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  March 29, 2004

Trustees Support Closure Of Geology Department

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to close the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

The vote supported the recommendations of Provost John D. Petersen and Dean Ross D. MacKinnon of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). MacKinnon said the action will improve the University's support of the geosciences through a new, non-departmental administrative structure.

"The decision didn't come easily," MacKinnon told the board. "There were a number of criticisms of the department (from external reviewers). The department has had two years to get its act together and it hasn't. Given the department's track record and budget constraints faced by the University, the department is not a good investment."

The board has received letters and petitions from alumni and others asking it to leave the department intact. At its meeting on March 23, several people asked the board to reconsider.

"We may be the only major university in the country without a geology department," Gary Robbins, professor of geology, told the board. He said change is overdue in the department, but he does not support closure.

MacKinnon said that although the department will be dissolved, the faculty will be assigned to other departments by the fall. A committee on geosciences, headed by Ronald Growney, assistant dean of CLAS, will look for interdisciplinary ways to support research in these areas and to provide courses in the earth sciences.

"This decision does not indicate in any way a lessened commitment by CLAS to contemporary geoscience or environmental sciences generally. We will look for other alternatives to delivering quality environmental science research and instructional programs," MacKinnon said.

Students in the department will be able to complete their degrees within the discipline, he added. "I regret any upheaval this change causes them, but anticipate they will receive the assistance they need to continue their studies."

MacKinnon said the University would have had to spend between $250,000 and $1 million annually to rebuild the department.

"We can no longer be everything to everyone," President Philip E. Austin said. "We need to identify departments where there is a potential to achieve excellence. Taking a new approach to delivering earth sciences will actually enhance what we can offer students."