Aaron J. Hand
SPIE's board members decided at a meeting here Oct. 22 to echo the decision that came from the board of the Optical Society of America (OSA) in Baltimore on Oct. 9 -- an agreement to continue checking out the feasibility of a merger between the two societies.
Board members were reacting to a report by the joint task force, which spent about six months studying collaboration possibilities before presenting its 12 recommendations. SPIE's stamp of approval came with an additional resolution that the next step in the procedure be a review of the plan by an appropriate counsel to make sure there were no legal barriers, according to M.J. Soileau, co-chairman of the joint task force and last year's SPIE president.
Both societies will conduct legal and financial checks on their prospective partners as part of the continuing process, said Anthony E. Siegman, OSA's president-elect and a member of the task force.
"We don't expect there will be any barriers, but we think it's prudent to check this all out before we go too far down the line," Soileau said.
The task force's recommendations propose a society that is a merger in a corporate sense, but a federation in a cultural sense. This would reduce financial and structural redundancy but allow the distinct personalities to remain intact. "There is concern in both organizations about preserving the cultures and values of each organization," Siegman said.
Although OSA has traditionally put its emphasis on basic research and SPIE focuses more on application-oriented engineering, the optics industry has always been a mix of perspectives. A unified society could help bridge the gap. "The idea is to have one society ... from basic science through dirty-hands engineering," Soileau said.
The two societies will consider member input and refine the merger plan early next year. Ballots will go out in early summer, Siegman said, and will be tallied by October. The final merger decision will require a two-thirds vote from OSA members. SPIE requires two-thirds of a quorum to pass the plan, but what that means will be defined precisely after legal review, Soileau said. "We would seek a substantial participation of the members, beyond what's legally required," he said.
A full copy of the joint task force's report, as well as a joint letter from the president of OSA and SPIE, should be available on the Web (www.spie.org/info/jtf). Soileau urges members of both societies to read the report and look at the benefits they would enjoy with the merger. "What we do here is really meant to be as much or more for the future than the present," he said. "I'd like people certainly to think in those terms."
The Web site also includes a chat page, Soileau said, where members can discuss merger issues. "In the next few months, we're going to do everything we can to seek member input," he said.