Sunday, September 18, 2011

Texas Cuts University Physics Programs

I have said that STEM ought not be the only thing, but the STEM disciplines are an important part of education.  In Texas, Rick Perry's Higher Education Coordinating Board apparently disagrees about physics.  According to The Texas Tribune, "Budget Woes, Calls for Efficiency Imperil Physics":
[T]he Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the agency that approves and disapproves degree programs, implemented a more stringent annual review system for eliminating those with low enrollment. Programs that fail to graduate an average of five students per year over five years face being cut (current students would be allowed to graduate, but new enrollment would be halted).
As a result of an arbitrary number,
Nearly 60 percent of the state’s undergraduate physics programs failed to meet the initial bar. According to the American Physical Society, a professional society of physicists, if the same 25-students-in-5- years standard were applied nationally, 526 of about 760 programs would be shuttered.
I may not be a STEM person, but I'm fairly certain that physics is a needed for most science and engineering careers.  Cutting physics at the university level sends a strong message about one's views of the role of the university.  Texas physics professor Carlos Handy sums up the situation quite well:
“Physics is a true canary in the mine, so to speak, of judging America’s capabilities in terms of science, . . . If you let physics go, it’s symptomatic of the fact that something has eroded in the intellectual capacity of academic institutions.”
It's a safe bet that the South Dakota legislature will once again cut K-12 and university education funding.  As they consider these cuts, I hope, probably foolishly, legislators stop to consider the harm that further cuts will do to the core capacities of educational institutions.

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