TEMPORA MUTANTUR ET NOS MUTAMUR IN ILLIS! (1984)
The study of Latin and the memorizing of many classical quotations were standard requirements for a high school education in most European countries. As a student in Hungary, I was both frustrated and exasperated by what seemed to me meaningless and outdated exercises. Yet, throughout my adult life, the eternal wisdom and validity of those age-old adages have proven correct time and time again. The title of this comment-"Times are changing and we are changing with them"-is an especially appropriate description of ACS's 10- to 15-year struggle to become more member oriented. Unfortunately, human nature has an aversion to change; we postpone difficult decisions in the hope for simple solutions. Meanwhile, the comfort taken in the status quo becomes increasingly more costly. Thus, ACS has arrived at a decisive moment in its history. We must soon make crucial decisions about how best to advance the economic status of ACS members.
Is it appropriate that ACS be concerned with those factors affecting the economic well-being of its members? The answer is a resounding yes! An idealistic and humanitarian view of the scientific profession does not preclude considerations of just financial remuneration. Realistically, scientists need a stable environment in which to perform steadily and to remain creative-as do other human beings. Economic status is an important factor of this environment, since the progress of modern chemistry depends, in part, upon the economic security of its practitioners. ACS must concern itself not only with scientific and educational advancements but with professionalism and the stature of chemists. A high degree of economic security not only would assure the healthy growth of our profession, but would benefit all ACS members whether employed in industry, in academe, or elsewhere.
The Economic Status Committee has been in existence for many years. It has done an excellent job of collecting data on the economic status of chemists and engineers. However, there has been great reluctance to act on those findings. More recently, owing primarily to the economic hardships experienced by our members since 1970, the compelling nature of my opening quotation has become more and more apparent to concerned ACS officials. Accordingly, it has now become imperative that we move beyond mere data collection. Two years ago, this committee was upgraded to a joint board-council committee and was reorganized under the leadership of Gerhard Meisels, its previous chairman. This was a symbolic start. From that beginning, we are now ready to address the problems associated with the changing economic status of our profession, to recommend practical solutions, and to implement them.
Three important questions must be answered. First, what are the exact factors that influence the economic status of our members? Second, how can we control such factors? Third, which factors should we attempt to influence? Since the simultaneous consideration of the three issues would be counterproductive, we intend to consider the latter question only after an unemotional and objective evaluation of the first two. Once we have determined how to influence the economic status of our members, we can begin discussing what can and should be done. This approach should help to avoid the vicious cycle typical of past discussions on these subjects.
The approach adopted by the committee entails a multisubcommittee structure and involves studying the most important factors to be considered. Separate subcommittees already are evaluating the following issues: personnel policies, pensions, the quality of science education, and the supply of or demand for scientific expertise. The complexity of these subjects dictates that each be considered separately. The committee presently is assessing what actions, if any, other professional societies have taken to ensure their members' economic health and is evaluating whether cooperative efforts would benefit ACS members. The committee is even trying to determine how best to provide general financial planning advice to our members.
The committee has set its sights high acting on the assumption that nothing is impossible. We concede that upon superficial examination, some of the ideas scheduled for discussion may seem farfetched. For example, we wish to define the complex relationship between supply and demand through the use of mathematical models. Twenty-five years ago the impracticality of this undertaking would have rendered it virtually impossible. Fortunately, the advent of modern computers now makes it both practical and prudent. The committee recognizes that difficulties will arise, but takes heart in the knowledge that even great scientific discoveries were once only science fiction.
Immediate solutions for every problem will not be found, solutions for some may not be ideal. But life itself is imperfect and the anticipation of obstacles must not deter progress. Had explorers or scientists refused to tackle doubtful or "impossible" projects, America would not have been discovered and mankind would not have landed on the moon.
Resolving the issues of how to ensure a sound economic status for ACS members is a complex problem and will require novel and complex solutions. This means that data gathering cannot be limited to conventional surveys or committee deliberations only. It means that pilot projects will be required so that new ideas can be tested at the local level. Most important, it requires the active participation of individual concerned members. If you share my concern for the economic health of our profession and thus for the advancement of chemistry, I invite you to attend the committee's open meeting at the fall ACS meeting in Philadelphia. If you do not plan to attend, please write to me or phone me with your ideas, suggestions, and/or offer to help. I steadfastly believe that we can successfully meet the challenges presented by the changing times.
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