Geology Department, Gustavus Adolphus College
by Julie Bartley & James Welsh
The Geology Department at Gustavus Adolphus is a small (3 FTE) department in a college with a traditionally strong science division. However, because of our small size we have a lower campus visibility, and struggle with attracting students because (like most undergraduate geology programs) few of our students enter Gustavus with the expectation of majoring in geology. We normally graduate 5-8 students per year; but as of recent those numbers have dropped drastically. We will graduate 7 this year; but only one next year; and two or three the following year. Our strengths have been our faculty and students, with a research requirement of our graduates. Upward of 50% of our majors have gone on to graduate programs. Besides the problems inherent with a small staff, our other primary weakness is lack of modern instrumentation, as we have been slow to develop a lab/analytical focus to our program.
Gustavus is in the midst of a campus-wide strategic planning process, and we have recently completed a departmental strategic plan. We have also recently undergone an external review (2007). We had been a stable department (i.e. same faculty) since the early 1980's. In 2001 the senior member retired. Two years later our geomorphologist left for a position in Sweden. Those positions were subsequently filled; but both junior members departed (for family/personal reasons); one in 2006; the other in 2007. We therefore had to undergo new searches for those positions. That has now been completed. Because of this recent fluidity in our staffing; our "planning" process has essentially been on hold. Upon the first resignation (2006) our dean asked us to undergo an external review (essentially advancing a regularly scheduled review by one year). While the review was ostensibly established to solicit outside advice with regard to our search (and shaping the department for the future); it was in reality also a scrutiny; especially in light of a recommendation of a previous dean (a year earlier) to reduce geology to two FTE (in the context of a campus-wide reallocation). The review helped affirm our status (of three FTE). One of the recommendations of the review was for us to hire one of the vacant positions at the associate level (in order to better stagger the experience levels; and to take some of the administrative pressure off the remaining senior member of the department). That recommendation was accepted by our administration, and we recently completed that search. The review also suggested that we consider merging with our Geography and Environmental Studies Departments. This suggestion was also made primarily for administrative purposes. (For example, because of the turnover in the last five years, the senior member is long overdue for a sabbatical.) Such an alignment with those programs might also "reduce" the competition (in terms of "departmental" enrollments) for many of the same students. However, there are potential costs. One is potential loss of visibility (for geology). The other is potential for dilution of program or even faculty in the broader context of the "new" departmental entity. The external review also raised curricular issues. Of particular note is a recommendation that we reconsider our senior thesis requirement (for all of our students). This recommendation was made out of concern of the additional strain (and in some cases unequal advising loads) that it places on faculty. We are reluctant to follow this advice.