The current budget crisis in the United States is affecting the country in myriad ways, but it seems that the budget cuts affect education disproportionately. The University of Florida in Gainesville recently announced potential cuts due to state budgetary issues.
The University of Florida is the Land and Sea Grant University in Florida and a member of the Association of American Universities (a nonprofit association of 60 U.S. and two Canadian preeminent public and private research universities). The University of Florida is also designated as the ‘flagship university’ in the State.
So how does a University like this approach fundamental science when faced with budgetary cuts?
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.
When faced with required budget cuts at a land grant university, is the best solution really to cut one department best poised to address problems directly related to the states three biggest income sources? For instance:
– The major mining industry in Florida is phosphate mining. Florida produces close to 75% of the phosphate required by US agriculture and nearly 25% of the world phosphate. In addition, heavy minerals, particularly those containing titanium (used to make anything white…paints and dyes), are found in a large deposit known as Trail Ridge.
– Global climate change and sea level rise can affect Floridians disproportionately because of its average elevation.
– The building of hotels and resorts along the coast that are important to Florida’s #1 industry of tourism have consequences for coastal erosion and sinkhole development.
– The growing population in the state has severely stressed groundwater resources to the breaking point.
The plan proposed for the department is to cut all un-tenured faculty, all technical staff who operate and maintain millions of dollars in scientific equipment, and all research staff. This reduces the department to about 10 tenured faculty. It should be noted that the final word on these proposed cuts is not in. The University could say: “Why save even the tenured faculty? Let’s cut the whole department.”
Your first question might be: “Well, just how good is this department?” That’s a reasonable question as there are sometimes ‘deadbeat departments’ at Universities. That does not seem to be the case here. There is at least one member of the National Academy of Sciences, one Distinguished Professor and several who were elected fellows of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and ‘medal winners’ in those organizations. The University is a member of the International Ocean Drilling Program and conducts research on every single continent and in the oceans. Researchers at UF have been featured regularly in top scientific journals like Nature and Science along with the top disciplinary journals.
This faculty is also interested in primary and secondary education, and has worked with organizations like Florida Citizens for Science to help fight the introduction of pseudoscientific legislation affecting Florida’s K-12 educational system.
While technical measures of productivity can be interpreted in many ways, it is clear that the most commonly used measures indicate that Florida researchers are a top-notch group. For example, about half of the faculty has h-indices of 20 or higher. The h-index looks at how many papers by a particular author have been cited. An h-index of 20 means that 20 papers by that author have been cited by others at least 20 times. Many of these papers are ‘highly cited’ papers with citation indices in the hundreds. Research funding in the department on a per-capita basis (compared to other science departments) is as strong as any of the science departments at UF. While the total number of majors and graduate students is lower than other ‘huge’ science departments, the Geology Department at UF boasts close to 100% employment in the field of Geology. While Departments like Psychology and History may boast 10x + the number of majors, very few (if any) of those bachelor degree or master degree students will be employed in their field of training. Florida geology graduates are recruited before they graduate in an effort to fill a workforce that is underemployed.
This department being proposed for cuts is involved in every area of research and science that affects the state of Florida including water resources, climate change, mining, geological hazards, coastal processes and hydrogeology. It’s not only involved in these areas, it is a leader in all of them. To cut this department is tantamount to cutting off the hand that feeds Florida.
The department’s efforts go beyond traditional education; the faculty at UF is also a leader in educating people about the value of science and why people should support science. I know they would appreciate it if you could write to the Dean, Provost and President of the University in support of the department. Below is information regarding the department:
Dean Paul D’Anieri
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
2014 Turlington Hall
P.O Box 117300
Gainesville FL 32611
Dr. Joseph Glover
Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
235 Tigert Hall
Gainesville, FL, 32611-3175
Dr. Bernie Machen
President University of Florida
226 Tigert Hall
PO Box 113150
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611