Samuel B. Trickey: The cost of quality
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
The Sun's lead story on Jan. 13 was what being a top-10 university would mean to the University of Florida. Remarkably, not a single faculty member was quoted.
Let me add a faculty voice, from someone who has seen UF's ups and downs for almost 45 years and tried to help build it up. My perspective is physics and chemistry. I know that colleagues in other areas can give similar accounts.
What would it mean to be top 10 in physics and chemistry? Restore the roughly 10 faculty positions lost in each department to departures and retirements over the last five to six years. In physics, we then could resume teaching an enriched curriculum (like "Physical Basis of Music," which I taught). We could add courses like the University of Wisconsin at Madison has: "Science for Critical Technologies," "Introductory Medical Physics," "Scientific Background to Global Environmental Problems," "Physics in the Arts," etc.
These are unconventional ways for students to engage with physics. A top-10 university engages young minds that way. In contrast, UF has been cut to a bare list of commodity service courses.
We could be intensive about senior thesis research, which is what a top-tier program does. And before you publish any howls about graduate students doing the teaching, take a look at the faculty assignments to classes.
Next, restore staffing to levels such that faculty can do their work, not be clumsy but overpaid clerks and accountants. Pay for periodic upgrades to our laptops and tablets, rather than insist that we get them out of returned overhead on grants or buy them out of our own pockets.
Cut the graduate student tuition that we have to pay out of competitively funded grants (even the University of Georgia does better on that than UF). Restore funding for forefront interdisciplinary group programs like my own Quantum Theory Project.
QTP has a world-renowned brand in our Sanibel Symposium — but UF funding of it is gone. The symposium is at risk of going, too. The last year I was director of QTP, we had about $100,000 in UF funds for computers, professional visitors and the Sanibel Symposium. Today that number is zero. Quality cannot be preserved, much less built, with zero resources
It costs money. No argument. But what is the cost of a university that recently has lost faculty to Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana University-Purdue University, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Cal Tech and Florida State just in physics and chemistry? What is the cost to the state of a UF that has suffered bone-deep cuts?
Samuel B. Trickey is a professor emeritus of physics and chemistry at the University of Florida.