University science departments need your help

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:

Website: http://www.geology.ufl.edu

Addresses:
Dean Paul D’Anieri
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
2014 Turlington Hall
P.O Box 117300
Gainesville FL 32611
danieri@clas.ufl.edu
P: 352.392.0780
F: 352.392.3584

Dr. Joseph Glover
Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
jglover@aa.ufl.edu
235 Tigert Hall
Box 113175
Gainesville, FL, 32611-3175
352-392-2404

Dr. Bernie Machen
President University of Florida
226 Tigert Hall
PO Box 113150
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
Ph: 352-392-1311
Fax: 352-392-9506

9 Responses to “University science departments need your help”

  1. Sherman Dorn Says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful response to Joe Glover’s attack on Liberal Arts and Sciences (ironically, the college he headed before he became provost).

  2. Karen Says:

    Thank you Brandon! We can use all the support we can get!

  3. Beth Steward Says:

    President Machen, UF is a premiere university for sciences…..I graduated there in 1993 with a DVM degree and truly hope that you can find a way to stop this brain drain!

    Beth Steward
    Marco Island, FL

  4. Autumn Yatabe Says:

    The state whose entire water supply is tied up in Karst topograpy, the state who has sink holes appear overnight and swallow homes, the state with three sides in the ocean with dwindling beaches and coastal process issues. That state decides to rid their university of the Geology Department. Geology covers all of that. Beach erosion, water supply, cave processes, contamination plumes in Karst. All Geology. If you want to study Karst systems you go to Florida. Of all states this one needs more trained geologist in that specialty, not less. I am a geologist with a MS from another university. But one of my thesis advisors and professors had a degree from U of Florida. His talent and guidance were important to my education and my career as a professional geologist and a science educator. Geology is more than rocks. It is the study of our earth and all of its processes. How is that not vital to the education of a student?

  5. ollie Says:

    Who needs science when you can rely on God?

    Note: yes, I am being sarcastic, but you might look at what happened in Oklahoma when they had Richard Dawkins over to speak. The state legislature is investigating *every aspect* of that event!

    This is what happens when the monkeys run the zoo.

  6. Scientist Says:

    Instead of cutting science departments how about reducing departments with no scientific and practical value like “Gender Studies”, various Romance languages and other useless humanities departments?

  7. Karen Says:

    @ Scientist… I don’t ask that all departments have scientific or ‘practical’ value – and I think nearly all (real?) scientists know better than to think that scientific pursuits are all a school should support. The humanities contribute just as much to a university, and are similarly not disposable. Still, tough decisions must be made – it’s just particularly ludicrous to propose the destruction of a department which supports so much of our local economy.

    I don’t have any constructive suggestions for how they resolve the budgeting mess – but I know that cutting a small but productive and reputable department is not a sensible solution.

  8. PatrickHenry Says:

    If it were up to me to look for places to cut, I’d give serious consideration to the sociology department — long before I thought about cutting any of the sciences.

    It may be just my personal bias, or ignorance, but I suspect that we’d all survive quite well if some severe cuts were made there. It’s not merely that many subjects in the sociology department have no practical value. That’s arguably true of the humanities generally; and it’s no reason to cut them. But there’s a case to be made that at least some areas of sociology have no genuine academic value.

    I’m not looking for an argument with any sociology majors here. But hey — cutting out geology is crazy.

  9. Eric Says:

    Cutting out geology is absolutely insane! And this is coming from someone with a B.A. in Philosophy (humanities) who just happen to take a lot of courses in geology because it was fun. Now more than ever, we need highly trained geologists.