Gas station without pumps

2011 September 26

Texas planning to shut down physics departments

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:41
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In a Nature News post, Texas holds firm on physics closures , I found out that Texas is planning to shut down physics departments that don’t graduate lots of undergrads.  This seems a bit demented to me, since physics departments serve two primary roles: as research groups and as service education for students in engineering and science majors.  The physics undergrads they produce are a by-product, and they should only be producing enough to keep the grad pipeline full.

Who will teach physics to all the other science and engineering majors if the physics departments are shut down?  Or do they plan to keep the departments but just remove the ability of students at those schools to get degrees in physics?  Who does that help?

Given that the programs that are intended to be shut down are in the schools that serve more minority students, this sounds like racist politics rather than any sort of sound academic planning.  It may be advisable at some schools to eliminate upper-division physics (and hence the physics BS), but the monetary savings is low and the effect on faculty morale and both faculty and student retention high.  This sort of planning needs to be done on a case-by-case basis at each school, not mandated statewide by people who have only a hazy idea what is involved in academic planning.

1 Comment »

  1. At the school that I used to teach at (a regional state university), the physics department was effectively shut down in the mid 90’s. They continued to have an astronomy major, and the astronomy professors taught the necessary physics courses for the masses. One tenured physics prof ended up in my computer science department, teaching CS courses even though he didn’t have much background. So, yes, physics can be eliminated.

    Comment by bkm — 2011 September 28 @ 06:19 | Reply

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