The physics department may be singing its swan song, say students in the department, but the physics chair says she will do everything in her power to ensure the department’s success.
“Nobody wants to see the physics program disappear,” said physics chair Annette Teffeteller, who was chosen from the linguistics department two years ago when a suitable chair could not be found in physics. “My view is that any reputable university has to have a good, thriving physics department,” said Teffeteller. “The ideal is to have a fully independent department.”
But physics students aren’t convinced. They drew up a petition and distributed pamphlets to save the physics department in reaction to the news the department would not be accepting any new undergraduate students.
“Yeah, the CPSA [Concordia Physics Student Association] started a petition. But we figured out it was kind of futile, so we gave up,” said Mark Beaudry, a physics graduate and teaching assistant for Physics 224, 225, and 226 who has worked with the students association on projects in the past.
Beaudry said no one really knows if the department will close, merge with another program, or open up registration for the program again. “The story changes every day,” said Beaudry. He said the department has been cutting back on classes, refusing to grant students permission to take reading classes, and that it was uncertain whether the department could offer certain classes students still need to graduate.
“Some people might have to go to McGill,” said Beaudry, “and professors that still want to work are transferring to other departments.”
But Teffeteller explains the problem is more complicated than meets the eye. “It’s not as simple as ‘We have to convince the dean to open up admissions,” she said, reacting to the news the Concordia Student Union had decided to campaign to save the physics department. Councillors Maiko Isshii, a CPSA member, and Chae Dickie Clark, a physics graduate and former CPSA member, stressed how important it was to keep the program open, because in their opinion, there was still interest in the school.
Teffeteller said the department has seen a steady decline in research grants over the past few years. She said the faculty members aren’t pulling their weight in research funding, which is considered abnormal in a science department. “Last year physics faculty members were awarded $146,975 in research grants, of which 55 per cent went to one individual. In 2000-01 the total amount was $157,833, of which 56 per cent went to one individual, the same one who had the majority of funds [last year]. And in 1999-2000 the total amount was $227,792, of which 74 per cent went to one individual, again, the same one,” explained Teffeteller.
The university pays the operational costs of the departments, but professors must get research grants to attract graduate students, said Teffeteller. The department currently has 37 undergraduate students, and only one graduate student. Teffeteller rejected the idea that the university was being unfair to physics in setting its priorities on profit. “You say money and prestige like it was a bad thing,” she explained. “The way a university works, is research money comes in, it supports the university, and supports the program. As far as prestige goes, a university’s main asset is prestige.”
Beaudry says the decision to close down admission is intended to threaten the physics program. He said the department has cut down on the number of teachers they have, and those remaining are old, and not producing much research. He says the professors in the department has amazing teachers who love teaching, and have lost interest in doing research.
“Concordia is very interested in money; that’s why it has such a big business program,” said Beaudry. He said business and engineering have become the university’s primary concern. “It sucks to be a student in any other program. You see business students with their little jackets, and their new buildings,” said Beaudry. “Chemistry also almost got shut down a while ago.”
“You see some science departments doing all their research to make money, working on cancer, or AIDS, things that investors here are willing to pay for,” said Beaudry. He said the physics department is involved in other important activities, like a science fair on the West Island put on by 2000-3000 people annually, for children. “Science, especially physics, is often seen as begin useless. I think a lot of people see us as being nerdy,” said Beaudry.
Chae Dickie Clark echoed Beaudry’s support of the physics department. “To have a research program, you need to have a department,” he told the CSU council last Wednesday, “I think it would be great if the department reopened and had a million dollar research grant. There are many departments that are looking for funding. First things first.”
Teffeteller said she would be discussing the department with the Dean of Arts and Science Martin Singer in their next meetings in early and late February, and said the university is going ahead with plans to move the department to the new Science Complex on Loyola campus next summer, “I think this shows the commitment of the dean.”