday, April 29, 2000 in Chicago.

6. A Personal Note

January concludes my appointment as Chair of COMC. Meetings and Conferences go to the very heart of the mathematician's professional life. Making them run smoothly and well is not an easy task but it is one the AMS does extremely well. My hat's off to the Secretary and Associate Secretaries, and to the marvelous Meetings and Conferences staff at AMS. Working with them has been a pleasure.