Dear ASAP Member,
We write to let you know that a consortium led by SRI International has been
selected by the NSF to manage the Arecibo Observatory. SRI's purview will include
aeronomy, USRA will manage the astronomy, and most staff will be employed by
Universidad Metropolitana (UMET). Former AO Site Director Bob Kerr will lead the
team as NAIC Director, Zaven Arzoumanian will head the astronomy, Sixto Gonzales
Aeronomy, and the entire NAIC administration will henceforth be located in Puerto
Rico. A four-month transition period began on June 1.
Outgoing NAIC Director Don Campbell received word of the NSF decision some
10 days ago. He then advised the AO staff and received a standing ovation for his
great personal efforts on the behalf of AO. A delegation headed by NSF AST Director
Jim Ulvestad also met with the AO staff before incoming Director Bob Kerr arrived
late last week and immediately met with the AO staff. During this time both Nature
and Science broke the news. ASAP sent a letter of congratulations to Bob Kerr as
well as a letter of appreciation to Don Campbell. Bob Kerr's immediate and cordial
reply indicated his desire to work closely with ASAP.
We delayed this Newsletter in order to report on SRI's formal announcement, but
they have decided to delay it. We then delayed it several more days to report on a
teleconference that Board members had with Bob Kerr earlier this week (see below).
Board member John Mathews was at AO last week and reported that the atmosphere
had improved greatly—that the staff was cautiously optimistic. We will continue to
follow the transition closely and will keep you informed via regular newsletters as
Overall, Bob Kerr believed that the transition was proceeding as well as it possibly
could. Despite a possible first-year $1.4M shortfall, "his priority" was to retain all the
staff. HR people from the three organizations were putting together a single benefit
package for AO staff that would closely match the current CU package. Kerr said that
salary/benefit offers would be made to staff by June 20. He emphasized that while the
consortium has three members, each of which would formally employ sections of the
staff, there would be a single SRI administration that encompassed the entire facility.
Bob Kerr said that Cornell had been accommodating and gracious in the transition.
He said his immediate priorities were to meet the shortfall and expand the overall AO
budget with the objective of doubling it within several years. To these ends he was
negotiating for carry-over funds and starting or restarting programs (such as that from
the PR Dept. of Education) that would meet base-budget needs. Kerr reiterated his
desire to work closely with ASAP, that he was depending on ASAP expertise to assist
him in the short term and help AO maintain its scientific excellence on the longer term.
He offered to meet with the AO Board as often as it was useful.
Meanwhile, the ASAP Board has met several times to discuss this new situation
and to explore ASAP's role in it. Clearly, a strong and independent ASAP is needed
now as much as ever. The organized science community that ASAP represents has
been a major factor in bringing the Observatory through its difficulties over the last few
years, and its continuing advocacy is required to win the support needed for it to thrive
into the future.
To assist ASAP in meeting these exciting new challenges, the Board has decided
to make a number of organizational changes—
--a 12-member Board (instead of the current 19), elected to overlapping three-year
terms will be phased in over the next two years
--the Board will have an Executive Committee consisting of a Chair, Chair-elect
and past Chair, each with 1-year terms
--ASAP work will increasingly be carried out by committees
--the ASAP membership is encouraged to become active in ASAP work and
governance. Members are encouraged to stand for election or to nominate
colleagues for election to the ASAP Board.
--ASAP membership is now entirely open to people with an interest in the Arecibo
--ASAP Board membership is restricted to scientists having no conflicts of interest
with the current NAIC management
--ASAP should double its membership urgently to about 250 members
Please then consider whom you would like to see elected to the ASAP Board or how you
might contribute to ASAP's efforts. (Consider yourself!!) We will write with a formal request
for nominations to the ASAP Board soon.
ASAP membership has grown significantly over the last year, despite our relative silence
during the management recompetition. At this critical and very challenging point for the
Observatory, however, ASAP needs a membership of about 250 colleagues to support its
work. We hope that building this new membership will now be much easier, because ASAP
membership is now completely open to those interested in AO science—that is, theorists,
users or appreciators. The Board has taken the position that renewed financial support will
not be solicited from existing members at this time, although such contributions are always
welcome. However, the support of new members remains an essential source of funding for
ASAP operations. Please then assist us in building the ASAP membership by approaching
your own colleagues—especially those outside the immediate community of AO users—using
the brochure as needed. If most current members were to bring in one new member, ASAP
would more than meet this crucial goal easily.
Finally, the Board wants to take this opportunity to encourage members to email with
suggestions, help build the membership or assist with ASAP's work in future. For instance,
you may be an expert on aspects of AO's scientific excellence and uniqueness that are not
now well described on the ASAP website; if so, please consider writing up a short piece (a
"one-pager") for this purpose.
Sincere thanks from the ASAP Board for your absolutely essential support at members.
With best wishes to you and for a vital Arecibo future,
The ASAP Board