ASHG Board of Directors Roundup from Fall 2021

ASHG’s Board of Directors typically holds its fall meeting in conjunction with the annual meeting. However, this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board held its last meeting of 2021 via Zoom on November 4-5. During the meeting, the Board assessed progress on activities, discussed important information in the policy and advocacy landscape, and reviewed multi-year financial outlooks for the Society.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Professional Conduct Goals and Activities

ASHG’s Board received an update on ASHG’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals and activities, which continue to be a very high priority, including the upcoming launch of a Board-approved history project, “Facing our History/Building an Equitable Future.” The work will be undertaken by an expert panel of leaders in a variety of fields and guided by ASHG Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force Chair Neil Hanchard. The project reflects ongoing discussion on this area by the Board and ASHG will review findings, convene dialogues, and produce a final report outlining findings and providing insights that can shape future field-wide priorities.

As part of a multi-year process to develop and apply professional conduct standards across ASHG functions, the Board had requested in the spring that its Professional Conduct Working Group develop a policy and procedure for board members and nominees.  It reviewed and approved this procedure, which will be placed on ASHG’s website and in effect for the 2022 nomination and application cycle.

Policy, Advocacy and Professional Practice

Joined by Lynn Jorde, chair of the Government and Public Advocacy Committee, the Board discussed intersecting topics related to advancing genetics and genomics research, data security, the People’s Republic of China, and acknowledgement of complex larger geopolitical dynamics beyond genetics. The Board reviewed ASHG’s role, unique U.S. policy dynamics, implications for the field, ASHG’s capacity and a possible range of Society activities.  After presentation and discussion, the Board voted to continue to engage Congress to affirm ASHG’s values and views on privacy and responsible conduct of research and to avoid harms to the research enterprise. ASHG will continue to communicate about responsible research in human genetics throughout the world and noted it has issued several policy statements related to values and principles in these areas. It will also work with the editorial leadership of ASHG journals and the Program Committee to continue to reinforce expectations for content published or presented in ASHG’s scientific venues.  As a separate item, the Board also discussed a draft ASHG Guidance on the use of polygenic indices in human genetics research, thanking the author working group for its work to date. They provided feedback on areas for improvement and will continue to support the group on next steps.

Scientific Publishing

The Board heard presentations from the editors in chief, Bruce Korf of the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG) and Mike Bamshad of Human Genetics and Genomics AdvancesBoth editors relayed data and progress on their visions for each journal, and they thanked their editorial board members for their service.  The Board discussed ongoing trends in open access and accepted a recommendation that AJHG remain a hybrid journal for the time being.  It also accepted a recommendation to provide discounted APCs for both journals for authors from developing countries, using the Society’s current tiers and discounts.  These will begin with the 2022 year.  The Board also asked that staff explore whether there are tiers other than World Bank categories that might be considered as a basis and that they present those and any financial impact of any changes to the model.

Delivering Value to Members

The Board continues to hear interest from the membership and broader community to reconnect with fellow scientists and share their science at an in person annual meeting and affirmed its hope and goal that the meeting be held in Los Angeles, assuming public health policies permit this occurrence and safety considerations are in place. This culminated in the recent letter from Program Committee Chair Erica Davis calling on members to plan invited sessions, due January 26, and to save the dates for the meeting in Los Angeles, CA on October 25-29. The Program Committee is leading planning efforts and intends to feature a robust curriculum that fosters scientific exchange and supports career growth. ASHG will look forward to continuing to provide cutting-edge scientific programming over the period of five days while assuring the Society optimizes for a safe environment, paying close attention to developments on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial Planning

As shared in ASHG’s Fiscal Year (FY) 20-21 Annual Report, Treasurer Bruce Gelb reported that ASHG navigated its way through challenging times prompted by the pandemic and was able to ‘stay the course’ and sustain its work to serve members with ongoing and new programs and achieve strategic goals. The Society generated revenue from valued programs, although meeting and membership revenue was lower than in years past due to the pandemic. Reductions were offset by positive in-flows in insurance proceeds and the forgiveness of a federal pandemic loan, resulting in net positive performance. Adding investment gains and strategic investment fund spending resulted in a portfolio gain of just over $2.2 million for a reserve balance of $21.2 million at year end.  For the current fiscal year, the Board already budgeted an expected loss due to a second virtual meeting, some of which will be offset by an additional loan it expects will be forgiven in FY 22, resulting in a roughly even two years.  The Board provided early guidance to staff for FY23, which may again result in an operating loss, the size of which will depend on performance of the fall 2022 annual meeting.

Newly elected ASHG officers were announced earlier in the year, and Board members welcomed these participants as guests. Those incoming Board members are Brendan Lee, MD, PhD, incoming president, and three Directors:  Yvonne Bombard, PhD; Wendy Chung, MD; and Wendy Uhlmann, MS, CGC.  Sue Slaugenhaupt will become Treasurer in January 2022 after a year as incoming chair. The Board applauded the work of outgoing treasurer Gelb, President Gail Jarvik who completes her presidency and will remain on the Board as past president, and Tony Wynshaw-Boris, who completes his presidential service on the Board at the end of the year.

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