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SPIE leaders urge University of Arizona to keep separate status of College of Optical Sciences

BELLINGHAM, WA, USA - 5 November 2008 - SPIE leaders are among those urging University of Arizona President Robert Shelton and Executive Vice President and Provost Meredith Hay to maintain the university's College of Optical Sciences as a discrete entity, as the university looks at possible departmental mergers in response to declining state support.

Shelton announced in September that the university would consider merging some departments in part to reduce the number of staff. But decreasing the number of support staff could hurt the college's ability to comply with federal regulations for highly competitive grants, asserts an article published this week in the Arizona Daily Star.

Besides jeopardizing grant competitiveness, a merger could weaken the college's focus on the discipline of Optics and Photonics. This focus is seen as crucial now, as advances in quantum optics, nanotechnology, imaging, and other technologies enable development of sustainable energy sources, medical diagnostics and treatment, environmental sensing, telecommunications, astronomy, and many other solutions to global challenges.

Center of excellence

"The College of Optical Sciences is a unique center of excellence that has garnered respect throughout the world, in no small part because of its unusual status as an autonomous entity," said David Wick, a member of the Board of Directors of SPIE and a graduate of the University of Arizona. "Merging it in order to improve the bottom line of other departments or colleges within the university threatens to dilute its influence and reputation."

Wick said that the timing of a merger now, as Optics and Photonics is becoming firmly established as a separate discipline, would be "a step in the wrong direction." SPIE is seeking membership in ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) which would establish Optics and Photonics as a discipline in its own right with its own distinct program criteria. "Throughout the world, schools and employers are acknowledging Optics and Photonics as a separate, broad-reaching discipline" he noted.

Admired around the world

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs said in a letter to Shelton that he was "horrified by the possibility that the university's College of Optical Sciences might be merged or absorbed.

"Throughout the world I meet with people at the highest levels of science and engineering who admire and envy the University of Arizona for the quality of research at the College of Optical Sciences," Arthurs said. "Many of these people have no idea where Arizona is, and know of the University of Arizona only through the reputation of the College of Optical Sciences."

Arthurs said that students coming out of the College of Optical Sciences are among the world's most qualified and motivated potential employees for the optics and photonics industry. "I believe that beyond the excellence in research, much of it deservedly described as world class, the whole ethos of the college prepares and inspires young people in a special way, which is all too rare," Arthurs said.

Hay is accepting comments about proposed mergers and other aspects of the university's Transformation Plan at http://provost.arizona.edu/node/167.

"Our college is now affiliated with more than 50 industrial partners who influence our curriculum, hire our graduates, and fund a considerable amount of research," College of Optical Sciences Dean James Wyant said in a story published on the Space Mart website last January. Wyant estimated that the more than 30 optical sciences spin-off companies now do business within the state, and another 11 or so second-generation companies have been spawned by these.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international optics and photonics society founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving the interests of its more than 188,000 active constituents representing 138 different countries, SPIE acts as a catalyst for collaboration among technical disciplines for information exchange, continuing education, publishing opportunities, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. As the organizer and sponsor of approximately 25 major conferences and education programs annually in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, SPIE provides publishing, speaking, and learning opportunities on emerging technologies.SPIE contributes more than $1.6 million annually in scholarships, grants, and other programs supporting research and education around the world.For more information, visit SPIE.org.