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Optical Societies’ Membership to Vote on Merger

Photonics Spectra
Jul 1999
Robert C. Pini

After about two years of due diligence and cautious courtship, the boards of directors of the Optical Society of America (OSA) and SPIE have approved a unification plan and will put it up for a vote by their members.

Ballots will be mailed to the members of both societies late this month, and the results will be tabulated in late September. OSA bylaws require a two-thirds majority vote to carry the plan, while SPIE bylaws require that two-thirds of a quorum must vote in favor.

Separate cultures

Speaking at a CLEO session devoted to the matter, OSA President Anthony E. Siegman encouraged members to vote for unification. He likened the function of the combined societies to that of a university that promotes the independent culture of its individual schools. He stressed that the member societies would maintain their own cultures.

Merger proponents assert that the new society, initially to be named Uno, would create a more effective, unified political voice, while reducing duplication in educational programs and competition in enrolling students and international groups.

Opponents of the merger consider unification to be a radical step and question the need for it. Thomas Baer, former OSA board member and president of Arcturus Engineering Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., asked whether the increased efficiency and cost savings expected from the merger were even worthwhile, given the financial strength of each institution. "What I have a problem with," he said, "is the process we're choosing to achieve these goals and the speed at which we're choosing to achieve these goals."

For members in both organizations, hopes focus on the deeper pockets a merger would bring and resulting efficiency in meeting the challenges in research, education and public policy. However, some members cite fears over control of the purse and worry that one group will dominate the other.

Both societies have invited member input through open meetings and Internet forums. And both are encouraging members to visit the joint task force's Web site ( to review the plan and make their opinions known. The debate will without doubt continue up to the vote, but the decision now lies in the members' hands.

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