Uncertain Future For Florida Geosciences | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: April 1, 2009

Uncertain Future For Florida Geosciences

Flagship university's geology department faces deep cuts in proposed budget
Department: Education | Collection: Economy

The department of geological sciences at the University of Florida could lose more than one-third of its faculty if current proposed budget cuts go through. The budget proposal, crafted by Paul D'Anieri, dean of UF's College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, was submitted to the university's president and provost today.

With no income tax and falling tax revenues from tourism and housing, the state of Florida has taken a big hit in income in recent years. As a result, the state's legislature warned the university that it may have to cut its budget for the third year in a row. Earlier this year, UF President J. Bernard Machen asked the school's deans to propose plans that slash their colleges' budgets by 10%—up to $75 million for the entire university, with about $9 million of that coming out of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences' budget.

Because the deans had already trimmed their costs substantially for two years running, Machen asked them to cut specific programs this year rather than make across-the-board cuts. Three departments in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences—religion, communication sciences and disorders, and geological sciences—will be hardest hit if D'Anieri's proposal is ultimately accepted.

UF's department of geological sciences is home to several geochemists, and the proposed cuts would lay off all of the department's untenured faculty, reducing the faculty from 18 to 11. The cuts would also eliminate geology as an undergraduate major and have a substantial effect on the department's graduate program.

Michael R. Perfit, chair of the geological sciences department, questions the reasoning behind taking such drastic action. "We give a good, solid education in the geosciences," he says. An external review done in 2006 described the department as "strong" and "vibrant" with "high caliber" faculty, "productive researchers," and "accomplished teachers." "You can look at our record and what our faculty and students do and see that these cuts are not smart," Perfit says.

"The plan includes cuts that were chosen on the basis of overall issues of productivity and centrality to the college mission," says David E. Richardson, associate dean for the college and a chemistry professor. The proposed cuts, he adds, "are not a reflection of research quality and scholarship of the faculty."

Daniel R. Talham, chair of UF's chemistry department, tells C&EN that the proposed cuts to the geosciences will have repercussions for his department. "The basic sciences in a college such as ours are interdependent, and they should be," he says. "There are interdepartmental collaborations at many levels, ranging from cooperative projects and grants to simply sharing equipment. In the case of the geological sciences, my own Ph.D. students make use of specialized instrumentation in their department. All the sciences would be made weaker if cuts of this magnitude are made."

The budget cuts are by no means a done deal. President Machen has two weeks to reflect on the budget proposal and make changes. Ultimately, whether or not the cuts happen will depend on the president's decision and how deeply the Florida Legislature makes the school trim its budget. In the meantime, faculty in the geosciences say that just the threat of the cutbacks has already taken a toll, discouraging prospective students and lowering morale.

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