Chapter 5: Geography Is Spatial

Despite, or because of, the kudos, the Department had mixed reactions when The Chronicle of Higher Education published its “Top Research Universities Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index” for 2007 and UCSB Geography wound up as # 2 in the nation – even though it hadn’t been ranked at all in 2006! Whatever the ranking, the Department continued to face serious challenges in terms of space and operating budget. In 1998, the External Review Committee for the Program Review Panel had concluded that the shortage and fragmentation of physical space was so extreme that it demanded immediate attention. While the university administration agreed to give the resolution of Geography’s space problems a high priority, it wasn’t until 2003 that some of the space issues began to be addressed.

Through the generosity of alumnus Mike McComsey and his wife Vilma, a nicely outfitted conference room was created on the fifth floor of Ellison as a hub for departmental activities. However, as of 2007, the department remained physically fragmented, resulting in less than ideal interaction among faculty and public confusion about departmental membership. Faculty, students, and staff were housed in seven buildings scattered across the campus (Marine Science, Bren Hall, Trailer 942, Phelps Hall, Ellison Hall, Chemistry, and the Cloud Lab) and also rented facilities off-campus for the Ocean Physics Laboratory. The long range solution to the Department’s space problem revolved around moving the entire department to Phelps Hall, where it could be under one roof – a move projected in 2007 to take about 3 years. To this end, the Department of Geography administrative offices moved to the first floor (southeast wing) of Ellison Hall in 2007 as a preliminary step to moving to Phelps Hall once it was renovated. But, as the 2007 External Review Committee for the Program Review Panel pointed out, “In view of the long history of geography’s space problem and the many proposed solutions over the years, many geography faculty are justifiably skeptical that the Phelps solution will materialize within the next three years. Significant delay would be highly detrimental to the continued health of the department.” By the end of 2007, it was guesstimated that the move to Phelps would take at least another 5 years – and the 2008 California budget crisis made even that prediction seem optimistic.

The discipline of Geography is, ultimately, the study of “space.” Ironically, the Department’s physical spatial challenge was addressed, albeit not redressed, in 2007 when Goodchild, considered the father of Geographical Information Science, received major funding to establish a new center, spatial@ucsb. The center’s mission is to facilitate the integration of spatial thinking into processes for learning and discovery in the natural, social, and behavioral sciences, to promote excellence in engineering and applied sciences, and to enhance creativity in the arts and humanities. The Center is an extension of the Department’s core concept as spelled out in the Vision Statement. Like its predecessor, the National Center for Geographic Information & Analysis, spatial@ucsb is dedicated to geographical information analysis – but it goes far beyond that by striving to become a cross-disciplinary center dedicated to the comprehension, utilization, and implementation of spatial thinking and reasoning in both everyday and academic life. In essence, the discipline of Geography at UCSB mirrors spatial@ucsb insofar as it has become the multidiscipline of Spatial Analysis in the 21st Century.

Chapter 6: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men »