Chapter 9: Ray Smith’s Years as Chair – Geography Stands Up

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As mentioned earlier, Ray Smith came to UCSB Geography in 1981, hired when Golledge was Chair. Smith had been an associate director of a research laboratory at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. It was time for a change and Smith was looking for an opportunity that included teaching. Thus, he was ready to leave one successful venture for another.13

The switch from UCSD to UCSB was very satisfying. Teaching and research went well. There was a strong sense of camaraderie, “which was a refreshing change from where I came from.”13 Part of the esprit de corps came from the Department’s small size and part from the personalities of the people who were serving a strong vision. Taking over as Chair in 1988, Smith discovered what chairs typically knew but didn’t much talk about.13

While in the process of hiring new young faculty, Smith became aware of inequities with which the UCSB Administration treated the Geography Department. These inequalities stemmed, in part, from a perceived distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard science’ and included large differences in start up funds and teaching loads. Young Geography faculty received less start up support and were expected to do more work than new faculty in other departments. As Chair, Smith worked to reduce and/or eliminate these inequalities.13

Prior to being appointed Chair of Geography, Smith was the founding Director of an Organized Research Unit, what is now called ICESS (Institute for Computational Earth System Science), a position he maintained while Chair of Geography. As ICESS Director, Smith was acutely aware of the relatively small fraction of overhead the Administration actually returned to researchers from the grant money they brought in. (At UCSB, researchers write proposals to get grants, then hand over the money to the Administration. The Administration returns some of it to the research unit.) Since there was a bias in start-up funding and teaching requirements, maybe there was a bias in research funds returned to those doing the work. Smith pressed the Administration for data on all ORUs, which they initially refused. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the Administration eventually provided comparative data for all ORSs.[a] Sure enough, there was roughly a factor of ten difference in the rate of return among the various ORUs. Geography straddled social and hard sciences. But while Geography brought in significant levels of research funding at UCSB, it was receiving back close to the least in return on overhead. Geography had been a cash cow for the Administration. Smith’s exposure of these discrepancies eventually brought greater financial fairness to Geography.13

Smith tackled the teaching load disparity, too. Again, this was partially because Geography straddled social and hard sciences. Working with the Department and the Administration, effort was made to reduce this disparity. How could Geography manage better, so the young professors weren’t inordinately burdened and so the quality of all class offerings could be high? Important to know in figuring this out was who, exactly, had been teaching what and how often over the years. Joel Michaelsen, who was Vice Chair, asked Wieder to compile statistics showing what each faculty member had taught for every year as far back as the Department had records. Since different classes require different amounts of work, they couldn’t simply count classes and distribute them. There had to be an impartial and fair way to calculate the loads. They factored in Instruction Workload Credits (IWC). The IWC was an intuitive value that had been assigned to courses several years earlier, when Church was Chair, in response to growing union strength for non-tenure track faculty.81316

From this study inequalities became glaringly obvious. Smith, working with the Department, saw that if everyone taught one “potboiler” – one class with 100 or more students – and eliminated or taught in alternate years low attendance courses, the teaching load could be both more equable and lower. Individual loads would go down, instructional quality could go up, and untenured professors could get busy working toward tenure. Simonett, ever the leader, volunteered to teach Geography 3 (Introduction to Physical Geography). He was preparing for it when he was diagnosed with cancer and never got to teach it.1316 Faculty workloads are still tracked today, although some have questioned whether the redistribution had a lasting impact.816

Smith, while Chair, became aware of another campus bias that had to be ameliorated: there were faculty in other departments that thought oceanographers should not be part of Geography. Smith had an approved position for an assistant professor in oceanography and went through the lengthy process of interviewing and selecting a candidate. When the candidate’s name was submitted to the campus faculty committee for approval, a professor from another department killed Geography’s selection. This happened more than once. Smith found out afterwards he was allowed to strike members from the committee he thought might be biased – like lawyers can eliminate potential jurors. He was finally able to bring on board the candidate the Department had selected. And, eventually, the bias against oceanographers was overcome.13

Smith said that while being Chair, he became less naïve about campus politics.13 His increased savvy was the Department’s gain.


  1. Government agencies are required, under the Freedom of Information Act which originally passed in 1967, to disclose information to anyone who asks for it in writing.

Chapter 10: Department Growth »