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.
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.