Maria M. Klawe, ACM President 2002 - 04

As ACM celebrates its 75th anniversary, we invited ACM’s former presidents to reflect on their terms in a brief Q&A. In revisiting some of the milestone moments from ACM’s history, we hope for insight into the ever-changing landscape of computing to guide us forward in the next 75 years.

Maria Klawe served as ACM President from 2002 - 2004.

What motivated you to run for ACM president?

So I want to tell you the story of how I ended up as president of ACM. It started with my being asked to run for the Council and agreeing to do so, I had served on the Computing Research Association's board for a number of years. I was excited to join the council of the ACM, largely because the ACM is really the mechanism that supports research and particularly the sharing of research findings, across many, many fields in Computer Science at their conferences.

At my very first Council meeting, there was a presentation about a new general meeting, which would be a conference across all areas of computer science the ACM was planning to hold in 2001. It was going to be called ACM1. The organizing group had put together a list of the great speakers they would want to have for this across many, many areas of computer science. And they were presenting this whole concept plus the list of possible speakers to the council. And guess how many women were on that list? Zero out of about 30 or 40 names. And being my usual outspoken self, I asked why there weren't any women on the list, and I got exactly the answer I was expecting: "Because there really aren't any women of this level of stature like these 30 or 40 men we're presenting you with." Now, having been through this conversation more than once in my life, I, of course, had names of 15 women who, of course, were equally recognized and celebrated in our field.

And as a result of that conversation, I was asked to run for vice president, and then after that, I was asked to run for president. I spent two years as vice president and two years as president. Now, it turned out that the two years that I was there as president were very difficult ones for me personally. One of my best friends, Anita Borg, was dying from brain cancer. She passed away in April 2003; my term was 2002 to 2004. My mother passed away three months after that. And on top of that, I was in the middle of a move in January 2003 from the University of British Columbia, where I was Dean of Science to Princeton University, where I was the new Dean of Engineering. And because our daughter was finishing her final year in high school, my husband stayed at home for the first six months, and so I was commuting between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Princeton, New Jersey.

Believe me, that is not exactly how you would want to spend part of your time as ACM president. But I'm still incredibly proud of a number of things that happened while I was ACM president. Perhaps the first that I'll mention is while I was vice president, we created the Computer Science Teachers Association. Now at that time, computer science teachers in high school and junior high were pretty rare. And Chris Stevenson, who was the person who lobbied for us to start this organization really felt that they needed a membership organization created by and led by computer science teachers. And so, for many years, ACM actually financially supported this organization so it could exist, and was the home for it. CSTA is now an independent organization and doing wonderfully, but as vice president, I was the person on the leadership team who pushed really hard to start CSTA. So, I'm particularly happy about that.

One more thing I want to say about ACM is just the record of female presidents. So the first president of ACM was in '47 - '48. For the first two years, the presidential terms were only one year, and after that, they became two-year terms. The first female president was '76 to '78, Jean Sammet. And by the time I became president, I was the fifth female president. In the 24 years since then, half of the presidents have been female. Well, actually it's the 24 years since Barbara Simons became president because she was two presidents ahead of me, and starting from her term, which was '98 to 2000, 24 years since then, has seen half of the presidents be female. If we look over the entire history of ACM, a bit less than a quarter. Right now the executive committee, there's a female president, there's a female vice president, there's a female secretary-treasurer. And I am so proud to be associated with an organization that has been so supportive of the role of women in computer science.

Past ACM Presidents Reflect on Their Service to ACM

During ACM’s 75th anniversary, we promote the accomplishments of ACM’s former presidents. To better understand how they served the organization, we invited each of ACM’s living former presidents to participate in a brief Q&A. Through the Q&As, we also learn about important milestones during ACM’s history.

View ACM’s 75th Anniversary Celebration On Demand

ACM organized a special one-day conference to celebrate its 75th anniversary. This event was truly a memorable day of panels featuring world-leading scholars and practitioners on topics central to the future of computing. Panelists imagined what might be next for technology and society. ACM’s 75th Anniversary Celebration took place at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on June 10. View the livestream on demand. Visit the event webpage for more details, including the program.