Chapter 8: Recession and Regeneration

Dar Roberts, Chair from September 2009–July 2014, steered the UCSB Department of Geography through troubled waters for nearly 5 years. In his final letter as Chair, Dar reflects upon his tenure:

    Time ticks away, and I am staring out my window. In 59 hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds, I will be passing the baton on to Dan Montello, but who is counting? I can say with confidence that the past five years (minus two months) has without question been a period of greater change in the Department than any one before it. When Oliver passed the baton on to me, the country was in a state of crises, embroiled in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This impacted us all. Many staff had to be let go, departmental budgets were cut brutally, and class enrollments climbed while TA support declined. A recent faculty search for a new human geographer was canceled, and faculty and staff took a pay cut, otherwise described as a furlough.

    As the ancient Greek dramatist, Menander (341/342 to 290 BCE) once stated, “Time heals all wounds” (or more precisely, “Time is the healer of all necessary evils”), and five years down the line, the Department is, in my opinion, as healthy as it has ever been. My tenure as Chair could be best characterized as a period of immense change. During my tenure, the department experienced a record number of retirements, including Terry Smith (2010), Mike Goodchild (2012), Catherine Gautier (2013), and Joel Michaelsen (2014, unless the Chancellor convinces Joel otherwise). We have also experienced numerous losses due to separation, starting with Martin Raubal (2011), Chris Still (2012), and most recently (and sadly), Bodo Bookhagen (2014).

    However, we have also kept some of our best and gained some new colleagues, starting with the return of Phaedon Kyriakidis in 2011, immediately benefitting a new generation of graduate students with his excellence of instruction in geostatistics. Other gains quickly followed, including the successful hire of Krzysztof Janowicz in 2011, Werner Kuhn in 2013, Charles Jones in the same year, and two new hires in 2014, Susan Cassels and Tim Devries. Each brought a new dimension to the Department. Krzysztof Janowicz is an expert in Geographic Information Science, semantic interoperability, geospatial ontologies, and big data analysis. He was successfully “poached” from another highly ranked Geography Department, Penn State, and came with a reputation of excellence in instruction and high energy. His impact in the department has already been large, including teaching a highly popular graduate level course on Java Programming and attracting many highly talented new graduate students to the program. Werner Kuhn was hired as the Jack and Laura Dangermond Chair and is the new Director of the Spatial Center. Werner is also an expert in Geographic Information Science, with specializations in semantic interoperability, ontology, and human-computer interactions for geo-design.

    Werner has already taken a firm hand in directing the Spatial Center, and we expect great things. Charles Jones is an expert in mesoscale modeling, with specializations in improved precipitation forecasts by inclusion of intermediate-scale temporal phenomena, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Charles is also an expert in wind modeling and has worked extensively in fire danger assessment. Susan Cassels and Tim Devries are our two newest hires and bring two very different specializations to us. Susan is an expert in demography and human health and is interested in human behavior and social networks, using statistical modeling to understand better how these modify the spread of diseases such as AIDS. Tim Devries is an inverse modeler who helped develop the model OCIM, which provides a framework for incorporating ocean chemistry and biology into a sophisticated three dimensional circulation model to improve our understanding of global ocean biogeochemical dynamics. We are very excited to have Susan and Tim join us. Considering what the hiring situation looked like in 2009, it is a pleasant surprise to have had the opportunity to hire five new excellent faculty. By my count, we are down seven and up five, which means we still have a bit of work cut out for us.

    Other changes have also occurred. Early in my tenure, the department was finally awarded the office space it so richly deserved. Although this occurred under my watch, real credit goes to 20 years of labor from former Chairs, faculty, and staff who relentlessly kept the Department’s needs firmly in the sights of University Administration. Laboratory space remains an issue that has yet to be solved, unfortunately. We also switched email systems and phone communications, both cost-savings measures that represent improvements overall but are not universally so. We also continued our commitment to campus service by creating the Interactive Campus Map, which continues to grow and expand over time. Dan Montello led an effort that succeeded in having the Joint PhD program with San Diego State University reviewed by the PRP, and we are implementing a number of revisions to improve that program. Finally, we have seen many of the cuts in staff healed and have many new faces, including Bryan Karaffa, Ryan Kelley, Patricia Halloran, and for too brief a while, Jose Saleta and Karl Antonsson as Graduate Student Assistant Advisors. I am particularly pleased to report significant increases in undergraduate enrollment in our classes and record numbers of student applications to our graduate program, including 165 applicants in 2012, followed by 153 in 2013 and 164 in 2014; all larger than any other year in the history of the department.

    The success of a department does not depend upon a single individual but, rather, the collective efforts of all members. The fact that UCSB Geography has been so successful and has continued to flourish is a testimony to the excellence of our faculty, staff, and students. While I cannot say that being Department Chair has been easy, I can say that it has been made easier, and far more successful, by the help of so many colleagues, a staff that works wonders, and graduate students who make us proud. It has been an honor to serve the Department as its Chair. However, the clock is still ticking, and the time has come for me to move on.