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Optical Societies to Remain Separate

Photonics Spectra
Nov 1999
Gaynell Terrell

The recent favorable vote by members of SPIE to merge with the Optical Society of America counted, officially, for little. The proposed merger required the consent of both groups, and OSA members had already rejected the idea.

But officials said they were encouraged that the measure had already led to closer contact among members of the academic, scientific and engineering communities in the optics field.

"While these cumulative results mean that the merger will not take place, members of both societies have sent a clear message: Seek greater interaction and coordination of OSA and SPIE programs," said SPIE's president, Paul S. Schenker.

SPIE announced Oct. 5 that more than 4400 members, or 40 percent, voted on the merger proposal, with 51 percent voting in favor of the merger. A simple majority of those voting was required for approval.

In September, Washington-based OSA announced that, despite the backing of its board of directors, its members rejected the merger. Of 4971 votes cast, only 2420, or 49 percent, were in favor of the plan. A two-thirds majority was needed for passage.

"It says to me that sentiment runs both hot and cold, in both societies. But I don't think all is lost. Even those who were against it learned from the exercise the many benefits that could accrue for both societies and the industry,'' said Paul F. Forman, an OSA executive committee member and staunch proponent of the proposal.

The two groups formed a joint task force last year to explore closer collaboration on industry issues or the possibility of a structured relationship, possibly a federation or merger. Proponents suggested the groups would benefit by having a single resource for technical meetings and publications, and that a merger would promote cooperation among international companies and governments. Opponents feared a merging of association cultures was incompatible.

And importantly, said John A. Thorner, OSA executive director, the two groups compete for revenue in the areas of meeting planning and publications.

"Still, a level of understanding was achieved through this process, and perhaps this will lead to greater cooperation in non-revenue-generating activities,'' Thorner said.

Forman and others believe the two societies aren't likely to reopen merger talks for some time.

"I think it's over," Forman said. "The stars and the moon were aligned properly. It was the right time to do it. We've tried."

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