Academic disciplines function in one of two worlds. These worlds are as different
from each other as the two cultures that C.P. Snow first described
in his 1959 lecture and book. The two polar groups that Snow cited
were divided by a gulf of mutual incomprehension, and the same is
true for the two academic cultures.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the two cultures of higher education are those disciplines that have a virtually unquestioned right to exist and those with an uncertain future.
|In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Martin Luther King Jr.|
Understanding the implications
Geoscientists need to understand the implications of the two academic cultures.
The current budget-cutting frenzy gripping virtually every state and
therefore all state-supported institutions of higher education is cause
for deep concern. The impact of budget problems on second culture
programs over the last several years has been all too predictable.
Geology departments are under siege again. A recent example is the announcement by the University of Connecticuts provost of plans to close its Department of Geology and Geophysics (see Geotimes, March 2004). Connecticuts department joins others that have been eliminated over the past 10 years for reasons usually publicly attributed to budget reductions.
Citing budget problems is equivalent to saying that geology isnt valuable enough for us to continue investing in it. Value can have many meanings, including generating external funding (and recovered indirect costs), teaching a large number of student credit hours, contributing significantly to a core curriculum, providing visibility for the institution, having prominent alumni, or being publicly engaged in local and community issues. Other important characteristics in such institutional decisions are the geoscience facultys involvement in campus decision-making and their political astuteness.
Although the current wave of state budget cuts has raised the alarm about geoscience departments, the threat to departments is not new nor is it limited to academic programs. In 1995, the U.S. Congress proposed elimination of the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
In the current budget climate, value is not simply being good at what you do; quality wont save you. If youre part of the second culture, being good isnt good enough but not being good will kill you.
Youve gotta have a plan
Geology departments that want to survive can learn from the demise of others
and they can prevent a similar fate befalling them. The decision to eliminate
a geology department never happens overnight, but by the time the plan is announced,
its usually too late to change anything. Reaction almost never succeeds.
A rare example to the contrary was at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. In October 1994, the provost proposed elimination of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. The ensuing protest from the scientific community resulted in a reversal of this decision just four days later; this may be the only example of an academic department that was saved after plans to close it had been announced.
To stay away from the budget-cutting block, departments must be proactive. Geology faculty and students can do a lot to save themselves by never allowing administrators to think they are expendable. Professional organizations have a key role to play, as well, in supporting the efforts of geoscience departments. In 1996, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) was working on defensive strategies to help departments when they were threatened; today, one action item to support geoscience departments at risk of termination is buried on page 13 of the Oct. 17, 2003, draft of NAGTs strategic plan.
Waiting for outside help wont work. Departments need their own plans to avoid being lost to budget reductions and perceived lack of value.