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Optical Societies Consider Partnership

Photonics Spectra
Jul 1998
Aaron J. Hand

More than a decade after deciding against it, a joint task force is reconsidering closer collaboration between the Optical Society of America (OSA) and SPIE. Meeting on a monthly basis, the committee aims to make its recommendation to both societies' boards in October.
Although a merger has been considered before -- in fact, the topic has been broached continually through the years -- it has never been considered as carefully and with such a broad range of senior society executives, said Paul Forman, co-chairman of the task force and OSA executive committee member and director at large. The task force is made up of 24 people, many of whom are past and present senior members from the two societies.
The committee is discussing several collaboration approaches, from joint projects to a full merger. "The charter of the task force ... is to explore a whole range of structural relationships," said Jim Pearson, executive director of SPIE and a member of the task force. "The task force has been very careful not to assume the answer."
Although the committee is focusing on the full merger first because it is the most rigorous potential combination, it might not be the best solution, even if it might indeed work, Forman emphasized. "The goal is to do a very careful evaluation and determine what's best -- what's best for the members and what's best for the profession," he said.
OSA and SPIE have been collaborating to some degree for years, Pearson noted, including co-sponsoring meetings, working together in education, and publishing a joint directory. But there is very little overlap between the memberships of the societies.
"Two years ago, out of about 21,000 to 22,000 individuals, about 1500 had membership in both societies," Pearson said. On a very basic level, OSA's membership tends to be more research-oriented while SPIE's members focus more on applications engineering. But today's climate is seeing these activities converge, and the industry also is becoming more global.
Besides strength in numbers, members could receive several benefits from a unified society, according to Pearson and Forman. These include getting more from resources after eliminating duplications, having the opportunity for more extensive joint activities, seeing a positive effect on public policy, and strengthening the student and regional chapters.
Despite obvious benefits of collaboration, the task force hopes to maintain the individuality of the two societies. "It's important that the operating environment of OSA and the operating environment of SPIE be maintained even while merging the activities and resources of the two societies," Pearson said. Forman agreed, noting that part of the task force's job is to define what it means by a merger.
The task force still has work ahead to complete its evaluation by October. "It's important to emphasize that this is a work in progress," Pearson said. "Input from members has been and will continue to be sought." Although the goal is to formulate a recommendation by fall, he said, "the pace will be dictated by doing the job right."

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