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Funding problem hurts science faculty

Students taking natural sciences courses may notice they have difficulty getting into the classes they want.

According to the Virginia 2020 Science and Technology Commission's report, the size of University faculty in the natural sciences is 34 percent smaller than the top 20 departments at peer institutions, leading to packed classes and irked students and professors.

Despite the deficit in the sciences, the report states that faculty size in humanities departments equals or exceeds the average of those ranked in the top 20.

The faculty deficit is not a reflection of the performance of the departments, Commission Chairwoman Anita K. Jones said.

Related Links

  • Virginia 20/20 Science and Technology Home Page


    "Quality is not the same thing as size," Jones said.

    According to the report, the discrepancy primarily is the result of funding differences.

    "In science and engineering, funding goes beyond finding resources for faculty salaries," the report states.

    "The science faculty are often expensive to hire in terms of the infrastructure they need," University Physics Prof. Louis Bloomfield said. "You need half a million dollars for an experimental scientist ... to get their lab equipment assembled."

    Bloomfield said humanities faculty require little more funding than their salary. Past state funding reductions also have contributed to the deficit, according to the report.

    Lack of start-up funds has precluded hiring new faculty members for the 15 vacancies now in the science departments, the report states. Ten more retirements in the College are expected within the next five years.

    Computer Science Dept. Chairman John A. Stankovic said his department has been greatly affected by the faculty shortage and the students are suffering.

    "We're already overloaded and we have caps on everything," Stankovic said. "It's hurting us because we need to grow to cover courses."

    Although the report found humanities departments do not have a deficit in comparison to peer institutions, that does not mean they should be overlooked, said Spanish Prof. David T. Gies, former Faculty Senate Chairman.

    "I think it sends a very unfortunate message by implying we don't need to do anything while we're focusing on the sciences," Gies said.

    All departments must work together to ensure there are adequate faculty to meet demand, he said.

    Bloomfield said because the deficit is so significant, the University will have to generate a great deal of funds in order to improve conditions.