«The membership and functions of the ESO Astronomy Faculty are described in the ESO Astronomer Charter. The ﬁrst elected Faculty Chair (Bob Fosbury, ...»
The Responsibilities of the ESO Astronomy Faculty
Markus Kissler-Patig, January 2007
The membership and functions of the ESO Astronomy Faculty are described in the
ESO Astronomer Charter. The ﬁrst elected Faculty Chair (Bob Fosbury, January 2004
- December 2006) recorded his view of The nature and role of the ESO Astronomy
Faculty. He clariﬁed the relation of the Faculty with the organisation as a whole and
with Ofﬁce for Science (SCO) in particular. I would like to expand on the two above documents and present my view on the responsibilities of the Faculty.
Responsibilities implied by the Nature and Role of the Faculty All Faculty members are encouraged to read the two documents cited above, deﬁning and describing the role of the Faculty. I extract below what I see as the essential points of the documents and derive from them the Faculty’s key responsibilities.
From the ESO Astronomer Charter:
“The primary mission of ESO is to support astronomical research in the member states (...). Of the many functions needed to carry out this task effectively, some require the skills, judgement and up-to-date astronomical knowledge that only astronomers engaged in front-line research can provide. Their competency provides scientiﬁc judgment on matters pertaining to the scientiﬁc use of the ESO facilities and they should be encouraged to initiate, commission and supervise improvements for the beneﬁt of all users. These astronomers also interact with the ESO user community to stimulate new and innovative scientiﬁc applications of instruments and telescopes.
It is the role of the Ofﬁce for Science and the ESO Astronomy Faculty to monitor and stimulate the research environment at ESO. Such means could include periods of research leave (...), competitively allocated support from the Director General Discretionary Funds (DGDF), and the temporary re-assignment to the Ofﬁce for Science.
Research collaborations with astronomers in the member states, students, postdoctoral fellows, long-term participants in the ESO Visitor Programme, and Paid Associates are encouraged.” “The Astronomy Faculty has the responsibility for developing collective views on major scientiﬁc, technical and operational issues confronting ESO.”
The three major points addressed above are:
1- Conducting front-line research is not an option for a Faculty member, it is a duty.
2- The Faculty as a whole, i.e. each Faculty member, is responsible (with the support of SCO) for creating at ESO a stimulating research environment.
3- The Faculty is responsible for (continuously) monitoring, questioning and commenting on scientiﬁc, technical and operational issues to maintain or even improve on the high-quality services that ESO provides.
From The nature and role of the ESO Astronomy Faculty:
“The Faculty is an INTERNAL body. It has no ofﬁcial links or responsibilities to any bodies outside ESO. It is a scientiﬁc forum within which ideas and views of interest to ESO and its astronomers can be raised, discussed and, possibly, documented. The results of these deliberations may be of value to the ESO management but they will not, in general, directly represent a management view.” “The Faculty functions by holding regular meetings - usually monthly - and by maintaining an internal website containing material associated with these meetings and, from time to time, other relevant items. It will also make use of 'Open Skies', the internal ESO Newsletter. Its principal role is to explore scientiﬁc, technical and operational issues of relevance to ESO and, when necessary, crystalise opinions that are useable by, but otherwise independent of, ESO management. The Faculty has a longterm interest in its own health and will therefore legitimately be concerned with trends in the recruitment of astronomers by the organisation.”
The points made here are:
4- The Faculty has only ESO-internal responsibilities.
5- The Faculty is responsible for proposing (scientiﬁc, technical or operational) improvements, independently of the management. But the Faculty is not responsible for implementing them.
6- The Faculty is responsible for its own functioning. Regular meetings should be held (and attended), information should be circulated through the internal web.
7- The Faculty is responsible for its own health. It must be involved in the recruitment of its members, i.e. of astronomers by the organisation.
Fulﬁlling the Faculty’s responsibilities
It is essential for the optimal functioning of ESO, but also to the beneﬁt of all individual Faculty members, to monitor whether the Faculty fulﬁlls its responsibilities, whether the responsibilities should be expanded, whether the Faculty fails to fulﬁll some and, if so, why.
Below, I will comment on the situation as I currently see it and propose changes where I estimate them to be necessary. I will review each above listed responsibility in turn.
1- Front-line research by individuals:
The importance of this aspect cannot be stressed enough: Front-line research represents the essential value of every Faculty member for ESO. It is the most difﬁcult value to retain as it requires long-term investments of time and energy, competing with daily, shorter-term functional responsibilities. By reducing his/her scientiﬁc activity, the Faculty member loses the authority and ability, on the functional side, of making judgments and taking decisions that require a good understanding of state-ofthe-art research as supported by ESO.
The scientiﬁc activity varies substantially from individual to individual, and also ﬂuctuates with time for a given individual. An appeal goes to every Faculty member to review his/her own personal status in that respect, to compare it with the guidelines and expectations given in the ESO Astronomer Charter, and to take corrective actions if needed. Actions could include negotiating a more appropriate work distribution with the functional supervisor, seeking discussion with and help from other Faculty members, as well as using the full spectrum of means offered in the ESO Astronomer Charter (science leaves, DGDF, collaborations with students and fellows,...).
A current problem, both in Chile and Garching, is the perception by many astronomers that individual research is not sufﬁciently valued by the organisation. The essential long-term investment that front-line research represents is too often second in priority to the daily functional work. This leads to a decreasing motivation of the Faculty members to invest time and energy in their personal scientiﬁc research.
Corrective measures could include mandatory reserved time for science (or research leaves) of a month or more per year (obviously coordinated with the functional supervisor). Further, the yearly performance evaluation could include a scientiﬁc part, reviewed by the head of the ofﬁce for science, Chilean equivalent or a SPC member.
The yearly career advancement should clearly be based on scientiﬁc accomplishments in addition to functional achievements. Many more options exist to increase each individual’s motivation to conduct front-line research. Proposals should be collected and discussed by the Faculty, then proposed to the Director General within the coming year.
2- Creating a stimulating research environment:
The Faculty is the only body at ESO formally regrouping all astronomers. It shares with SCO the responsibility of creating a stimulating research environment. It is the responsibility of SCO to provide “support for research, for research-related travel (e.g. conferences, observing, and collaborations), the Fellowship and the Studentship Programmes, the Visitor Programme and the organisation of seminars, colloquia, workshops and conferences.” (extracted from the ESO Astronomer Charter). It is the responsibility of the Faculty members to use this support in order to create a lively and stimulating research environment.
Has the Faculty succeeded in doing so? The perception of the research environment is certainly partly subjective. In my view, the answer is Yes we have set the stage for a lively research environment, but we also have currently some severe problems. In Garching, the most serious concern is the spatial isolation of the students and fellows on the one hand and the scattering of the Faculty members over several buildings on the other hand - both prevent fruitful daily interactions that are essential for a lively and stimulating research environment. In Vitacura, the task is fundamentally difﬁcult due to the irregular and fragmented presence of the Faculty members with duties at the observatories. Achieving a continuous stimulating research atmosphere requires a full-time dedicated leader who coordinates the scientiﬁc activities. Such a position, dedicated full-time to SCO responsibilities in Vitacura, existed until 2004 but was then dissolved. This was followed by a fast degradation of the quality of the research environment in Chile. Also, the functional load was increased (50/50 transformed into 80/20) at recent contract renewals of several Faculty members, who have now less time in Vitacura to support research. Further, Vitacura might proﬁt from a more targeted selection of Faculty members (and fellows) into existing groups of common scientiﬁc interest. This would help creating a critical scientiﬁc mass despite the irregular presence in Vitacura of the scientists.
At both locations the organisation should quickly search for solutions to the above mentioned problems.
3- Developing collective views on scientiﬁc, technical and operational issues:
The Faculty tries to fulﬁll this task to a large extend through the (roughly monthly) Faculty meetings. Various improvements are possible. The Faculty could select even more strictly the discussion topics to be in line with the current needs of the organisation. This would require more feedback from management on the priorities of issues.
The Faculty could develop a better scheme for recording the results of Faculty meetings/discussions. Currently, all presentations at Faculty meetings are archived, but no minutes or documents summarising the results of given discussion are issued.
This could be changed with the production of more formal documents summarizing the results of Faculty discussions, which could then be handed over periodically to the management and provide a repository of ideas and opinions for decision making processes. The organisation could detach (as suggested in the ESO Astronomer Charter) Faculty members temporarily to SCO in order to give them time to investigate in detail speciﬁc issues of interest to ESO.
4- Internal responsibilities only:
The Faculty has, in the past, and will, in the future, concentrate on internal aspects only. There is no plan to involve ESO external bodies in Faculty activities.
5- Proposing improvements independently of the management:
The Faculty was not, in the choice of its discussions and debates, driven by management. To maximise the return to the organisation it would proﬁt from a prioritised list of issues to discuss. Such a list could not be compulsory though.
It has in the past frequently expressed different views than the ESO management and will continue to do so when needed in order not to compromise a fruitful diversity of opinions.
6- Responsibility for its own functioning:
The Faculty organises monthly meeting and archives the presentations given at these meetings on the internal web. The meetings are, however, not always well attended and this mostly from the Chilean side. A recurring problem is the quality of the video link between Garching and Vitacura, clogging lively discussions. Further, the time and topics are biased to the advantage of Garching. A solution that I would like to propose is to split the meetings and to hold separate ones in Garching and Chile, with only few (one or two) common meetings per year to discuss important issues of general interest.
Clearly, the disadvantage is the split of the Faculty and the risk of reduced communication between Vitacura and Garching.
The advantages are the possibility to have the meetings scheduled at more convenient local times, and the possibility to have lively debates and discussion. It will also increase the importance of the few common meetings held each year encouraging a more numerous attention of the whole Faculty.
In order to realise such a scheme, the Faculty chair (organiser of the meetings) would need a counter-part organising the meetings at the other location.
7- Recruitment of new Faculty members:
The Faculty is only involved through the Science Personnel Committee (SPC) in recruiting its new members and renewing contracts of current members. The SPC is also the body that decides on the promotion of Faculty members from the Assistant to the Associate level (making them eligible for indeﬁnite contracts). The SPC is of course composed by Faculty members but only operates in an advisory role.
On the other hand, the progression from Associate to Full astronomer is currently done on recommendation to the SPC by the Faculty Chair only. The latter could be joined by the head of SCO and its Chilean equivalent.
One problem that has occurred in the last years was the lack of advertisement for new ESO Faculty position on international web forums (EAS and AAS Job Registers), as well as the short time between advertisement and application deadline. New guidelines, to be submitted to the personnel department, are being prepared by the Faculty Chair and will be circulated among the Faculty for comments. Further, at relatively similar expertise/competence on the functional side, the scientiﬁcally strongest candidate should systematically be hired on Faculty positions.
The conclusion from the above review is that the Faculty fulﬁlls most of its responsibilities well, with the exception of creating a lively and stimulating research environment. But this is partly due to reasons outside its inﬂuence. An appeal goes to the ESO management to take corrective actions. Further, it is important to remind the management that individual research is essential for the long-term health of the organisation and should thus be more highly valued than it is now.
The Rights of the Faculty The Faculty has important responsibilities within ESO, but it also has rights. The ESO