Stuart H. Zweben, ACM President 1994 - 96
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.
Stuart H. Zweben served as ACM President from 1994–1996.
What motivated you to run for ACM president?
I had been on the ACM Council for a decade or so, initially as Regional Representative from the "East Central" region of the U.S. and Canada (that was at a time that the Council had representatives from 12 regions, one of which was called "international.”) I also had been involved in several other areas of ACM, including leadership of ACM's Chapters program, serving on the Publications Board, and helping revise bylaws for parts of the organization. I was later elected as Vice President on my second try, after having lost my first attempt to John White. I was Vice President from 1992–94 under Gwen Bell's administration and was asked by the Nominating Committee if I wanted to be considered as a candidate for President. The timing was as natural for saying "yes" as it would ever be when I got this invitation. As a member of the Executive Committee, I had a working knowledge of many of ACM's issues of the day and felt I could help with some as president. I knew most of the ACM volunteer and staff leadership of that era and had worked with several of them in some capacity. I had been president of CSAB a few years earlier, and that gave me some experience in leading a volunteer organization, albeit a much smaller and more focused one with very few staff. I sought advice and support from a few key colleagues, and from my family and employer. No red flags went up, so I accepted the nomination.
What are some of the most memorable moments from your term?
A few that come to mind are:
- Presenting awards/prizes to several prominent computing people, and to others such as former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov.
- Opening a press conference for ACM's US Public Policy Committee.
- Giving the State of the ACM Address at the annual ACM conference.
- Traveling to Europe and several Asian countries to further ACM's outreach beyond North America, and hosting a meeting of several ACM affiliated groups in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Surprising my daughter at the Raleigh airport when she was waiting for a flight back home for break. Unbeknownst to her, I was returning from a meeting with ACM's SIGGRAPH leaders.
- Bringing holiday treats to the ACM staff in NY.
What were your most significant accomplishments as ACM president?
- Stabilizing tense relationships with some of ACM's SIGs and laying the groundwork for increasing the SIG voices in ACM governance.
- Laying the groundwork for ACM's expanded outreach and impact in the Asia-Pacific region and furthering its impact in Europe.
- Moving ACM's Digital Library to the "ready to launch" point.
- Supporting and facilitating ACM having a recognized voice for computing in US Public Policy based on our expertise in the technology.
How would you like your term to be remembered?
As a period when we eased some internal tensions and better equipped ACM to exercise leadership in a world where computing technology developments are global, and the technology users are ubiquitous.
In hindsight, is there anything that you would do differently?
I would not have been a computer science department chair at the same time as I was ACM President. I hadn't planned on that when I agreed to run for president, but my department's search committee asked if I would consider taking the position after they began evaluating candidates during their search. The ACM election process was already under way by that time, so I agreed to do it. But it took its toll on my stress levels for the first few months of my presidency.
I also would have spent more time keeping in touch with my leadership group. They were great, but I sometimes felt that I wasn't keeping up with developments the way I had hoped to.
What are some of the moments from ACM’s history that you think we should highlight during ACM’s 75th anniversary?
There probably are quite a few that I would never think of. But ACM's role as a leader in education, through its periodic curriculum work, is one that deserves high billing. The curriculum guidelines it has published through the decades, beginning in the 1960s, have been the basis of the development of academic computing programs worldwide. Of course, the Turing Award has come to be known euphemistically as the "Nobel Prize in Computing," and its recipients are scholarly leaders whose work formed the basis of the worldwide technology revolution that is computing. I also hope that we highlight ACM's efforts to promote ethical and responsible use of our technology, from the various Codes of Ethics to the work we do to help US and other world leaders make political decisions that are informed from relevant computing perspectives. From its inception when I was in the ACM leadership, ACM's role in politics was not one of a lobbyist, but rather one of an educator based on our expertise in computing, so that decision-makers had relevant facts and perspectives about our technology, which was increasingly a key component of the issues at hand. I also think it's worth illustrating the long-term cooperative efforts between ACM and IEEE-CS on curriculum and accreditation. CSAB, formed in the mid-80s, has proven that inter-society cooperation can and does work when the various society representatives are focused on serving the target computing community and not their society affiliation.
Do you have any interesting ACM memorabilia in your collection?
Not much. I have a picture of myself presenting Garry Kasparov with his $400K check for winning the 1996 ACM Chess Challenge—the year he beat IBM's Deep Blue. Though Deep Blue managed to win one game during the match (the first game won by a computer over a chess world champion using tournament rules), it was less of a big deal than the following year, when Deep Blue beat him in the first instance of a computer beating a chess world champion in a tournament rules match. But it reminds me of the opportunity I had to meet and recognize some celebrities of their day. I still have some pretty old ACM shirts that, amazingly, still fit and are in decent condition, including one with the tag line "The First Society in Computing," one from a Southeast Regional Conference I keynoted during my presidency, two different varieties from the ACM'97 50th Anniversary Conference, and one from a special SIG that used to host a party for volunteers and staff at ACM's annual conferences. That last one has a tag line that's highly non-PC. I also still have an old ACM lapel pin, from the time before ACM went to the diamond logo, and an ACM coffee mug with a tag line "The Quintessential". Recently I got a 50th anniversary Turing Award medallion. And of course, I am very proud of my ACM Fellow pin and citation, and my award for Outstanding Contribution 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.
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.