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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ahh Field Camp

I've been out of the loop for the past three weeks teaching field camp in New Mexico. Of course the good news is that UF decided to limit the damage to CLAS and thereby saved geology. Unfortunately, cuts were made elsewhere and there are faculty going through the same problems as might have happened to us. I wish all those who are having problems can find new possibilities that will improve their lot. I also remember that sage this year means nothing for future years.


Joe Meert

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I'm currently traveling and will post some updates this evening

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Machen on Fox Business News

Thanks to one of the readers here is a video of Bernie Machen on Fox Business News. Not a particularly heartening discussion. Basically, it sounds like the plan is final and the announcement is nothing more than a formality. I hope I am wrong and they'll be some time for faculty input, but it doesn't look good.

Now, who made the following statement:

I cannot emphasize enough the preliminary nature of these proposals. These are options to consider. We do not know how many of them we will adopt"

The statement was made 3 weeks ago.


Joe Meert

Friday, May 08, 2009

Budget finalized

Today is likely going to be the last day of the legislative session in Tallahassee and so we can expect some decisions regarding the budget plan at UF within the next two weeks (if not sooner). Things at UF are strangely silent as one might expect during break week.

From the rumor mill I am hearing the Communication Science and Disorders (of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) will be merged (or partially merged) into the College of Health Professions. That means at least some of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences vertical changes are taking place. I don't know (and have not heard) where that leaves religion and geological sciences, but I can tell you no one around here is very comfortable.

In the meantime, Money Magazine has a nice article on Public Universities featuring our Department as the lead in.



Joe Meert

Thursday, May 07, 2009

In the Dark

Rumors, and that's all they are at this point, are that layoff announcements and letters of non-renewal may come out next week. If true, the decisions are being made with minimal of faculty input since this is the break week between spring semester and summer A.
News is sketchy about what part of the plans will be implemented, but clearly there are hints in the news about how stimulus money will be used at UF. Consider this from the Palm Beach Post

At the University of Florida, President Bernie Machen will get about $42 million from the federal stimulus.

He said he plans to use the money for retirement and separation packages for employees, to transition state funded programs to the private sector, to allow students to finish majors that may be terminated, and to plug a 12 percent hole in the school's base budget.

So we see that some majors may eliminated (if reporting is correct) and that there will be layoffs. Interestingly the same article had a more pointed argument for how stimulus monies should be spent:

"Arguing that you don't want to do anything recurring is probably an overly narrow view of how to use this money," said John Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Presidents. "The whole point is to get us through a difficult time and one way to do that is invest in the faculty who provide the education and ideas that can help transform the economy."

Plus, all of Florida's universities will likely have a new power beginning in the fall to raise student tuition up to 15 percent each year - a revenue generating machine that could bring in $39 million statewide in the first year and up to $200 million annually by year three.

That's new recurring money that can help plug the hole left when stimulus dollars run out.

one other person who 'gets it'

"The federal government has been very clear that this support is designed to save and create jobs," Chancellor Robert Holub told university employees last month. "In this budget plan, we do exactly that."

That's the way most people view the intent of the stimulus funding. Rebuilding programs or re-inventing programs is a costly and lengthy process. Elimination of programs without consulting faculty who make up the University is scary. I hope that those who will be affected by the cuts are told face-to-face rather than via e-mail. Despite the warm summer weather and blue skies, there is a dark cloud hanging over this campus.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

That was quick

Today an article in the Gainesville Sun reported that UF will go ahead with deep cuts to UF in spite of the fact that there is stimulus money to cover the campus for two more years. The rationale given is that since we don't know where we will be in two years, it's best to cut programs now in anticipation of a bad economy in two years. That's the 'logic' folks, I kid you not.

However as was recently pointed out to me the legislature has given UF cuts of ~49 million in recurring funds. That means that UF may be able to use stimulus money to get us through the next two years, but if the legislature does not reinstate the 49 million (or more) within the next two years then the issues remain. Machen has not said how the cuts will be made, if they will be made this year or whether there will be some 'saves'. Nonetheless, these cuts (whatever they are) will hurt someone.


Joe Meert

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How about some science? Bengtson find vindicates Azmi?

A long story, but basically about the Vindhyan basin central India. The age of this basin has been controversial since an Indian scientist by the name of Azmi discovered so called small shelly fossils (SSF's) and brachiopods from the lower part of the Vindhyan basin in rocks called porcellanites. The finding is triply odd since (a) porcellanites are volcanic ash beds and unlikely spots for preservation of these types of fossils (b) the age of the lower Vindhyan was thought to be around 1100 Ma at the time and the fossils Azmi claimed to have discovered are Cambrian in age and (c) Azmi was unable to show others where the fossils were discovered.
Since that time, Azmi was vilified for his 'discovery'. Ages obtained from the rock units studied by Azmi are now known to be 1600 million years old (about 1050 million years too old for his 'fossils'). No one has been able to duplicate his findings and experts who looked at his fossils claimed that they were not fossils at all. The younger part of the Vindhyan basin, the so called 'upper vindhyan' contains evidence that it too may be far older than previously thought casting doubts on fossil discoveries in the Upper Vindhyan; however the newer age constraints (made in my lab) are not as concrete as we would like. They are highly suggestive of an older age. In short, life has been hard for Azmi.

Enter paleontologist Stefan Bengtson who has recently published a paper in PNAS regarding 'fossils' in the Lower Vindhyan. Bengtson found fossils similar to those reported by Azmi, but showed clearly that they are not small shelly fossils or brachiopods, but traces of filamentous algae, bacteria and gas bubbles.

Azmi claims he is vindicated, but I'm not so sure this is the case. Azmi continues to insist that the whole of the Vindhyan is 600-500 million years old despite strong evidence to the contrary. The fossil discoveries made by Azmi have not been confirmed and, in fact, the discovery by Bengtson et al. are not brachipods or small shelly fossils. Azmi has demanded a retraction of all criticisms regarding his find, but I'm not so sure that a retraction is needed. Azmi was clearly wrong on many levels and his continued insistence that the Vindhyan is all very young also looks to be wrong. Lastly, no fossils have been found in the porcellanite beds where Azmi claimed to have found SSF's.

Azmi's insistence that he is correct is problematic. At the same time, as Bengtson noted, if Azmi had not been so insistent then it is unlikely that he (Bengtson et al) would have made their discovery. Science moves forward in strange ways.

In my opinion, the paper showed yet again why Azmi's original claims were wrong. We'll have to see if he finally moves towards the consensus on the age of the Vindhyan basins.


Joe Meert

Monday, May 04, 2009

An awesome photo

A friend of mine sent this photo. It's one of the coolest I've ever seen.


Joe Meert

Cooling off period

The Florida house and senate have agreed to the major budgetary issues and are nearly ready to begin the mandated 72 hours of cooling off before voting on the final budget. Note that during this 72 hours, we still pay $40000 a day. The University is taking a look at the figures and will begin to make their decisions on how to handle the revenue reductions. Stay tuned....

Our "Dear Colleague" letter from the Dean confirms the ~45 million in cuts or ~6% to the University. Of course, how that 6% is distributed across the university is the critical part:

Dear Colleagues,

I’d like to update you on the budget situation and to share a few thoughts at the end of the academic year.

As you probably know, the leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate announced a budget agreement last week, and details are currently being worked out in budget committees. It looks like UF’s net cut (after tuition increases are figured in) will be about $45 million. That’s roughly equivalent to the six percent cut we faced last year. It will be some time before the UF senior administration and Trustees announce how UF’s cut will be allocated, but I continue to be hopeful that this College will avoid the most draconian parts of the ten percent plan we submitted in early April.

In the College plan, this puts Geology in the gray area regarding substantial cuts to our program. No details of course, but scary to think about. I'm sure other departments and employees are checking their place on the list.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Silence in the Aftermath

The Florida legislature will conclude this session (at $40,000+ a day) by passing a budget that is not a lean or mean to higher education as initially feared. It's not clear how much political pressure came down on the legislators to forge this deal (all behind closed doors), but it's interesting to see the reaction. I've scanned the local newspaper (the gainesville sun) for articles discussing how the proposed budget will affect UF. Nope, the sunday headlines are about graduation at UF (not bad, two articles on swine flu and discounts at area theme parks. UF is the economic driving force in the city and the cuts, whatever they might be, are going to hurt the city. The city does not seem to care.

Perhaps this lack of attention is precisely what the legislators learn early on in their political careers. They are probably told that they'll hear complaints for a couple of days and then the complaints will stop. So why not forge ahead with deals that will aid their political careers no matter how damaging it might be to many of their constituents. In politics, it seems that action taken is far less important than promises made.


Joe Meert

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A day of Excess

So this morning, the Meert family embarks on a yearly ritual. Today is a busy day on the UF campus as thousands of students leave for the summer or head out into the real world. As part of the move out process, large dumpsters are set out by the dorms and hundreds of thousands of dollars of furniture, clothing, food, computer equipment and electronics are tossed into the trash. To its credit, UF has instituted a donation center at the dorms as well, but based on what we see, much of it ends up in the trash. So, we go out and dumpster dive for treasure. In previous years we've brought so much home that we were able to raise hundreds of dollars at a garage sale and donate other stuff to local charities. The amount of waste is tremendous. Well off we go.


Joe Meert

Friday, May 01, 2009

Bruce MacFadden writes about geology

UF needs geology--By Bruce MacFadden

In 1968 as a freshman at the University of Maryland, I took a geology course as part of my liberal education requirement and found my major. Then and there I decided that I wanted to study geology.

After consulting the catalog, however, I discovered that UMD had neither a geology major, nor did it have a department with this name (my course was taught by the agronomy department). After spending some time reading through other college catalogs, I determined that UMD was the only flagship university in the U.S. without a geology department.

I wrote a letter to UMD President Elkins telling him that I had decided to major in geology, but that I would have to transfer. A little while later the liberal arts dean called me in for a chat. He was not happy about my letter. He talked about chain of command and used words such as "impertinence."

I left UMD, went elsewhere for my B.S., and then ultimately received my Ph.D. in geology. Several years after my departure, UMD founded a geology department that now is roughly the size of our current one at UF.

Ironically, if the proposed budget cuts are enacted and the UF geology department is eliminated, then we will become unique among flagship universities.

University stakeholders oftentimes seek superlatives to separate their institution from others, although I doubt that the Gator Nation will proclaim: "Hey, UF is unique among flagship universities because we do not have a geology department!"

Bruce J. MacFadden,


What will Tigert do? That's the big question now that the budget deal has been ironed out. It's been interesting to follow the dialogue on the College of Liberal Arts and Science page regarding who should be cut and why. The tone, as you might guess, is mostly negative. The administration at UF has essentially been given the green light to make some fairly big changes to the structure of the University if they so desire. They also have the power to leave the fundamental structure of the University intact though it is clear that a 40-50 million dollar cut cannot be made without some consolidation, downsizing and some layoffs.

Now, we sit and wait. The President had originally planned to release his cuts on May 15, 2009. I don't know if that date is still firm or if it will be delayed a week to allow the legislature to pass the proposed budget and have the governor sign it. Not a whole lot of news on this in the Florida newspapers.

It will also be interesting to see how the administration will make its decision. Will they advise the programs/people being cut ahead of the news release or will those programs/people discover their fate in the newspaper?


Joe Meert

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