Friday, June 25, 2010

Higher Ed Woes Part II: Scientist "glut" is an example of how the entrenched ignore the real issues.

It would come as a shock to many non-geologists that many geology departments no longer have faculty who specialize in rocks ( the field of petrology), the constituents of rocks or minerals (mineralogy) and the chemistry involved in the workings of the earth (geochemistry). Specialists in structural geology (folding, faulting etc) and geological time and layering (stratigraphy and sedimentology) are also considered superfluous. Prominent geologist John Dewey summed up this sad state of affairs nicely, in an acceptance speech for a major award no less. Suffice to say that many undergraduates in such departments graduate with a high school level understanding of the earth. I wonder if poorly-trained geologists played a role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
I won't go into the reasons for this here (it deserves its own post), but many older, comfortable and tenured faculty in such departments care not a whit. In the departments that still cover the basics, many of the established petrologists, mineralogists, structural geologists etc. only pay lip service to addressing this problem. Even worse, they continue to recruit and graduate PhDs who have little chance of the job opportunities and security of the baby-boomers who came before. This seems to be occurring in many sciences. This labor market problem is a huge one, yet it is rarely acknowledged.

IMHO the reason is simple: many established faculty have theirs and crying for more money for grad students, while at the same time dumbing down and shrinking departments, makes their lives more comfortable. They're not getting monetarily wealthy, but gain in the riches faculty care about, i.e. department resources, perks, and status. The current system provides proteges to help them get their work done or a bigger chunk of the departmental resource pie, all with no sacrifice on the part of the established. Even with more money this will not change. Pulling up the ladder behind themselves is what many boomers do best.

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