It's time for OSA and SPIE to join together

Now that the frenzy of CLEO is behind us, it`s time for less squabbling and more action on the unification of the two major societies. A January survey of just over a thousand OSA and SPIE members clearly indicated that a majority of those questioned (70%) were in favor of unification while only 14% were opposed (the rest were currently undecided). The survey questions and responses are available on the societies` Web sites (www.osa.org and www.spie.org). It`s time to put the question of unifica

Th Jeff
Th Jeff
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Now that the frenzy of CLEO is behind us, it`s time for less squabbling and more action on the unification of the two major societies. A January survey of just over a thousand OSA and SPIE members clearly indicated that a majority of those questioned (70%) were in favor of unification while only 14% were opposed (the rest were currently undecided). The survey questions and responses are available on the societies` Web sites (www.osa.org and www.spie.org). It`s time to put the question of unification to the memberships as a whole.

The current timetable for the Joint Task Force (JTF) called for a final and detailed proposal to be put to the boards of both societies at the end of May. Details of the plan will be made available to all members who will then be asked to cast a vote during the late summer or early fall of this year, according to Paul Forman and M. J. Soileau, the two co-chairs of the JTF. This seems to me to be proceeding with all reasonable and deliberate speed. There surely has been plenty of time to discuss the JTF Report (issued in September 1998), and there have been several public forums on the proposed merger at major industry meetings. I am strongly in favor of the merger. My only reservation is that the JTF proposal may not go far enough in terms of integration of activities.

Voices of opposition

But there are still some loud voices directed against the idea of a merger. I recommend that you take a look at the JTF Forum (on the societies` Web sites) to read the ardent opposition to the proposed merger. Dennis Hall of the University of Rochester writes that "the timetable is MUCH too fast." Prof. Hall would like to see the process span several OSA administrations and several different JTF memberships (and chairs). If several administrations were to come to the same conclusion, says Prof. Hall, "it would seem to be our destiny." This would be death of the JTF proposal by starvation. Eventually people would be so bored with the subject that the project would quietly expire. There would be some value in delaying membership voting until after the SPIE Annual Meeting (in July) and the OSA Annual Meeting (in September), but I see no reason to wait any longer than that.Others object to the JTF proposal on intellectually snobbish grounds: the OSA is devoted to "pure" science while the SPIE is concerned with "dirty" technology and (heaven help us!) the pursuit of profit. In a letter to the Board of the OSA (also posted on the societies` Web sites), Prof. Leonard Mandel of the University of Rochester sniffs that "the OSA currently has many distinguished leaders in optics, as well as 14 Nobel laureates, among its members, while the SPIE has none so far as I know." While not wishing to deprecate the OSA`s undoubted academic standing, I consider the care and feeding of potential Nobel laureates to be only a minor part of the OSA`s brief. The merged societies should play an important role in the optoelectronics world, and we will get nowhere arguing that one is more prestigious than the other. The IEEE welcomes practicing engineers and research scientists equally and would seem to be serving the entire world of electrical and electronic engineering. A merged OSA and SPIE would have strengths across the broad spectrum of membership.

Benefits from integration

Fortunately, not everyone in academia has a head in the clouds. Prof. Joseph Goodman of Georgia Institute of Technology writes that he values his membership in both societies highly. "I also believe that there are enormous benefits from having the basic science (in which the OSA is so well established) more closely integrated with practical applications and engineering (at which the SPIE has excelled)," he notes. My sentiments exactly: let`s stop nit-picking about who is the leader of the pack and get down to building an organization that will benefit all its members instead of an academic few.

Make no mistake, the optoelectronics train is gathering speed. I firmly believe that optoelectronics will be to the 21st century what electronics has been to the 20th century. The OSA and the SPIE are offering their members a chance to climb aboard the optoelectronics express. I hope you will vote in favor of the merger and not be left standing forlornly at the station.

Jeffrey Bairstow
Group Editorial Director
[email protected]

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