Chapter 6: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

In 2008, the Department’s five year plan anticipated growth from 23 full time equivalent (FTE) faculty to 27 by 2009-2010. The Department’s enrollment target was to sustain ratios of 4.0 graduate students per FTE and 10.0 majors in residence per FTE. Thus, this five-year plan anticipated growth to a stable faculty of 27 FTE and a graduate program with 108 students by 2010-11 (in 2008, there were 88, including those in the joint program with San Diego State). For undergraduate students, the 2010-2011 target was 270. According to the plan, the Department of Geography “hopes to (1) enlarge the graduate program in proportion to our faculty FTE, (2) substantially build our undergraduate major, and (3) play a somewhat larger service role on campus, with the goal of exposing lower division students to innovative and attractive classes that advance the modern view of our discipline.”

The previous five years saw a steady decline in the Department’s funds used to support instructors, a situation unlikely to improve, given the 2008 California budget deficit. In recognition of the difficult situation on campus, the Department began evaluating the undergraduate curriculum in order to minimize the number of courses that are required and therefore need to be offered multiple times during the year. In this way, the Department hoped to ensure maximum flexibility in responding to the needs of students and inevitable short falls in available faculty to cover those courses. In addition, the Department reinstituted a policy that had fallen out of use over the past decade, i.e., to make it a requirement for each faculty member to participate in teaching a high-enrollment undergraduate course. The evaluation also sought to ensure the maximum number of students per course without sacrificing the interactivity of students and faculty/TAs at the upper division level.

However, by the end of 2008, the Department of Geography was uncertain of its future. The good news was that it had completed major upgrades of all of its computer labs and lecture rooms in response to the 2007 External Revue Committee’s comment that they were “shocked and dismayed by the poor quality of instructional computing facilities in the Geography Department.” Furthermore, the department’s spatial problems were being addressed, slowly but surely, by the acquisition and renovation of new space in Phelps and Ellison Halls and the move of Tommy Dickey’s off-campus Ocean Physics Lab to Ellison Hall. The bad news was that we lost faculty members Hallie Eakin and Phaedon Kyriakidis, both of whom received better offers elsewhere. Worse still, according to the UC Office of the President, “UC received $48 million less in state revenue than in the prior year. But furthermore, the adopted state budget did not provide funding for increased student enrollments or inflationary increases in fixed costs such as utilities and health benefits. The university must achieve $100 million in savings to cover those cost increases.” The economic fallout resulted in a major restructuring of UCSB finances and services for 2008-2009. Undergraduate admissions were reduced, automatic pay increases for the upper echelons of the administration were stopped, and departments, across the board, were asked to make draconian cuts, including laying off staff, closing down services, and freezing new hires. As Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas put it, students will soon begin witnessing major changes across campus: “In the classroom, we’ll see fewer TA’s, fewer classes and probably bigger classes will be offered, so the workload on the faculty will go up.” So much for our five year plan–by the end of the year, the California State Budget had yet to be settled, the State was facing bankruptcy, and the fate of California education was uncertain on all levels. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was the only light at the end of the dark tunnel of 2008.

Chapter 7: The First Decade Comes to a Close »