President's Blog, May 1, 2011

Author(s): Dr. Eric Nestler


Recent Changes to ACNP Committees


Last year, after obtaining considerable feedback from the ACNP membership through online surveys and two special task forces, Council voted to change the committee structure of the College. The changes—which required altering our By-Laws—were then approved by the membership. The current committees, which are required by the updated By-Laws, are:
•    Membership Committee*
•    Program and Scientific Communications Committee
•    Nominating Committee (which selects candidates for office)
•    Constitution and Rules Committee
•    Ethics Committee
(*Note that the Membership Committee represents the old Credentials Committee, the name for which never made sense to me!)

In addition, several other committees are currently active, as authorized by Council:
•    Liaison Committee (which provides liaison with governmental agencies, patient advocacy groups, professional societies, and the pharmaceutical industry)
•    Education and Training Committee
•    Honorific Awards Committee
•    History Committee (which will disband after this year’s 50th anniversary annual meeting)
•    Publications Committee
•    Public Information Committee
•    Audit Committee (newly created to replace the old Finance Committee)

In addition, several task forces are currently active to address key issues in a timely manner:
•    Women’s Task Force
•    50th Anniversary Task Force
•    Member Advisory Task Force (to advise Council on ways to make the College more relevant and inviting for our College’s youngest members and prospective members, who represent our College’s future).
Each of these task forces will automatically disband after a set period of time.

In contrast, several other committees were disbanded. These include:
•    Advocacy Committee
•    Animal Research Committee
•    Finance Committee
•    Human Research Committee

We know that some ACNP members disagree with Council’s decision to no longer continue some of these committees—although the large majority was in favor of the changes. I wanted to provide further explanation as to why several Councils, across an arc of four consecutive ACNP Presidents including, in addition to myself, David Braff, David Rubinow, and John Krystal, promoted this policy change as part of the College’s ongoing strategic planning process.

The primary rationale is the need to keep the College focused on its core missions, and avoid the diffusion of mission that occurs inevitably when an organization takes on too much and pays attention to too many disparate things. Council believes, as does our membership by a wide margin, that the most important products of the ACNP are its annual meeting and journals (Neuropsychopharmacology and Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews). We want to ensure that the ACNP, through these two forums, will continue to serve a leading role nationally and internationally in disseminating translational research findings in neuropsychopharmacology and in promoting the successful careers—and the advances in research and clinical care such success entails—of our youngest and future members.

A secondary rationale is to maximize the efficiency of the ACNP and its committee structure. Our idea is to use task forces, specifically charged to address key issues as they arise, which will then disband to make way for future task forces needed to deal with future challenges. A good illustration of how this new policy has worked well is our recent response to NIH’s proposed new Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. The new Guide contains several recommendations that many of us believe will hinder biomedical research while making it more expensive. As soon as we became aware of the situation, Council appointed a task force composed of Nancy Ator and Mark Geyer. They rapidly researched the situation, learned of evolving responses planned by other professional societies, and composed ACNP’s official response to oppose implementation of the new Guide. Their work also prompted Council to send an email to our membership with the strong recommendation for members to personally register their objections and concerns over the new Guide. We believe this process worked very well—that it has increased the administrative agility of the College, and we envision task forces being used in similar ways as we move forward.

Another diagnosis about our old committee structure was a relative disconnect that I believe occurred between individual committees and the College’s leadership. Most committees met once annually at the annual meeting and formulated recommendations for the following year’s work within 24-48 hours. Council then had an additional few hours to deliberate before accepting or modifying committee recommendations. Most committees never met with Council. This fostered Council’s sense that certain committees were going off on tangents, while the committees felt that Council didn’t understand what they were doing. I fear that both perceptions were correct too frequently. To address this disconnect, in addition to reducing the overall number of committees, Council will be meeting with all committee/task force chairs and co-chairs at the annual meeting. In addition, Council will be meeting with each committee/task force by teleconference during the course of the year, at least annually and more often as needed.

In these tough times, we need to make sure that the ACNP can excel at its main goals: an exciting and vibrant annual meeting, career development of our younger colleagues, fostering meaningful scientific collaborations that cross disciplines and perspectives, and sponsoring a leading journal of neuropsychopharmacology, while avoiding the costs of trying to do too much. I, and all of Council, would very much appreciate your feedback, and perhaps have a give-and-take on this blog.
Disbanding the human and animal research committees was a serious mistake. These committees were designed to facilitate a rapid and informed assessment of developments that could adversely effect research, and to provide a structure for a response when appropriate.
Prof. Nancy K. Mello, Ph.D.
Posted: May 11, 2011 1:22 PM
the ACTIVE committee under Ray Anton and Hank Kranzler also deserve mention as an ongoing human medication development committee that I hope has had sufficient reporting to Council to make its vital purpose in getting industry, government and academia together in the area of addictions medications and its challenges. ACNP sponorship of this group has been a very important function.
Prof. Thomas R. Kosten, M.D.
Posted: May 03, 2011 11:19 AM
As usual, I completely agree with your focus on the central goals of the ACNP. Your willingness to absorb criticism from those who disagree is refreshing.
Dr. Eberhard H. Uhlenhuth, M.D.
Posted: May 02, 2011 10:01 PM

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