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Monday, March 30, 2009

A long day

So today we met with the Dean and then a meeting with the Faculty of our college. There was minimal movement with regard to changing the plan and saving any of the departments involved. The newest idea is to further share the pain. Rather than taking 100% of our (Geology's) cuts if the budget cuts reach a certain percentage (for example 7% percent), the new plan is to divide the cuts at that level evenly between geology and religion. In the previous plan if a 7% cut was required by the college all of it would have been absorbed by geology. In the revision, a 7% cut would be shared, but an 8% cut would also be shared resulting in the same devastation to our department. This gives us a little more hope that the cuts won't be QUITE as devastating, but this is still not what we hope for. It also should be noted that once the plan goes forward, there is no reason that the Provost and President can't change it and take all, or none of Geology. Right now, those who are interested in fighting this need to push the Florida legislature to fund education and also we need to let the Provost know that these cuts are not acceptable.

On a separate note, the Gainesville Sun had a great op-ed by religion prof Bron Taylor on how we might deal with the budget crisis on a collegial basis. No real groundswell for this option, but count me in!


Joe Meert

Saturday, March 28, 2009

University of Florida Geology Cuts: Additional thoughts

So it's the weekend before the big day. I must hand it to our faculty, our students and our alumni for fighting hard in defense of the department. It's heartening to read the e-mails and letters of support pouring in for us and we all deeply appreciate the thoughts. The good news is that we have support. The bad news is that the plan is likely to go forward as is.

We've tried to figure out the rationale for choosing geology and quite honestly it seems to be that cutting geology will cause the minimum amount of grief to the university as a whole. There is no indication that the University is thinking about the larger impact of cutting the department, the revenue it generates or the service role it plays in a state absolutely reliant on the earth for its survival. We've made many arguments, but the bottom line is that our college feels 'stuck' to its original plan. We'll keep arguing to the Dean and to the college until the plan goes forward, but then we'll turn our attention to the Provost and president.

Anyway, for me personally (a UF alumnus and professor) the mood is hopeful and grim.


Joe Meert

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.

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