Science Cuts Would “Disservice Students,” faculty Say

If 25 percent of geology classes go away, that’s okay, we can deal with that. If everything else goes away too, students are going to run into a wall trying to get their science requirements met.”

Charlene Montierth, along with other STEM faculty, said she thinks the proposals to cut a quarter of Geology, half of Astronomy and all of Oceanography and Meteorology classes are too heavy-handed. Proposed eliminations also included the Surveying and Geomatics program and the Microsoft certification.

Montierth, who has taught Geology at Clark for 20 years, said the school combined the Geology, Environmental Science, Oceanography and Meteorology departments last year. She said she is the only tenured professor devoted to any one of those programs.

A reduction in science classes would mean less seats per quarter and a lack of choice for students. Montierth also said she believes cutting Earth Science programs would be a disservice to students and the community.

“For a lot of students coming through my classes, it’s the first time they’ve ever had someone explain plate tectonics to them,” she said. “If the first time they’ve ever heard it is in my class, and now they’re not going to have as many classes they can explore that idea in, pretty soon there’s fewer geology majors. That’s a problem.”

Robert MacKay, who has worked in the Physics department since 1982, now teaches Meteorology and Physical Science at Clark’s WSU Vancouver location. He said his classes often exceed capacity and offer a different perspective than other natural science courses.

“Meteorology is the only course at Clark College solely devoted to the atmospheric sciences,” he said. “Not only do we learn about the weather but also dig into such topics as climate change, air pollution, stratospheric ozone, severe storms and hurricanes, El Nino, desertification and the carbon cycle.”

While most students take meteorology to fulfill a natural sciences requirement, MacKay said six to 10 students each year continue into an Atmospheric Science program or other career.

Tim Kent is the program coordinator of Surveying and Geomatics. He has nearly 50 years of experience and started at Clark a year after the program was introduced in 2007.

The program offers an Associate in Applied Science degree and prepares survey technicians who make $34 an hour upon graduation. According to Kent, there is no equivalent program for almost 200 miles.

Oregon Institute of Technology has a four-year Surveying and Geomatics program in Klamath Falls but also offers the final two years in Wilsonville. Clark students can transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving the metropolitan area, which Kent said will no longer be possible if the program is eliminated.

The Instructional Council proposed the elimination of the program primarily due to low enrollment and a weak job market, which Kent thinks is inaccurate. He acknowledged the program is small, but said it is needed. Kent has since compiled statistics and testimonials from the community to support his point.

“According to national data, growth is 14 percent,” Kent read from a binder two inches thick. “Data from the Land Surveyors’ Association of Washington suggests we could add 180 positions in the next couple years.”

He said he hopes the college will reconsider.

“We have a letter from the president of Oregon Tech to President Knight, saying ‘please don’t close the program.’ We also have [support] from a number of public and private entities and our state societies,” Kent said. “If that sways the decision, that’s what we’re after.”

Cuts in STEM programs accounted for almost 13 percent of the proposed savings, more than any other area aside from health sciences. But Dean of STEM Peter Williams thinks all departments were targeted equally.

“I think all the units have to look at how they can best pitch in to meet the budget deficit the college is facing,” he said. “I think the Instructional Council is trying to share the cuts across the college.”

Although Clark offers a wide variety of Biology and Chemistry courses, both departments steered clear of any proposed cuts.

“The primary issue with looking at any course reduction is to make sure we still provide the courses students need to meet their educational goals,” Williams said. “When you’re looking at Biology and Chemistry courses, a lot of students are taking those as prerequisites for Nursing or Dental Hygiene. The set of courses we provided in the proposal are largely courses students need to take for their natural science distribution. The thinking is if you eliminate some of those, there are other courses that can be taken to meet the distribution requirements.”

Williams said Travis Kibota and other STEM faculty who have submitted feedback have a valid concern.

“[They] make a very good argument that if you were to eliminate all of those course options, you may be eliminating options for students to meet their prerequisites.”

The proposal listed a reduction of 30 Math sections, but Williams said this will help, not hurt students. He said the plan coincides with a national effort to shorten pathways for pre-college math students and improve retention.

“Our retention for pre-college math students is very low, as it is at most colleges,” he said. “Every opportunity a student has to take a break from one quarter to another, you lose a pretty healthy number of students. The thinking is that if we shorten those math pathways we would probably reduce some classes and there would be some savings.”

Williams said if the proposals were accepted as-is, no full-time STEM faculty would be affected.

Montierth, MacKay, Kent, Williams and Richard Shamrell, chair of the Physics department and Astronomy professor, agree the most important thing to consider is what’s best for students.

“We want to give you a well-rounded education as you move to your upper-division school or wherever you happen to go,” Shamrell said. “You get a good college education, you understand about mother Earth, you understand about astronomy or math or whatever it happens to be. You left Clark smarter.”

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