BE FAVORABLE TO BOLD BEGINNINGS! (1987)
This classic quotation from Virgil has been the motto of the Economic Status Committee (ESC) during the past three years. As I leave the helm of ESC, I look back on its activities with satisfaction and project with optimism its future. We have not solved all the economic problems of our profession but, by keeping Virgil's words always in clear sight, we have made progress.
Activities related to economic matters, from salary to pension, have always been close to the hearts of chemists and chemical engineers. In 1947, the Hancock Report surveyed the Society's activities and the members' views; it confirmed that an impressive majority of the members were highly concerned about economic security. The boom of the late 1950-s dulled somewhat the pressure for ACS to become active in this field. A few concerned councilors, however, kept the question in the spotlight until finally, in the mid-1960s, ESC was formed.
At the open meetings of the committee, especially during the difficult times of the early 1970s, increasing interest was continuously evident. Pressure was brought to bear for the committee to initiate other activities in addition to its annual salary survey. Events moved slowly. The general attitude was that since ACS is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, it should not become involved in matters not strictly scientific or educational. A vicious cycle seemed to be perpetuated. On the one hand, no discussions were initiated to develop activities for the members' professional and economic benefits, because "we do not know whether our charter would allow it." On the other hand, discussions as to whether our charter would allow us to undertake such type of activities were dismissed because "we do not know how we can help our members." Every year, since 1969, we determined that the job situation was quite grim, that chemists' salaries were not even keeping up with inflation, but such reports were filed with no further recommendation or action.
In response to a steady outpouring of members' support and the election of ACS officials concerned about the economic difficulties of the profession, this cycle of inaction was broken. Finally, it was possible to adapt Virgil's philosophy: ESC and its subcommittees began and continue to begin their deliberations on the basic assumption that nothing is impossible, no idea is ridiculous.Previously "untouchable" or "impossible" ideas are now discussed and surprisingly few are discarded. In a previous Comment, I described a proposed "Return to Academe," which is aimed at alleviating the problems of technical obsolescence and minimizing their effects on economic status. Let me describe a few ideas previously labeled "impossible" that are now under consideration and development.
Today's computers have tremendous capabilities. The development of a computer model to track and predict the supply of and demand for chemists and chemical engineers is difficult, but not "impossible." Obviously, no computer can describe or guarantee the future, but, as with Mr. Spock in Star Trek, it can estimate the future with probable accuracy. This would be a step in the right direction and would be far superior to any haphazard approach.
An unemployed scientist was unheard of 20 years ago. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. At the same time, unemployment compensation is not commensurate with most scientists' salaries; so the loss of a job creates major financial problems. Is salary continuation insurance for scientists a utopian idea? One of our subcommittees is presently conducting a year-long study of this question. There is a great hope that some realistic proposal will be forthcoming. Solutions may be difficult, but not impossible.
Even the so-called "dull" annual salary survey can be made more meaningful. An equitable salary for work done is a realistic expectation. Do you know whether you are getting a fair salary? Most scientists do not know what a colleague at the next desk receives. Unless you change employment, your "fair" salary depends upon your degree of assertiveness and upon your employer's sense of fairness. We can maintain privacy and still provide better information by modifying the annual survey, which presently classifies data only by academic degree and years of experience. ESC is developing a system that would take into consideration the responsibilities attached to a given salary level. This would lead to more equitable situations whereby those performing at similar levels would receive similar financial rewards.
These are but a few ideas being studied. Many more are still trying to burst from the "impossible" category. For example, what would be the effect of licensing and certification? What can we do to improve the economic status of retired chemists, especially those whose retirement was early and not so "voluntary"? What actions are required to make pensions portable? How could we ensure pensions keep pace with inflation?
Where do such questions and new ideas originate? Every subcommittee (Supply, Demand, Quality, Professional Policies, Surveys) is continuously searching within its own area for new approaches and/or reconsidering ideas that might have been discarded as impossible 10 to 15 years ago. ESC even has a special subcommittee called New Ventures, whose charge is to think the unthinkable. In addition, the Interprofessional Relations Subcommittee's responsibility is to keep an eye on the services provided by other professional organizations in this country or abroad and to study whether such services can be adapted by ACS.
The best source of needed activities is you, the members. For example, a year ago members of an Oklahoma section were greatly concerned about the economic effects the possible takeover of an area oil company would have, since that company was the largest local employer of chemists. The chairman of that section wrote to ACS for help. ESC worked with the executive committee of the section in developing a statement for the ACS Board of Directors. The board subsequently recommended legislative hearings and actions to cope with all unfriendly takeovers. Legislative remedies do not occur overnight, but attention from ESC will continue to spotlight this problem.
I am a realist. I know that it may not be possible to solve a given problem at a specific time. I also realize that no solution is perfect and that some solutions may create new problems. However, we cannot and must not wait for perfection. Carefully, but steadily, we must develop new ideas, new approaches, and new activities that will alleviate the problems we face. If you have ideas on how the economic status of our profession can be improved, we welcome them. We encourage and urge you to communicate with us. If at all possible, we will seek ways to implement them. Even if something appears impossible today, we will keep it in mind for future consideration. Whether it requires an ACS or legislative action, let us not discard an idea because it presently seems impossible.
The famous science fiction series Star Trek defines the mission of its spaceship, the Enterprise, as "to boldly go where no man has gone before." Virgil, millennia ago, and the Enterprise, millennia hence, share this philosophy about the unknown. If people with vision from the past and the future can embody and act on the same philosophy, I see no reason why we in the present should be different.
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