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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Geology cuts planned at the University of Florida

This week the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences outlined his plan for cuts to the college should the state legislature trim the University of Florida budget due to the decreased revenue projections. Several departments within the college were targeted for massive cuts. One of these departments, Geological Sciences will be gutted of the younger faculty and research scientists under the plan. I am an alumnus of that Department (B.S. 1986; M.S. 1988) and am currently an Associate Professor in Geology. My bias is clear and I make no apologies for my bias.
The University of Florida is both a Land and Sea Grant University and as such is tasked with the preservation, exploration and careful use of land and sea resources. The three largest revenue producers in the state are, in order, (1) Tourism; (2) Agriculture and (3) Mining. These three industries are joined at the hip to the study of Geological Sciences. The main mining industries in the state of Florida are phosphate mining and heavy mineral mining. Phosphates are used in a variety of products but agriculture relies heavily on the phosphate industry for fertilizer. A recent estimate shows that the state of Florida provides about two-thirds of the nation’s phosphate needs and about 25% of the global phosphate supply. Geologists are integral to the exploration and exploitation of phosphate resources and also in preserving the environment during the mining enterprise. Although not as active as phosphate mining, heavy mineral deposits are mined from Florida for (among other things) their titanium. Titanium and titanium dioxides are used in a tremendous variety of products such as paints, sunscreen, food coloring, plastics. Geologists trained at the University of Florida play a central role in this industry as well.
Florida is surrounded by coastline and the highest elevation in the state is only 350 feet above sea level and most of the state sits at a much lower elevation. Global climate change has become a politically charged topic; however given the fact that Floridian’s reside within an hour of a coast, the potential impacts of sea level rise (or fall) has serious implications for our state. The University of Florida’s Department of Geology is studying these changes in the past and present to provide a clearer picture of what we might expect with any sort of changing climate.
Tourism has played a role in altering the coastal morphology of the state through the building of jetties, groins and other ‘beach preserving’ structures. Building along the beachfront and the development of large coastal cities such as Tampa and Miami has led to problems associated with the fresh water supply in the state and even an increase in the development of sinkholes and other construction hazards. Who evaluates these problems? By and large it’s geologists working in concert with engineers. Our state is also home to several Environmental Protection Superfund sites (including one right here in Gainesville Cabot-Koppers). It is hydrogeologists who evaluate and help plan remediation for these superfund sites and it is the University of Florida’s Department of Geology who is training those students.
We also are constantly reminded (in our pocketbooks) about our dependence on natural resources like coal and oil. Who is charged with finding these resources? Once again the answer is geologists. Our students work for petroleum and mining industries and are working to find new prospects and reserves to supply our countries fuel needs.
In an economy that is struggling today, there is still at least one employment bright spot and that is in Earth Science disciplines. In the state alone geologists work in a wide variety of industries ranging from mining, environmental, groundwater, surface water, construction, nuclear test monitoring all rely on the skills of highly trained geoscientists. Walk into any of these businesses in the state and you will find UF alumni. The Geology Gator nation has far reaching tentacles that positively benefit our state and nation. By any metric you wish to apply, the University of Florida is a preeminent school in Geosciences. Our faculty are internationally respected researchers whose goal it is to see their students succeed in helping Florida maintain and develop our natural resources and also to protect our citizens from geological hazards such as diminishing groundwater resources and pollution. Budget cuts mean pain, but targeting a department that is so integral to the economy of the state is simply criminal.


At 10:48 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

I read this on different website. Did you write it Joe?

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Joe - what can the geoblogosphere do to help? Do you want bloggers to publicize this, and encourage people to write to the administration? I've seen references in a couple of places (including Pharyngula, which has a gazillion readers), and they've called for letters, but I'm curious what you think would help.

What exactly are they planning to do? I've seen contradictory statements. Are they eliminating the department, or eliminating anyone who isn't tenured and hoping the tenured people will leave on their own? Are they cutting the classes and TAships for the grad students?

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The University's decision to target the Geology Department for an unfair percentage of faculty cuts is shortsighted and beyond comprehension. Without singling out other departments as better prospects for downsizing, its clear that Geology should not rank at the bottom of the list in importance.
In its attempt to restructure the Departments without discussion, the University prevents open dialogue. Therefore, there is no way to defend against unfair and arbitrary cuts. Is this an honest process?

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Joe Meert said...

Call, write or e-mail the president of the UNiversity.


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