Letter to the Editor

In response to the President’s letter (Vol. 11. No. 2, 2003)

[Broome group] Members of the IUCr Executive Committee met in Broome, Australia. Bottom row (left to right): Xe Zhang, Sine Larsen, Iris Torriani, Bill Duax, back row: Leonid Aslanov, Gernot Heger, Yuji Ohashi, and Davide Viterbo.

Dear Bill,

Complaints from under-represented countries are nearly as old as the IUCr itself. I met them several times when I served as General Secretary-Treasurer from 1972-1981. Colleagues with long-term involvement in Union affairs told me that complaints of under-representation went a long way back both of membership of Commissions and of the Executive Committee. It appears that some Delegates to the General Assembly associated membership of Executive Committee and Commissions with national prestige.

I believe that it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that Officers of the Union and Commission Members are elected by the General Assembly and therefore represent all crystallographers and not any specific country. They are elected to serve their fellow crystallographers with their particular skills. Not to enhance the prestige of a country. I have received criticism from Delegates because their countries were not being represented on any Commission in spite of the fact that they had not nominated any person for membership.

Ideally, crystallographers from all member countries should participate in Union affairs to make it a truly International Union but it is up to the National Committees to bring names of talented and willing crystallographers to the Executive Committee and Commission Chairpersons.

There is another kind of under-representation that I would like to bring to attention. In 1972 the General Assembly elected its first and so far only female President : Dorothy Hodgkin. But, at the same occasion very few women were elected members of Commissions and several had no female members at all, in spite of the fact that crystallography has almost always recruited a higher percentage of women than most other physical sciences. Fortunately, the number of women on Commissions has since increased and the Union has a highly competent and respected female General Secretary-Treasurer.

But why is a Nobel Prize apparently a prerequisite for a woman to be elected President but not for a man? (J. Karle was elected President before he got the Nobel Prize).

Please do not get me wrong. I consider all elected Presidents of the Union fully worthy of their office, but as there are many highly estimated female crystallographers in our science, I hope that we shall see another female President in a not too distant future.

Svend Erik Rasmussen, U. of Aarhus, Denmark

Dear Svend,

Thank you very much for your letter. It is important to be reminded that the elected members of the Executive Committee and Commissions represent all crystallographers. Nevertheless, I too think that 'Ideally, crystallographers from all member countries should participate in Union affairs...'

My concern that representation on commissions have a wide geographic range is not motivated by a desire to lend prestige to any country, but a desire to enhance meaningful involvement by all countries. We are an International Union and our union will be stronger if all nations participate fully at all levels.

I have been gathering information on the structure, composition and polices of the National Committees. In some cases National Committees have had no change in membership for six years or more, cannot remember when they last met, and are uncertain of their responsibilities. The newsletter provides a way of sharing information and raising issues, with thousands of crystallographers around the world that may help to revitalize the Union.

As to the question of a woman president, I could not agree with you more. I am very pleased that there are three women on the Executive Committee at the present time. When I chaired the Program Committee for the Seattle Meeting, I included many women on the committee. (At that time I was told by some members of the Executive Committee that it was not necessary to have women on the committee because the composition of the Program Committee should be based on scientific merit only and not gender.)

It is also encouraging that the current president of ASCA and the president elect of the ACA are both women. (The ACA has had six women presidents in the past 16 years.)

Bill Duax