The union thugs at the AMS

After twice failing to achieve a 2/3 majority on previous votes, the AMS busted up the filibuster and railroaded through their new fellows program. The initial implementation was based on having achieved one of several things, the easiest of which was to have given an invited AMS address. There was, however, another condition: you had to have been a full fee paying member of the AMS from 2010 onwards. I had given such an address, but I was not a member of the AMS – mostly out of indifference rather than anything else. The AMS had clearly accounted for this possibility; they were offering indulgences in exchange for cash: for a price, you could retroactively purchase AMS membership for 2010 and 2011 (this was in 2012) and all your sins would be forgiven. There was some ambiguity as to whether one’s invited address had to be before or after Jan 1 2012 (mine was after), and in the end, I did not pony up the cash, and I am not an AMS Fellow (nor, to take a selection of other members of my department, is Andrei Suslin or Kari Vilonen).

I don’t want to argue here about the merits of this particular program (see some opinions here), but I want instead to ask: should I become a member of the AMS? My department chair is (gently) applying some pressure for me to do so. The issues are mainly financial and moral. It is admissible for me to pay my dues with startup funds; this means that there is no immediate personal cost, although, as my startup funds are by no means infinite, this might eventually have a direct impact on my wallet. On the other hand, some have suggested that having such a fellowship will ultimately be better for one’s salary (this is hard to quantify, however). Note also that it is not so clear how easy it will be to become a member in the near future – there are presumably some really good mathematicians who have not given AMS invited addresses. Finally, there’s the moral argument: I feel a mild distaste concerning the notion that unless I pay up, the AMS will officially sanction my research output as not up to scratch. But maybe one could argue instead that the AMS does all sorts of wonderful things which mitigate such behavior. Please give me your thoughts!

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10 Responses to The union thugs at the AMS

  1. JSE says:

    My own view (again unrelated to the Fellows program in particular): the AMS does a lot of good for the profession (putting out cheap high-quality journals, running the Centennial Fellowship, lobbying Congress on behalf of mathematics, and lots more) and as far as I know subsists on our dues, which all told are fairly modest. So yes, I think you should be a member. And if you are uncomfortable with aspects of the Fellows program, you can certainly decline to be one; plenty of AMS members have.

  2. BCnrd says:

    I concur with everything JSE says, and would go a step further: even if one couldn’t charge membership dues to a grant or start-up funds, it would still be appropriate to join and pay out of pocket: it’s < $4/week, surely less than the cost of what is in the picture at the top of this page. (I've always paid my membership dues out of pocket rather than charge it to other sources because I think it's a reasonable use of my income.) And at such time as you are invited to be an AMS Fellow, you can decline and write in the awards/honors section of your CV something like "Fellow of the AMS (I declined the invitation)" so that your chair will have no valid grounds for complaint and you will not have compromised your principles.

    • Dear BC, to say that my annoyance is based on “principles” is probably stretching it. Indeed, if I were to be so honoured, I would no doubt accept. My issue is the use of the fellowship as a carrot/stick to lure people into joining the AMS. I would rather join the AMS on the grounds that it’s an organization that deserves support (which seems to be what all the commenters are saying, of course).

  3. molesworth says:

    I find the financial objection pretty weak, as BCnrd says; it’s approximately 0.1% of your salary, so if there is only a 10% chance of it at some point resulting in a 1% pay rise, then you’ve already got a nonnegative salary expectation. (Especially since you can quite probably keep charging it to other funds forever, in any case.) I enjoy reading the Bulletin and Notices in the bath, so it’s worth the money, anyway.

    Do you actually have principles against the Fellows scheme, in any case, or are you just being snarky about the “union thugs”?

  4. DS says:

    I agree with JSE and BCnrd. A practical aside: if you have a business for which you file a Schedule C on your taxes (and you should!) then you can deduct your membership dues there if you’re paying them out of pocket, so it ends up being less expensive than you might first think. (I know the issue is the principle and not the money, but even so….)

  5. Danny Calegari says:

    Wait – you mean I could have been paying my membership dues with startup funds?!? D’oh!

  6. Pingback: For he/she’s a jolly good fellow | Persiflage

  7. There is still a trace of your change of heart here…

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