Chapter 10: Department Growth

After Ray Smith’s chairmanship came Estes. Unfortunately, Estes was so busy with his prodigious work that it was decided it would be better if someone else chaired the Department. Thus, Estes’ served only a year.

Dr. Estes thumbnail Dr. Michaelson thumbnail

Michaelson took the reins July 1992. After the focussed-yet-wildly-exciting pace instigated by Simonett and followed through for nearly two decades, Geography entered a more serene period. Michaelson said being Chair for his five and a half years’ stint was fairly easy. “The Department pretty much ran itself. [It helped that] the staff was stable [meaning there was little turnover, and staff knew what to do], so things were smoother.”8


Personnel graph thumbnail

This maturation is visible in a graph of Department personnel. The graph shows, from 1963 through July 2003, the number of faculty, researchers, and staff in the Department. Not included are staff hired on “soft money” (grants), staff and researchers working for research units funded by grants, and students hired temporarily. To see the graph, click on the thumbnail at right. The graph is in pdf format. (If you do not have at least Version 5 of Acrobat Reader, you can obtain the newest version at Adobe’s website)

Although relatively calm, there were, of course, challenges. One was the first loss of senior faculty. “We took our first big hit,” noted Michaelsen. “We were slow to replace them, because of University-wide budget problems.”8

In the State budget crisis of the early 1990s, the University offered a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program (VERIP). VERIP allowed faculty members to retire with five additional years’ service credit. The more years of service credit, after the initial vestment of five years, the greater percentage of one’s salary one receives for retirement pay. As one professor said, why work for five years to get the retirement paycheck you want when you can get it by not working? Ray Smith and Tobler retired in 1994. (Although retired, both have remained very active, Smith in research and Tobler in publishing.)

Tommy Dickey came aboard in 1995, filling the oceanographic slot vacated by Ray Smith. Keith Clarke was Tobler’s cartographic replacement, arriving in 1996. This appointment has its own special irony. Years before, Clarke had gone to Michigan to study with Tobler, only to find the professor leaving for Santa Barbara. In 1996, one of the reasons Clarke was attracted to Santa Barbara was because of Tobler, but Tobler was retiring.

Luc Anselin left in 1994 to a post as Research Professor at West Virginia University. He was a mathematical human geographer. Assistant Professor Stuart Sweeney, another human geographer, came aboard in 1998.

In 1997, Jeff Dozier — one of the very first Department hires — transferred to the newly-created Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, becoming Bren’s first Dean. Frank Davis, hired in 1983, left for the Bren School in 2000. Dozier had been a physical geographer, into remote sensing and snow, and Davis was a biogeographer. The Department was missing a representative of biogeography for several years until Christopher Still arrived.8 Still was originally going to begin July 2002, but a terrific research opportunity arose at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, that would not only benefit Still, but, ultimately, also the Department. So his start date was postponed unitl July 2003.

Support Staff

As the number of faculty members increase (which parallels student populations), staff also needs to increase. Obtaining staff positions has been challenging at times. Even in the early days this was true. Everett remembers jokingly prodding Simonett, “I’m not going to help you with another faculty appointment unless you get me another staff member!”4

Evident on the personnel graph (thumbnail is above), the curve of staff numbers (dark green color) has increased jerkily, not gently, alongside the faculty increases. There was a jump in the latter 1970s and a jump in the mid 1980s. During the State budget crunch of the early 1990s, there was a drop in staff. At that time, faculty and staff took mandatory pay cuts. When this era passed, the number of staff bounced back to not quite the average for before the budget crisis. And it hasn’t increased since then even though faculty and research activity has.


Student graph thumbnail

Overall, the number of students has grown over the years. There was a dip in undergraduate majors when the Geography Program transitioned to the Geography Department (the mid-1970s), and there was a dip in the latter 1980s, but otherwise the climb has been steady until a leveling off in the mid-1990s. The very year the Department began offering a Master’s Degree, two students completed it. The first PhD was earned three years after the program was instituted. Click on the thumbnail to the right to see the complete graph of the student growth. (The file is a pdf and requires Adobe Acrobat 5 or newer.)

Physical Space

While the Department started small and was known for it’s camraderie, it has become one of the larger Geography departments in the United States. Approximately 200 undergraduates and 100 graduate students are enrolled. For the last several years the Department has attracted more research dollars than almost any other Department on campus. Considering its present size, Everett, who worked in the Department for 25 years, quipped: “We’ve been been a victim of our own success. We’ve gotten so big, we don’t have the small-town feel anymore.”4

The challenges of maintaining focus and community in a large department are exacerbated by its sprawl. As Geography outgrew the space allotted after its move to Ellison Hall in 1969, it was granted non-contiguous space in Ellison and space in other buildings. Other departments — including departments from colleges outside Letters and Science — were established in Ellison, so couldn’t be moved. Geography holds offices and labs in two other buildings on campus and one building off campus.

Dr. Goodchild thumbnail

When Michael Goodchild became Chair (January 1998), space needs began to get the attention of the Administration. A Program Review Panel — an outside group of senior academicians — visited the Department in 1998. Headed by Les Wilson, the Panel pored over materials assembled and prepared by Michaelsen while he was Chair, interviewed faculty and staff, and examined records. In March they presented their report to Goodchild, who was then Chair. They wrote that space was, by far, the most constraining limitation the Department was experiencing. They mentioned that at least one tenured faculty member was applying to other positions because of the severity of space problems and others were considering such moves.45

The Program Review Panel’s Final Report, which was sent in September to Ilene Nagel, the Executive Vice Chancellor, was forthright: the shortage and fragmentation of space adversely affected teaching, research, and morale, and it curtailed systematic planning. The Panel concluded that the problem was so extreme that it demanded immediate attention. They recommended the College of Letters and Science (in which Geography resides) and the university administration give high priority to working with the Department to resolve the space problems.46

Dr. Clarke thumbnail

As anyone learns who works at a university, things take time, persistence, and sometimes serendipity. Space had been a problem for years. While people in the Department were understandably nervous about being scrutinized and judged by outsiders, the Program Review Panel’s report was pivotal in catalyzing support from the administration. When Keith Clarke became Chair in January 2000, one of his prime tasks was to work with the Administration to consolidate Geography, as much as possible, into contiguous and adequate space. This is a long-term project which has to dovetail with other building projects on campus, but it is underway.

The first addition occurred in June 2003: Geography finally got a conference room. Remember the picnic table outside Building 406 in the 1960s which was the de facto conference room? When Geography moved to Ellison Hall in 1969, it did not have the use of a conference room. People have held meetings crammed in offices and records storage areas and have held receptions in hallways.

On paper, Geography was supposed to share a conference room with the History Department that was physically located in the History Department. Increasing the difficulty, History and Geography aren’t even in the same College, so there is no one directly above to arbitrate. It’s a little like one family wanting to periodically use a room in another family’s house who lives in a different town. This arrangement was a setup for failure, and fail it did. There were times Geographers needed the room, but couldn’t have it. There were times when Geographers had thought they’d successfully scheduled the room, only to be expelled by Historians during their event. Understandably, the Department stopped trying to schedule it. When History moved to a newly constructed humanities building, the University took over the room as a classroom.

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Vilma and Mike McComsey and Prof. Keith Clarke at the old podium in the Conference Room
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The Conference Room, just as repair and reconstruction began

After the Program Review Panel’s report, Geography asked the Administration for the room, pointing out that it originally had been designated for Geography use. The Administration reassigned it to Geography. On the fifth floor of Ellison, at the south end of the building, the room was in disrepair. Some of the damage was from benign neglect. For instance, windows were left open in the rain and there was water damage. Some of the damage was from heavy use and lack of maintenance. And the classroom was not equipped with technology appropriate to a conference room — a modern computer in the podium with a projector hung from the ceiling. The Department renovated the room. Repair and refurbishment was funded partially by a gift from an alum of the old Geography Program days, Mike McComsey and his wife Vilma.

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Mike McComsey cutting the ribbon at the official opening of the new Conference Room
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Mike McComsey and Keith Clarke, October 24, 2003, in the new Conference Room

Chapter 11: Where to Now »