Chapter 7: The First Decade Comes to a Close

Perhaps the best way to sum up the 2009-2010 academic year is to quote our Chairs during this period. The first extract is from Oliver Chadwick (Chair, July 2006-September 2009), dated February 26, 2009:

This will be my last newsletter column to you as Chair of the Department of Geography. I’ll be passing the baton on to Dar Roberts this fall, once he has re-acclimated to Santa Barbara after a year-long sabbatical Down Under, and I know that Dar will do well, if only because he will inherit a terrific backup team. I also know that he will inherit economic uncertainty – however, to quote Bertrand Russell, “Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.”

Much has occurred over my 3 years at the helm, and I’m proud to note that we now play a larger service role on campus and are exposing lower division students to more innovative and attractive classes that advance the modern view of our discipline. Furthermore, we’ve completed major upgrades of all of our computer labs and lecture rooms, and, at last, our spatial problems are being addressed, slowly but surely, by such things as 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.

On the recent academic front, Kostas Goulias became the coeditor of a new journal in the field of Transportation Research, Catherine Gautier co-edited a book on understanding global warming and another on facing climate change (which won the 2008 ASLI Choice’s Honorable Mention—the same distinction given to Al Gore for “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006), and Reg Golledge coauthored a major book on comprehending and conducting person-environment-behavior research. And the accolades keep rolling in: since last November, David Siegel and myself were elected Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Reg Golledge was selected to receive the 2008 Enhancing Diversity Award of the Association of American Geographers, Don Janelle was selected to receive the Ronald F. Abler Honors for Distinguished Service of the AAG for 2009, and Dave Siegel was elected a 2009 Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

I’d like to exercise the Chair’s prerogative and conclude with some comments about the uncertainty alluded to in my opening paragraph. Geography is a 21st century meta-discipline that builds on traditional natural science, social science, the humanities, and engineering disciplines – but integrates across all of them. The new Dean of Science at UCSB recently asked me: “You have the cross disciplinary structure that so many are striving to build; how do you do it?” The answer is, of course, that it is not easy. We all have our particular take on the topic, as well as our poorly perceived biases that get in the way of the critical communications that are required to forge new answers to old questions. We have to tackle problems ranging from environmental degradation, to predicting changes in transportation patterns during crisis, to the vicissitudes of human response to spatial decision-making. Of course, the problem is that our understanding must go far beyond merely listing the three example areas, as I have above. Each nuances the others in ways that only an expert can fathom. Most of the important geographical (and, indeed, societal) problems require us to build teams of experts that can communicate effectively across disciplinary boundaries. Geographical research, at least as conducted by our department, is an experiment in effective communication. If the effort functions well, it is because the majority of the participants can understand and respect each other’s view of humanity and the ecological web that sustains it and can design experiments appropriate to evaluating particular processes and developing predictions of changes in response to forcing factors.

The communication system of an interdisciplinary team is most challenged when under stress – as we are now, due to the global economic meltdown. We know too little about the present situation to respond in a clear and effective manner, and that leads to considerable frustration. It is a tribute to our faculty that communication remains good, and it is nothing short of amazing that our staff have done well under the stress of uncertainty and increased work loads. I am pleased to say that, while we have occasionally had to sacrifice our ideals, we are still functioning well and have put in place a system that can respond flexibly to the financial constraints imposed on the University. This is a difficult time, but we dream, and we dream big. We don’t accept constraints; we bust out of them. Right now we have to be particularly creative in bursting free. The good news is that our new President believes in science and understands nuance, something that has been distinctly lacking in Washington for far too long. It is likely that new money will flow into research, and, since many of the research questions that are most critical today require cross disciplinary expertise and an appreciation of space as a determining factor in understanding processes, we will be well positioned to take advantage of this new trend. Optimistically yours, Oliver Chadwick.

Sadly, Reg Golledge passed away on May 29, 2009, aged 71, but, in a Letter from the Chair exactly one year later, Dar Roberts pointed out that change and renewal are part of life:

As the spring rains fall and the days grow longer, I look out my window and watch the annual cycle of renewal. Spring is here, and we are reminded that change and renewal are part of life and that all things can, when given adequate light, heat, and water, grow and flourish. Like the world outside, UCSB Geography is similarly experiencing a time of renewal. Without a doubt, the most exciting development involves improvements in space allocations. After decades of insufficient space, with faculty, students, and staff spread out across campus, Geography has finally been given the space it needs. Geographers, more than those in any other discipline, understand the importance of space and how even small distances can become barriers to collaboration and communication. I am extremely pleased to report that many of these barriers are coming down and that many of members of our faculty, previously distributed in Bren, ICESS, off campus (such as FEWSNET), or in circa World War II trailers are joining us in Ellison Hall. New space includes all offices on the fifth floor, most of the fourth floor, and, we hope in the future, much of the first floor. If you have a chance to visit us, please come and see our new space. In particular, kudos are owed to Mo Lovegreen, Bernadette Weinberg, and Dylan Parenti, who, more than any other individuals, have helped this come to pass and have made sure the process has gone smoothly.

Spring has also brought us many new faces. While more than a year has passed since their arrival, special mention should be made of new faculty in Geography, including Bodo Bookhagen, Leila Carvalho, Jennifer King, and Joe McFadden. Each of them brings a new, unique perspective and set of research skills to the department. For example, Bodo is a geomorphologist with a recognized expertise in cosmogenic isotopes and airborne/ground-based lidar. He has been applying his expertise to local problems, such as erosion on Santa Cruz Island and post-fire erosion in the Santa Barbara Front Range. He has also gone global, focusing on globally important problems such as monsoonal activity and glacial retreat in the Himalayas. Leila Carvalho is an expert in tropical climate and mesoscale modeling and has been applying her expertise to problems associated climate change in the monsoon regions and implications to rainfall variability and hazards. She has also expanded her expertise to understand local problems such as extreme precipitation and Santa Ana winds in California. Jennifer King is a biogeochemist who studies, among many things, trace gas emissions from grasslands as well as the impact of ultra-violet radiation on plant decomposition. Joe McFadden has joined us as a land cover/land use expert who is interested in urban ecology and in studying the sources and sinks of carbon within an urban environment. UCSB Geography is extremely pleased to have them here and is significantly stronger thanks to their presence.

Spring can also be a time of reflection. In this regard, UCSB Geography has some problems (mostly due to budgets), but remains a source of strength on campus. This strength is illustrated by the awards earned by faculty and students. For example, UCSB Geography remains one of the most highly awarded Geography Departments in the nation. I am pleased to report that two more of our members, Rick Church and Frank Davis (Affiliated) have been elected as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this year.

Shrinking budgets remind us of the serious financial challenges we face, with students paying higher fees for more crowded classrooms and the department continuing to face the challenge of furloughs and declining support for Teaching Assistants. However, I am ever hopeful that greater awareness of the contributions the UC makes to society and proposed improvements in state support can turn this around. Donor contributions remain an ever growing and critical form of support that is helping us preserve excellence. It has been a challenging year, but UCSB Geography is flourishing. Sincerely, Professor Dar Roberts, Chair, Department of Geography

And, indeed, UCSB Geography continued to flourish during the 2009-10 academic year, as exemplified by Mike Goodchild. Mike was showered with honors: The Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science named its new Beowulf computing cluster after him to acknowledge his coining of the term geographic information science, he received the 2010 UCGIS Research Award, and, to top it off, he was elected a Foreign Member of the British Royal Society—one of just seven U.S. scholars to be elected by the world’s oldest scientific academy this year.

Chapter 8: Recession and Regeneration »