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    Prof. disputes degree merger

    Ben K. Sternberg, a geological and mining engineering professor, expresses his opposition with the Faculty Senates decision to eliminate the geological engineering program at the Senates meeting yesterday afternoon.
    Ben K. Sternberg, a geological and mining engineering professor, expresses his opposition with the Faculty Senate’s decision to eliminate the geological engineering program at the Senate’s meeting yesterday afternoon.

    The Faculty Senate approved a measure to eliminate the undergraduate geological engineering program in the College of Engineering yesterday, despite one professor’s attempt to convince senators otherwise.

    The College of Engineering proposed to merge the undergraduate degrees in mining engineering and geological engineering into a single Bachelor of Science degree called Mining and Geological Engineering in a proposal submitted to the Senate by Mary Poulton, head of the mining and geological engineering department, and Jeff Goldberg, the college’s associate dean.

    Budget cuts, loss of faculty and staff lines as well as the small enrollment in the program were the main reasons cited for the merge, according to the Senate agenda.

    “”The department and college resources can be used more wisely if they were consolidated,”” said Thomas Peterson, dean of the College of Engineering.

    The new major would have a mining engineering track and a geological engineering track in an effort to eliminate the excess resources devoted to maintaining accreditation and funding for two separate yet very similar degrees, he said.

    Ben Sternberg, a mining and geological engineering professor, said the college didn’t follow the correct process for disestablishing the geological engineering program, of which he’s been a part for more than two decades, and challenged the department’s justification for doing so.

    President Robert Shelton said he supported the college’s decision because it was a more efficient and fiscally responsible alternative.

    “”If you can have fewer administrative folks between the two programs, yet offer the same number of degrees, then that is best,”” Shelton said.

    Sternberg disagreed.

    “”You can make a financial argument to eliminate anything,”” he said. “”The program is valuable and they’re eliminating it with very limited discussion of the matter.””

    Sternberg said he has no personal problems with Peterson or the college but felt like they were trying to get rid of him in their decision to eliminate the program and possibly transfer him to another area within the college.

    “”We can’t afford to get rid of anyone,”” Thomson said. “”Transferring faculty is not the same as getting rid of them.””

    Sternberg provided a memo citing reasons for preserving the geological engineering undergraduate program. Among the reasons listed therein was the strong support within the college, the UA and the federal government for preserving geological engineering programs.

    A better solution would have been to find a new home for the program within the college, rather than eliminate it entirely, he said.

    The Department of Mining and Geological Engineering originally proposed eliminating the geological engineering program in the fall of 2002, but the College

    Advisory Committee rejected the move the following semester by a 10-to-1 vote, according to the committee’s 2003 review of the proposal.

    The review opposed the merging of the two departments and recommended alternative options that included merging the engineering department with another in order to retain both the mining and geological engineering degrees.

    According to Sternberg’s memorandum, on April 3, 2007, the Undergraduate Council’s Academic Programs Sub-Committee voted unanimously to deny the proposal to eliminate the geological engineering program.

    Interim Provost Eugene Sander asked the committee to reconsider the proposal and Nov. 6, 2007, it agreed to send the proposal to the Undergraduate Council “”without recommendation for discussion, according to the memo.

    The Undergraduate Council approved the resolution to eliminate the program Nov. 20, 2007, while the academic deans approved it last month, as did the Instruction and Curriculum Policy Committee, according to the agenda items from yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

    “”There should have been a discussion at the very beginning of this process with all the faculty affected by this change,””

    Sternberg said. “”I strongly disagree with the process the department took, and the current process taken by the Faculty Senate in approving their recommendation.””

    Peterson said there was never an attempt to get rid of any faculty members and reiterated the logic behind combining the programs.

    “”It makes sense logically and financially to combine them, and I’m offended anyone would even insinuate that I would try to get rid of faculty,”” he said.

    Sen. Peter Foley, an associate professor of classics, supports disestablishing the geological engineering program but said the senate should look at the way the UA handles the reassignment of faculty.

    “”When a program like this is eliminated, we have faculty out there that are invested in this program who need help and reassurance,”” he said. “”They’re disappointed and angry because they don’t know where they’ll be placed.””

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