ESU Breaks Bonds with Chemistry and Forces Out Physics Faculty

By Chris Powers
SC Staff Writer

During the 2013 to 2014 academic year, there were several proposed changes to the budget and faculty at ESU.

The chemistry and physics programs were two of the programs most affected by retrenchments, budget cuts, and retirements. In both of these departments, there have been drastic changes to the number of faculty and professional tutors working for the university.

Last year, four chemistry professors received retrenchment notifications that were each withdrawn under different circumstances. Despite this, there was still a thirty percent reduction in faculty in the chemistry department.

The full time faculty that left during the academic year were Dr. Freeman, whose contract was not renewed at the end of the spring semester, and Dr. Erb, the previous head of the chemistry department who retired in January of this year.

Neither of these professors has been replaced and there is now only one adjunct under the chemistry department.

According to Dr. Doherty, current head of the chemistry department, “When planning the budget last year, we had 12.6 full time equivalent (FTE) and now we are running at 8.75 FTE.”

The physics department also suffered a cut back in faculty. Dr. Moore received a retrenchment notice and Dr. Stewart did not receive tenure, which led him to leave the university.

Dr. Moore was offered a different position in the math department, but refused and retired instead. However, her retrenchment letter was still valid. As a result, the physics department will be unable to hire more than one part time faculty for the next three years.

The physics department decreased from 6 to 4.5 faculty members.

These changes have altered the way that ESU offers chemistry and physics classes. There is a sizable difference in class sizes and offerings between the last fall semester and the current semester.

According to Dr. Doherty, there are “zero chemistry gen. ed. sections offered instead of four, and I anticipate the same in the spring.” Doherty meant there are no general education classes intended for nonchemistry majors.

Additionally, instead of six sections of general chemistry, ranging from 40 to 58 students, there are now only two sections of general chemistry, at 131 and 152 students.

In general chemistry labs, there has previously been up to 21 students allowed, but the maximum was set at 18 students and was only increased at the discretion of the department.

According to Dr. Doherty, “Now there are 21 in every section, with people chomping at the bit to get in.”

Laura Beimfohr, a biology graduate student, said, “When I took chemistry, there were 25 students in my section. Now having 160 people, I couldn’t even imagine.”

Beimfohr added, “I watched it transform from a small school atmosphere. If I were a senior in high school, I would not go to ESU.”

Maxwell Wood, a freshman in Dr. Schramm’s general chemistry class, mentioned that although the lecture halls are cramped, “it’s not a bad thing, I expected a lot of new things from ESU, and that’s half of the reason I came here.”

Entry-level courses are not the only courses affected. Organic Chemistry I lab sections have had an increase from 16 students to 18 students.

Additionally, the Biochemistry offering at ESU has changed from two sections of 42 and 16 students to one section of 69 students this year. The labs for Biochemistry I have also undergone a dramatic increase from a maximum of 14 to 18 allowed in each lab.

According to Dr. Jones-Wilson, the biochemistry professor this semester, “With additional students there will be instrument bottlenecks and simple issues moving around the lab.”

She added, “I have increased the time allotted to some experiments because of this – which means in Biochemistry I have had to delete and/or change some of the content.”

These increased class sizes have raised some concern across the board among many faculty and students on campus.

Due to the class size, for example, all tests in Biochemistry this semester have changed to a multiple choice format.

According to Dr. Jones-Wilson, “I will have to move to all multiple choice format exams and quizzes as grading that number of papers is prohibitive.”

Dylan Lowe, Biochemistry major, commented on this, saying, “I don’t think chemistry can be effectively taught this way because there is too much involved in it.”

Dr. Jones-Wilson also expressed concerns about the size of her classes, stating, “Large classes are notorious for bad attendance because students can feel anonymous.” She hopes to fix this with point incentives for attendance.

The physics department has also restructured many of their classes and class offerings in order to cope with the recent changes to their department.

They have mostly adjusted class offerings, with only a few classes significantly raising student caps from last fall. Such classes include Sound Waves and Light and the lectures and labs for fundamental physics sections.

According to Dr. Elwood of the physics department, “We have gotten rid of all gen. eds. not required by other majors, like Physics 101.”

He also added, “So far, the effect on the upper level classes has been mitigated, but many upper level classes will be offered every other year.”

One of the major concerns for Dr. Elwood is that the order of the upper level classes may develop into a problem for physics majors in the future. “You can put quantum physics before mathematical physics, but it will adversely affect the students.”

He noted, “We are getting to a single point of failure in physics. If one student misses a hurdle, then they will fail to graduate on time.”

It has also become difficult for physics students to take many of the classes that will now only be offered through independent study.

With only four full time physics professors, only 12 students are able to take independent studies at a time, which could easily create problems with students who need to graduate on time.

Dr. Cohen, the head of the physics department, mentioned, “We (ESU) currently don’t know how to do it without an impact, but there might be another solution that may come up that we are not aware of.”

As a result of these class changes, many students have been given employment opportunities as gurus, which are student helpers who assist in the logistics of running classes of such a large class size.

Part of the responsibilities of the gurus is to tutor students in the classes that they assist.

Dr. Doherty said, “There used to be a sizable fleet of professional tutors, but now there are no more professional tutors and they are all student tutors.”

The guru program is overall a positive result of the changes for students, although it is questionable as to whether they will be able to replace the professional tutors lost to budget cuts.

Dr. Jones-Wilson stated, “I believe our students will do a good job. However, they are not as qualified as our professional tutors…the years of experience that our professional tutors had provided a disciplinary perspective and set of skills that are invaluable to our students.”

Many changes have swept over the chemistry and physics programs this semester, forcing these departments to restructure classes and drop some classes entirely.

These two departments have managed to cope with these changes and work to serve the students the best way possible under the given conditions.

Email Chris at:
cpowers@live.esu.edu

Leave a comment