From the Board of Visitors Executive Committee
BoV Chair's Message: Proud that Every Member of the Board of Visitors Plays an Important Role
As Board of Visitors Chair, I am proud that the BoV produces benefits for McDonald Observatory and the Department of Astronomy in so many ways. Some those benefits are related to efforts in public outreach and publicity. For example, BoV members Charles Ivey and Bill Wright, Jr., of Abilene, organized a day of talks for high-school and college students and the public in Abilene for McDonald Observatory Director David Lambert and Professor Karl Gebhardt, which took place on January 25, 2013) (see story, “Board of Visitors Members Host Outreach Visit in Abilene,” the next story in this issue of the Board of Visitors E-News.)
Outreach to State Officials
Other efforts by BoV members may be less visible, but are enormously important. For example, a crucial part of the Board of Visitors’ mission is the work of reaching out to State of Texas officials who decide on the budget for McDonald Observatory and, within the University of Texas at Austin’s budget, the funding for the Department of Astronomy. Working with University officials, former BoV chair John Heasley heads the BoV’s Government Affairs Committee, which has been active behind the scenes to keep state legislators and elected officials informed. More is needed: I encourage every member of the BoV to write to his or her state representative and state senator and to share the great work in research, in undergraduate and graduate education, and in public outreach and K-12 education that we hear about at BoV meetings, in press releases, and at other times.
In another example, Nancy Hollowell Wood, a BoV Member-at-Large, followed a centuries-old tradition in which correspondents share news from around the world. She wrote a recent letter published in the February 2013 issue of Odyssey, the newsletter of the British Interplanetary Society, of which she is a member. In the letter, she highlights the Freshman Research Initiative in Astronomy being run by Professor Paul Shapiro and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Anson D’Aloisio, titled “Cosmic Dawn: How the first galaxies formed, ended the dark ages, and re-ionized the Universe.” She also describes the then-upcoming February 2013 Board of Visitors meeting, and the chance it will give her to see simulations from the Texas Advanced Computing Center presented by D’Aloisio and by Professor Volker Bromm (who gave this year’s Great Lecture). You can see Wood’s letter on page three of the February 2013 issue of the Odyssey, at:
Shared Financial Support
I am particularly proud of the support that the Board of Visitors provides as a group for the Texas Astronomy Program, through the contributions made through the Board of Visitors Budget Fund. Over the last decade, the Board of Visitors Budget Fund has contributed more than $1 million in discretionary funds that have been available to the Director of McDonald Observatory and the chair of the Department of Astronomy. These funds have supported symposia, recruiting efforts for faculty and students, instrumentation, public outreach, travel for fundraising, and numerous other areas that build the excellence of the Texas Astronomy Program. I know how grateful the Observatory Director and the Department Chairs have been to have this funding.
At the Summer 2012 meeting, the Board of Visitors membership approved a number of amendments to our Bylaws that clarified the BoV’s membership structure. One of the most important of the Bylaws amendments focused on financial participation. It required that, for the future, Members, Associate Members, and Members at Large need to be current on their annual giving to the Board of Visitors Budget Fund in order to participate in meetings and to be eligible to renew their memberships. The vast majority of BoV members do indeed keep current on annual giving. The Executive Committee endorsed this Bylaws amendment because it provides fairness, and it provides ways to reach out to members who have fallen behind.
As a first step for this year, Board of Visitors Secretary Guillermo “Memo” Benavides has created letters of thanks to BoV members who are current on their annual gifts, along with letters asking others to take steps to get their accounts current.
We look forward to working to make the BoV a stronger advocate and a more powerful support for the Texas Astronomy Program.