The University will discontinue its Earth and Environmental Sciences department at the end of the semester.
Faculty members in the department, which offers majors in geoscience, environmental studies and environmental science, said they learned of the closure in late March. The move will directly affect 26 undergraduate students with declared majors in the department, as well as a number of graduate students.
Professors were unsure how current majors in the department would finish their course requirements, and whether students would be able to major in geoscience, environmental studies and environment science in the future.
William Frawley, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the program’s courses would be incorporated into other science departments. He said the decision to eliminate the department was done with the “advice and consent” of the CCAS Dean’s Council.
“Students in the program have been informed, and those currently enrolled in majors will have the courses they need to successfully complete their programs,” Frawley wrote in an e-mail last week.
Frawley added that the University expects these changes to “better position the sciences as a whole and take advantage of opportunities for interdisciplinary geoscience education.”
The geosciences program is not the only program at GW that is facing changes for next semester. CCAS officials said they will be merging the romance and German and Slavic languages departments. In addition, administrators are considering merging the Humanities program with the Human Studies program.
The first moves in the cost-cutting procedure occurred when former department chair John Lewis retired on June 30 and was not replaced, Frawley said. As the 2004-05 academic year began, the department was put on a smaller budget, and the decision was made to move different faculty members to other science disciplines.
Although Frawley has expressed hope that the department cut will benefit the University as a whole, some professors in the discontinued program said they feel the move will hurt GW’s science programs.
“Mismatch will definitely occur if you put a geologist in a department that is not geoscience-related,” said assistant professor Henry Teng, who is moving to the chemistry department.
Some faculty in the department feel that the University has been furtive in revealing its plans, which they said are flawed.
“We found out with virtually no advanced information that we were even being considered for closure,” wrote Chris Fedo, an associate professor, in an e-mail last week. “No one is happy about the situation, I can assure you that.”
When asked what would become of students with majors in the department Fedo wrote, “I am a professor. You would expect me to know this, but I don’t.”
John Hanchar, assistant professor in the earth and environmental sciences program, said the closure of the department makes GW one of the few major research institutions without a geology-based department.
“There are few major research universities in the world that do not have geology, geoscience or earth science departments,” he said. “Carnegie Mellon is an exception, and I was told recently that they regret not having such a department.”
Junior Lauren Michel, an environmental science major, said that when she returned to GW in the fall, she was surprised to hear that her department had closed.
“When I returned to GW in the fall, I learned that the executive aide’s position had been eliminated by the administration during the summer and that the department was to be closed by the end of this calendar year,” Michel wrote in an e-mail. “This made it extremely difficult for me to learn what was happening to my classes in my major department, and even if I was going to be able to graduate on time.”
Michel said professors in her field of study have been very supportive in helping her finish her course of study and prepare for graduation.
She added, “Basically I am extremely upset and angered with the University.”