Distressing news from Florida:

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced its plans to cut 10% from its budget. It targeted three departments: Communication Sciences and Disorders; Religion; and Geology. These three departments will take a far larger cut than 10% in order to ‘preserve’ the integrity of other departments. In an era of ‘green technology’, environmental awareness, the need for natural resource management, global climate change and the need to preserve access to freshwater, the thought of decimating a Geology Department borders on insanity. This is especially true of a flagship university that sits about 150 feet above sea level in a state where the top three revenue generators are, in order, tourism, agriculture and mining.


If the mere thought of eliminating one of the major branches of science from the university is not enough to horrify you, read the article for a precis of the all the ways geology is incredibly relevant to Florida’s daily concerns.

Such is the world we live in. Universities and public libraries are always among the first things cut in bad economic times, and these times are very bad indeed. As P.Z. Myers notes in this trenchant post, states find it easy to cut university funding because it doesn’t seem to lead to any immediate harm:

One of the challenges facing the country right now in this time of economic crisis is that we’re also about to be confronted by the result of a decade of neglect of the nation’s infrastructure, in particular, the chronic starvation of our universities. It’s an insidious problem, because as administrations have discovered time and again, you can cut an education budget and nothing bad happens, from their perspective. The faculty get a pay freeze; we tighten our belts. The universities lose public funds; we raise tuition a little bit. A few faculty are lost to attrition, and the state decides to defer their replacement for a year or two or indefinitely; the remaining faculty scramble to cover the manpower loss. We can continue to do our jobs, but behind the scenes, the stresses simply grow and worsen.

That’s not the only reason states cut education budgets so cavlierly. Another reason is that many states have governments that do not value education. Indeed, many actively devalue education. I’ll turn it over to P.Z. again:

Why do you keep electing cretins to your legislatures who despise the “intellectual elite”, who think being smart is a sin, who are so short-sighted that they care nothing for investing in strengthening the country in ways that take ten or more years to pay off? Stop it! Your representatives should be people who value education enough to commit to at least maintaining the current meager level of funding, but instead we get chains of ignoramuses who want to demolish the universities…and simultaneously want to control them to support their favorite ideological nonsense, via “academic freedom” bills. This is also a long-term goal: we have to work to restore our government to some level of sanity. It’s been the domain of fools and thieves for far too long.

Quite right.

The states really are up against it this time, and cuts will have to come from somewhere. It seems hard to believe, however, that this is the best way of doing it. You get a short term savings from cutting the department. But you deal a major blow to the credibility of your state university, make it an unappealing place for scholars in all departments, and make it more difficult to attrcat science related industry to your state. It is especially short-sighted to cut a department so directly tied in to the needs of the state.

Hopefully the Florida legislature can be dissuaded from their present course.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe Shelby
    March 23, 2009

    This all brought back memories of JMU just after I’d graduated, as on what we would call the “Friday the 13th Massacres”, Uncle Ron had tried to eliminate the Physics major, and with it a chunk of the department, with the remaining staff just supporting the classes needed for other majors like CS or general studies classes like Astronomy.

    The trouble with singling out a department like that for cost-control is that a little digging can discover that political decisions were more important than financial ones. Some of the physics profs were extremely critical and vocal about their criticisms within the faculty senate.
    [Peterson and Chodrow among them, both of whom I was taught under; Peterson was my adviser until I switched to CS.]

    The JMU Physics Department, all of the faculty I knew (except a few now retired to Emeritus status), and the major are all alive and well and still teaching.

    http://www.capolicycenter.org/ct_1095/ctn1_1095.html has a story on it (though without dates and with some very colorful remarks from and descriptions of Carrier, making me wonder how that got out without a libel suit attached to it). Bill Ingham’s statement published in the Breeze in 1995 is available as a badly formatted copy here: http://listserv.aera.net/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9509&L=aera-j&P=2836 .

    As such, it would not surprise me that the actions against that department in Florida might also have some reasons to it other than just money.

  2. #2 Peter Henderson
    March 23, 2009

    Sadly Jason, both universities here in Northern Ireland dismantled their geology departments quite a few years ago. The Ulster University was first to go. QUB’s went some years later, largely when it was under the leadership of Sir George Bain, an American by the way:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bain_(academic)

    Career at Queen’s
    Bain’s gregarious and extrovert personality was in marked contrast to the sombre leadership offered by his predecessor Sir Gordon Beveridge. The latter’s tenure was marked by an acrimonious dispute within, and without the University over symbols and the use of the national anthem at graduations ceremonies. Bain pushed Queen’s further up the research league table, the RAE but as this was achieved in part by the axing of long-standing departments like Geology,
    Classics and Irish Studies he suffered from a letter-writing campaign in the Belfast press from supporters of the staff whose posts were closed.

    Perhaps the most public disappointment of his time at the helm of Belfast’s senior university was the failure of the £60 million “Lanyon II” campaign to create a new ‘student village’.[4] The self-styled pressure-group “QUB Watch” also kept him under relentless scrutiny over the closure of the Armagh campus,[5] and over what it considered his failure to reduce the number of cases of religious discrimination being taken against the university by members of staff.[6]

    His tenure at Queen’s was also notable for a successful fundraising campaign for the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre and for a new Library building.

    So, now the nearest geology is either at Trinity or Galway in the ROI, or the Open University. Geology in the province has now been left in the hands of the YECs. My school geology teacher would have been horrified:

    http://www.habitas.org.uk/es2k/breaking_news/latestnews7.html

    Brian Black then provided a fascinating account of his uncle Herbert, from a family perspective. Instead of the driving (and drinking) force remembered by many Society members, Brian gave us an insight into a still more eccentric character – someone apparently capable of ‘selling the family silver’ to pay for his legendary summer-long trips to the Alps with his wife Pauline. Brian also seemed somewhat daunted by the prospect of receiving back the residue of Herbie’s vast collection of 35mm colour slides, now that the Ulster Museum has completed its selection and cataloguing of some 16,000 images.

    The early success of the Belfast Geologists’ Society was due mainly to the work of a remarkable individual – Herbert S Black. ‘Herbie’ was a schoolmaster by profession and it is no exaggeration to say that the Society was his whole life. For nearly four decades he ran the Society almost single-handedly. Herbie was not only a wonderful organiser but also a character in every sense. Anyone who ever met Herbie – whether a member of the Society or one of his pupils at Belfast Model or Annadale – acquired a fund of Herbie anecdotes.

    Herbie would have been shocked and angry at the resurgence of YECism and flood geology, and at the closure of QUB’s geology department. Of that I have no doubt. He influenced a whole generation of school kids, including myself. Geology is one science that the YECs really detest. This will not help Florida’s education system in any way.

  3. #3 Erik - Eruptions
    March 23, 2009

    Yeah, geology doesn’t do anyone any good. Oh wait, sorry, I was distracted by the volcano erupting in Alaska. Anybody know how this thing works?

  4. #4 mark
    March 25, 2009

    My school dropped the geology major. About 10 years later, the entire school went bankrupt and into oblivion. There’s a lesson to be learned, I think.

  5. #5 AnswersInGenitals
    March 26, 2009

    Do they still have a theology department? Interesting if they drop geology but keep theology. Of course, Florida is all swamp (if memory serves), so praying might be more productive than digging.

  6. #6 Counter-Strike
    April 5, 2009

    “Florida is all swamp (if memory serves), so praying might be more productive than digging. ” Of course. Very nice idea.

  7. #7 Anonymous
    April 14, 2009

    For the person who asked about the status of theology at UF: ironically, religion is the other department that the university will be cutting in half.

  8. #8 söve
    April 16, 2009

    Brian Black then provided a fascinating account of his uncle Herbert, from a söve family perspective. Instead of the driving (and drinking) force remembered by many Society members, Brian gave us an insight into a still more eccentric character – someone apparently söve capable of ‘selling the family silver’ to pay for his legendary summer-long trips to the Alps with his wife Pauline. Brian also seemed somewhat söve daunted by the prospect of receiving back the residue of Herbie’s vast collection of 35mm colour slides, now that the Ulster Museum has completed its selection and cataloguing of some 16,000 images.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!