Letter from Dr D R WOODALL


For the BMC General Meeting, Wednesday 5th April 1989
From Dr D. R. Woodall

The Organization of Future BMCs

[This question will be discussed at a special Committee Meeting on Tuesday evening, which will decide whether or not to recommend any changes to the General Meeting. If you have any strong views, please communicate them to a member of the Committee before Tuesday evening.]

The BMC Committee does not have a written constitution; its affairs are governed by conventions. It is a convention (dating from an agreement made in 1975) that the Committee has 16 members, of whom two are appointed by the LMS, two by the EMS, and the remaining twelve are elected by the General Meeting (although on the only occasion I know of when there were more candidates than places, the Committee was enlarged by one to avoid an election!). It is a convention that the Committee dissolves itself at the end of each BMC, so that there is no Committee in existence between BMCs, except of course for the local organizing committees of the last and next BMCs. Thus the entire body of elected members is re-elected at each BMC. It is a convention that nobody can be elected to the Committee unless they are present at the current BMC, and that nobody can be elected for more than four years in succession.

These conventions seem to me to have several drawbacks.

  1. The BMC does not satisfy the guidelines, drawn up jointly between the CVCP and Customs and Excise, for a conference to be exempt from VAT. We have always assumed we could get exemption as a 'conference organized solely by a university'. It appears that this position cannot be sustained, and that we would have to apply for exemption as a 'conference organized jointly between a university and another body'. But, under the present conventions, there is nobody who can sign agreements on behalf of the 'other body'.

  2. The BMC reserve fund has to move around each year from university to university. This seems at least slightly silly, and probably violates the VAT guidelines (see 1.).

  3. The BMC has no identifiable focus. There is nobody authorized to represent the BMC in discussions with other bodies such as the LMS and EMS, and there is nobody whose job it is to investigate matters (such as VAT and corporation tax) that affect the BMC in the long term. The result is that local organizers can find themselves doing work that a permanent committee could, and should, do for them.

  4. Because items can only be passed directly from one BMC to the next, computer files may get 'lost' if one BMC does not want them.

  5. The BMC Committee may be unrepresentative. In practice, each host Department appoints three members to the Committee, and if these continue to turn up to BMCs for four consecutive years, then all twelve of the 'elected' places can be filled by members who are in effect appointed by their Departments. Thus the mathematical balance of the Committee may be lop-sided.

    In view of these drawbacks, I propose that the conventions regarding the BMC Committee should be changed in the following respects.

    1. The Committee should not dissolve itself after each Colloquium, but should exist continuously.

    2. The Committee should be entitled to appoint officers (at least, a Secretary and a Treasurer) from among its number.

    3. Elected members of the Committee should normally be required to retire after four years. However, members who are officers should perhaps be allowed to continue on the Committee for up to six years.

    4. Committee members who fail to attend a BMC should normally be dismissed from the Committee. However, some dispensation should perhaps be allowed in the case of the Treasurer, who might perhaps be permitted to miss one BMC without being dismissed.

    5. The Committee should be reduced to ten members, of whom two would be appointed by the LMS, two by the EMS, and the remaining six would be elected by the General Meeting. But the Departments hosting the BMC in years n - 1, n, n + 1 and n + 2 should be entitled to appoint up to 2, 4, 3 and 1 representatives, respectively, to attend the Committee Meeting held at the BMC in year n, without actually being members of the Committee.

    It seems to me that these changes would overcome the drawbacks referred to above, at the expense of introducing one more: that it would be necessary to find people prepared to take on the tasks of Secretary and Treasurer. The functions of the BMC Committee would then seem to me to be the following: to be the proprietor of the name 'British Mathematical Colloquium'; to own and administer the BMC reserve fund, which would cease to move around each year from one university to another; to ensure that there were departments lined up to host the BMC in the next half-dozen years; to make a written agreement (for VAT purposes) with the local organizers of each BMC setting out any terms (financial or other) for the running of the BMC but, most importantly, making clear that the academic content of the Colloquium (i.e., the choice of speakers) was entirely in the hands of the local organizers; to act as a source of advice to the local organizers on financial and other matters; to ensure that items such as computer files do not get 'lost' because one particular BMC does not want them; and to consider matters affecting the BMC as a continuing institution, while leaving the local organizers free to concentrate on their one Colloquium with as little interference is possible.