Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guest Post: Michigan State University to close Geological Sciences Department

An update on the Michigan State University plan to close the Geological Sciences Department, by guest blogger Dr. Chris Noto:

On November 11, the Provost acted on the Dean's recommendation to close the Department of Geological Sciences by forwarding his recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The Board sent it to academic governance, which is mainly procedural. The Board, sometime in the future, perhaps as early as Dec. 11, will vote on the closing.

After consulting with alumni and others a plan was presented to the Dean in which the alumni would endow two chairs, and that with potential retirements and other opportunities, the Department could be revitalized into a successful program. This proposal was roundly rejected. The Dean countered by stating that the whole department would have to run on endowments of no less that 50 million dollars.

Another factor is that the University has a long-term history in not investing in Geology, so there is no initial or continuing investment in laboratories or equipment. This, of course, has a negative effect on the recruitment of faculty who can get grants. This is in striking contrast to the University's investments in facilities for Chemistry, Physics and Biological Sciences to which they are regularly compared. The school just spent $40 million remodeling the Chemistry building, however has done little for Geology's facilities in the past. This long-term disinvestment has hurt the department's abilities to recruit and keep faculty and obtain large grants.

The decision to close Geological Sciences at MSU reflects a long-term disinterest, at times hostile, attitude towards the geosciences by the administration. The school is punishing the department for decisions the admin itself put into motion long ago. The inability to cite specific reasons for the closure as well as the claim that only $50 million could save the department shows where the priorities of the administration lay. Sadly, this story has been seen before and will likely occur again.

Christopher R. Noto, Ph.D

The author is a Visiting Professor in the Biomedical Sciences Department at Grand Valley State University. The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent those of his employer. He can be reached at Please feel free to use these points when contacting MSU administration and help spread the word.

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster


Alton Dooley said...

It seems to me this has been an increasing trend across the country, especially at public institutions. It seems to me that Chris may well be correct in that there are non-budgetary motives in closing this department, as the $50 million endowment is outrageously large. At only a 5% annual return that would make $2.5 million available per year. That's roughly comparable to VMNH's (reduced) budget, and with that we employee 34 people full-time (including 5 curators), another 15 or so part time, and operate an 89,000 sq ft building. Seems to me that MSU Geology would not actually need that much money to continue operations.

Maureen said...

This is really sad. I spent some time in the MSU geology department while running some experiments as an undergraduate and thought they had a good program at the time, though this was several years ago. It's unfortunate that a major university such as this does not seem to recognize the importance and potential benefits that providing a geology program would have.