A proposal regarding Professional Membership
Mary Schmidl’s message in her President’s Page article in the October 2000 issue deals with professionalism in an IFT context. She makes several worthwhile points. However, she comments in particular on the recent proposal by an IFT Task Force on Professional Membership that “attempted to broaden the routes and requirements to become a Professional Member.” I have read the Task Force’s final recommendations, and have heard that they were the subject of heated discussion by the IFT Council in June and were sent back for further consideration. My views are already known to many Councilors, and some have responded favorably. I now offer them for consideration by other Food Technology readers.
The Task Force is to be commended for doing the best it could to solve a basically unsolvable problem. To be sought after, a status such as that of professional membership needs to confer benefits such as prestige or credibility with one’s peers or the public, whereas the only visible benefits at present are the right to vote on certain matters and to hold certain IFT offices, neither of which is obviously highly sought after! Making it easier to become a Professional Member (which essentially summarizes the likely outcome of the Task Force recommendations) may increase their numbers but is more likely to decrease rather than increase any prestige or credibility involved in that rank.
IFT is primarily a scientific society whose activities benefit its members and the public by advancing knowledge in the field. Other scientific societies also certify the perceived capability or competence of certain of their members. This applies to some extent to the activities of associations of architects, engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, or dietitians. Even in those cases, certification or registration is separate from membership in the association. The latter may be a scientific as well as a professional association, advancing knowledge in its field, but some form of certification to the public is also involved.
In my opinion, no form of membership in IFT now serves, or will ever serve, as a certification of knowledge or competence to the general public or to government entities. The size and diversity of the field and the role of most members as employees of large corporations make that impractical. Credibility comes from other characteristics or accomplishments, such as academic rank in a university or the receipt of a prestigious award or perhaps designation as a Fellow or Scientific Communicator, whether or not the individual is a member of IFT, professional or otherwise.
Any IFT constitutional changes in the current requirements for Professional Member designed simply to increase their numbers may well do that, but will not make professional membership any more relevant than it currently is. Would there be grounds for establishing a category that would be comparable to the AIA, PE, RN, RD, CHE, or similar designation of other societies that have a certification function as well as membership? Formation of an Academy of Food Science within or associated with IFT has been suggested. It could work, if not immediately bombarded by well-meaning attempts to increase its numbers. Entry would be by nomination (comparable to that required for IFT Fellow), with consideration by an anonymous jury. In fact, the present rather large group of Fellows could be the nucleus of such an Academy.
Since I don’t see the professional membership becoming any more relevant in the near future, with or without the kind of changes being considered, I propose that this additional concept be seriously considered, if credibility of views and the resultant desirability of inclusion represent goals, rather than just the number of persons at a given level of IFT membership.
—Elwood F. Caldwell, Arden Hills, Minn.
IFT President Mary Schmidl replies
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the letter of my distinguished colleague, Dr. Caldwell.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the letter of my distinguished colleague, Dr. Caldwell. Much has occurred since the Council discussion in Dallas in June, to which he refers, and since August when I wrote the President’s Page that appeared in the October issue of Food Technology.
Most important, the Executive Committee in September created an entirely new 2000–01 Task Force on Professional Membership Criteria, with a new and wider brief. The Executive Committee’s charge to this new Task Force is as follows:
“It was moved, seconded and unanimously carried to establish a new Professional Membership Task Force to review the proposed Constitutional changes and guidelines related to the definition and criteria for Professional Membership and to be prepared to make a formal presentation at June 2001 Council meeting.
“It was further agreed that in addition to the recommendations a list of Professional Membership benefits to the Institute and to the member be prepared and a report be provided to the Executive Committee in March 2001.”
I am informed that the Task Force is seriously considering all comments made by Councilors at the Dallas meeting, and has been making good progress in developing a first draft of rationale and specific recommendations. The rationale will explain the principles in which they have approached the task and the reasoning on which their recommendations are based. The “guidelines” in the charge are for interpretation of the Constitution and, importantly, the thorough “peer review” evaluation of applicants’ details by the Committee on Qualifications. The Task Force expects to have this first draft ready by the end of 2000.
However, instead of working in a closed system, the Task Force will be seeking the help of Councilors in the months before June to develop a set of recommendations that “get it right.” For this purpose, the Task Force Chair intends to post the first draft on the Council listserv in January, leaving plenty of time for Councilors to consider and comment.
Some IFT Councilors believe that the Constitutional change discussed in June was intended to dilute the requirements for Professional Member (PM) in order to increase the numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, we always encourage as many members as have gained eligibility to apply for upgrading to PM; but the Constitutional change proposed was for the very different purpose of providing, for scientists originally trained in non-food-science-related disciplines who come into the food field, a ladder that they can climb to eventually transform themselves into food professionals.
Dr. Caldwell is correct in pointing out that IFT has not done enough for PM to be seen as a “big deal,” but from that he draws entirely the wrong conclusion. The correct conclusion, which the Task Force is addressing, is to recommend measures to ensure that PM is recognized as the “big deal” it really is.
The proposal that IFT should establish an Academy would create a small and select elite group of IFT members. Not only would it not serve the important purpose of recognizing when the academically qualified raw recruit to the workplace has “earned his or her spurs” through experience and further knowledge, but it would also have four serious adverse effects on IFT and its members:
1. It would be greatly divisive in a variety of ways (between academics and industry members and between food scientists and food technologists or food engineers, as well as for the reasons mentioned below).
2. Despite Dr. Caldwell’s nod in the direction of IFT Fellows, it would diminish the significance of the IFT Fellows, the true IFT elite.
3. It would be seen by the world at large as an IFT attempt to “steal the clothing” of, by creating an imitation of, the world-recognized Academy, the International Academy of Food Science and Technology, which includes among its present 59 Academy Fellows around the world a substantial proportion of highly outstanding IFT members (16 located in the United States), with Owen Fennema as its President.
4. It would denigrate and downgrade the significance of Professional Membership, which many thousands of IFT members are proud to possess.
For these reasons, I think Dr. Caldwell’s well-meaning proposals would harm, not help IFT and its members, and are a distraction from the real task.
Professional Membership is a most important issue for the Institute. It can either continue as a running distraction, or, if we get it right this time, be a source of strength. To prevent the former and achieve the latter, I confidently await the Task Force’s draft report and Councilors’ help and support for the Task Force in producing from it the final recommendations for June 2001.