Physics in Virginia
The State of the State's Public Undergraduate and
Graduate Physics Programs
A Report by the Virginia Task Force on Physics
Presented to Virginia's Colleges and Universities andthe State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
July 22, 1996
|Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility|
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
|IBM, Science and Technology (retired)|
American Physical Society
City University of New York and American Physical Society
|Virginia physics faculty|
Virginia State University
College of William and Mary
University of Virginia
Virginia Military Institute
Old Dominion University
Jefferson National Accelerator Facility|
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
|Carl Bennett||Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility|
Major Recommendation 2
Major Recommendation 3
Major Recommendation 4
Major Recommendation 5
Physics in general education and service to other majors and the community
Part V: Faculty
Part VI: Recruitment and Retention of Women and Minorities
Part VII: FacilitiesPart IX: Partnerships
The physics programs in the Commonwealth, as in the rest of the nation, are facing serious challenges, and the way they meet these challenges will have a significant effect on the technical underpinning for Virginia's economy in the next century. These challenges have been exacerbated by fiscal conditions, but their underlying origins are structural.
At the same time, the current state of stress also offers an opportunity for change which might not have existed otherwise. Our recommendations are designed to 1) preserve the strengths of existing programs while correcting some of their anachronisms, 2) bring the Commonwealth's many relatively small programs together into teaching and research alliances, and 3) identify special opportunities in Virginia on which physics departments can focus to attain national status in selected strategic areas.
In making this criticism, we are not suggesting a radical change in the fundamental character of an education in physics. Physics is one of the liberal-arts disciplines and provides students with fundamental problem-solving skills. That is why the role of the physics department in general education and in the foundational learning of students in other sciences and engineering is so critical -- the task force believes that all students, and certainly physics majors, should have a solid grounding in "problem-solving, physics style."
However, surveys of physics graduates make it abundantly clear that it is the mode of thought and not the facts per se which are the core strengths of a physics education. There are today few job opportunities in pure physics but myriad job opportunities for physicists. These jobs require the problem-solving skills of a physicist much more than the detailed information of a physics degree. More important in most cases, today's employment requires an appropriate mix with many other skills not traditionally taught in physics education. Many physics programs across the state currently are unintentionally short-changing their students in these nontraditional areas of training.
From this perspective, physics curricula need to add new skills to the repertoire of physics graduates that can be vital to their future career success. There is a widespread belief that courses in communication skills and business could be valuable to many students. There is also growing evidence that the hands-on and teamwork skills that can be developed in laboratory-based senior project courses or internships are crucial for the job market of today and of the future. For a long time, research projects for majors have been recognized as a significant part of the most successful undergraduate programs, even though not all programs have provided or emphasized such experiences. On the other hand, internships are not a part of the physics culture at most institutions.
The physics curriculum could also be broadened in other ways. For example, in addition to traditional academic training, some colleges and universities might have students specialize in advanced data-acquisition techniques, while others might focus on preparing them for advanced degrees in engineering, work in the business world, or careers in high-school or community-college teaching.
From the third undergraduate year through graduate school, the separation of the system into small, isolated units seems to have substantial disadvantages. The smaller schools have great difficulty in exposing their students to a broad range of advanced topics in the third and fourth years or in offering the opportunity for all seniors to work on research projects. Even the larger schools --- all with graduate programs --- have more complete (though for some students less supportive) undergraduate programs but have difficulty in offering a broad range of advanced graduate courses.
Even these latter departments --- while large for Virginia --- are small when compared to the best research departments in the country. When peers assess the quality of each other's programs, according to the National Research Council, size matters,(1) among other reasons because relatively small departments in the sciences have the very serious problem of being subcritical in the size of some of their key research groups. By comparison, the nation's top ten comprehensive research physics departments average about 53 faculty, almost 20 more than the largest Virginia department.
None of these problems can be realistically addressed by the current departmental units acting in isolation. In contrast, alliances between units offer solutions which at the same time avoid unnecessary duplication of teaching and research efforts. For example:
In summary, the Virginia Task Force on Physics has concluded that by implementing these recommendations, existing institutional resources in Virginia could allow the Commonwealth to become a model and a more important national player in physics and its related disciplines and technologies. Given the importance of such strength for the future of Virginia, we urge the Council of Higher Education to adopt these recommendations and carefully monitor the health of this important set of programs.
In 1995 the staff of the State Council of Higher Education decided to do this review of all the public undergraduate and graduate physics programs in the state, its first statewide disciplinary study since 1986. The origins of that decision reach back into the previous decade. In 1986, the Council had decided that the combination of productivity review and the newly instituted statewide assessment program was sufficient to ensure the quality of Virginia's academic degree programs. By 1995, several developments led to a reconsideration of that decision. The turbulent nineties, with massive budget cutbacks followed by restructuring and partial restoration of public funding, had required a fundamental reexamination of how the Commonwealth's colleges and universities accomplish their missions. The Council staff thought that such a reexamination was incomplete without an attempt to look at collegiate education within at least one core discipline.
This decision to do a statewide disciplinary review was strengthened by several other developments:
Physics also has some strengths that other programs lack. Physics departments are often important to their institutions because of their frequently high level of sponsored research when compared to other departments. Researchers in Virginia benefit from the presence in the state of such entities as NASA Langley, IBM/Toshiba, and Motorola. The presence in the state of the Jefferson Lab (formerly CEBAF), one of the world's premier high-energy physics research facilities, was particularly important, and its willingness to co-sponsor the physics review was critical to the review's success, because of the credibility and support such co-sponsorship lent the process and its results. As well, around the Jefferson Lab has coalesced a group of researchers from all over the state. This has led to the development of the Virginia Physics Consortium, a model for cooperative efforts in research and education.
Finally, the national physics community has grappled more than scholars in almost any other area with the difficulties besetting their discipline. The presence on the Virginia Task Force on Physics (VTFP), formed in fall 1995, of two officers of the American Physical Society brought the benefits of that national conversation to Virginia. The conversation was further broadened by a high-level industrial representative on the task force, in the person of a retired vice president for IBM, Science and Technology. Other members were physicists from the Jefferson Lab, Council staff, and physics faculty and students from Virginia's colleges and universities.
The task force saw it as the mission of Virginia's physics programs to
The review has occurred in several stages. After consulting with the college presidents, the chief academic officers, the relevant deans, and the physics department heads, the task force asked each program in the state to submit a self-study by mid-December. In January, February, and March, smaller teams of task force members visited six of the state's thirteen senior institutions with physics programs to get a closer look at a wide variety of programs serving different kinds of students in very different settings. The information thus collected has led to the recommendations in this report.
The study of physics programs in Virginia has taken place in the context of a much larger national discussion. As is true for most of the scientific disciplines in the U.S., this is a time of considerable turmoil and uncertainty for physics. This is true whether the focus is on the teaching of physics at college and university levels or on research.
This uncertainty is not due to any conviction, held widely by scientists at the end of the 19th century, that we are near the end of what can usefully be discovered about the physical world. On the contrary, many sub-fields of physics are as vigorous and exciting intellectually as they have ever been. It is not that nature is running out of mysteries; rather, it is that what has been America's increasing interest in and support for solving them seems to be flagging.
Moreover, physics continues to be recognized as a core discipline, not only in the study of nature but also in the preparation of many other types of scientists, doctors, and engineers. This is reflected in the fact that physics departments nationally continue to "provide service courses for other majors and enrolled approximately 360,000 students in introductory physics courses in 1994-95."(3)
The turmoil in physics education is due rather to political and economic factors that have affected all the physical sciences and engineering. The explosive support for physics in particular following World War II, and especially after the launch of Sputnik, was fueled in large part by the imperatives of the Cold War. This support entailed the infusion of massive amounts of federal funding for research and the concomitant exponential growth of both the national labs and university physics programs. The physical sciences were widely, and correctly, seen to be fundamental to the creation of a strong national defense. With the end of the Cold War , other issues have come to the fore, and a consequence has been diminished national commitment to leadership in this and other branches of the physical sciences and engineering. According to the National Science Foundation, spending on the medical sciences went up 88 percent between 1987 and 1994 while support for physics increased by about 40 percent, "less than for any other major discipline" in science. "'The century of physics is over,' says Robert L. Park, director of public information for the American Physical Society. "We're entering the century of biology.'"(4)
Thus it is widely believed that given bipartisan pressures to balance the federal budget, federal support of research and graduate education in the physical sciences -- including physics, and engineering -- will not increase for at least six or seven years but may in fact decline over the next decade by anywhere from 10 to 30 percent in real terms. Meanwhile large-laboratory industrial support for research in physics, and hence the demand for physics researchers, has also decreased somewhat in recent years. The reasons for this are complex and related to global competition, and the likely duration of the cutbacks in industrial research in the physical sciences is not certain. Finally, universities are facing not only increased competition for federal dollars but stagnant or declining state support, leading them to look much more critically at expensive programs, especially those without large numbers of students in them.
And student interest in physics, as measured by undergraduate major and entering graduate student numbers, has flagged. This is partly due to the responsible way the physics community has acted in the present circumstances. In the last few years, the community, through the American Institute of Physics(AIP) and the American Physical Society (APS), has been providing up-to-date and realistic data on the current and near-term future for traditional employment of physicists, especially at the doctoral level. This has had the expected effect of modest but measurable decline in the number of physics majors at the bachelor's level and entering graduate-student level: national trends in enrollment, summarized annually by the AIP, have been downward. For example, over the four-year period ending in 1995, the enrollment of juniors in physics programs dropped to the level that obtained in 1980, which was itself a thirty-year low. Similarly, during the last three years, entering graduate enrollments in physics nationally have dropped by 22 percent in Ph.D-granting departments and by 17 percent in masters-granting departments,(5) although due to the time lag for Ph.D. graduation, the number of doctorates awarded will not begin to decline noticeably until the 1998-99 academic year.
These decreases reflect awareness on the part of prospective physics undergraduate and graduate students of the current decline in employment possibilities in traditional jobs directly involving physics. Less well recognized by students and faculty alike, however, and becoming more important over time, is the movement of engineers and scientists, including physicists, into less traditional careers: state and local government, finance, banking, medicine, law, multimedia, big business, and young entrepreneurial businesses. In the past, many of these opportunities were filled by humanities and social science majors who later specialized in their graduate education in business, medicine or law. More recently, students prepared themselves for many of these careers by specializing in business as undergraduates. Today, many baccalaureate science and engineer majors, both undergraduate and graduate, are moving into these non-traditional careers, often with great success.
With the rapid development and ubiquity of technology and the development of the information society, graduates who have a good foundation in mathematics, the physical sciences, and computers -- especially those who have writing and communications skills -- are at a great advantage in the employment market. For example, a recent newspaper article on the improved job prospects of this year's college graduates quotes a Signet Bank representative, who says that "this year, the company hired analyst-type whiz kids' who've excelled in areas such as math, statistics, or physics.'"(6) A firm foundation in the mathematical and physical workings of modern technological society constitutes not only an essential part of a liberal education in the modern world but the grounding for any career related to technology, computers, or information and data management.
State and local governments have begun to recognize the importance of strong science, engineering, technology, and computer programs to economic development, especially in attracting industries that offer higher-paying jobs with growth potential. Motorola's decision to locate its microchip facilities near Richmond, based partly on the proximity of such programs to train its workers, is replicated every day in places such as California's Silicon Valley; North Carolina's Research Triangle Park; Austin, Texas; and the Route 128 corridor around Boston, Massachusetts.
For these partnerships to work, however, ties must be developed and nurtured which benefit both parties. There are too many instances in which colleges and universities (and sometimes individual departments within them) remain separated from their local and regional communities. Virginia's state economic-development and higher-education agencies have developed near-term and long-term strategies to promote the connection between the state's colleges and universities and its new industries, such as the $7 million Motorola and IBM fund that should ensure the capacity to hire and retain first-rate engineering faculty.
The physics programs in the Commonwealth's universities and colleges reflect the diversity of sizes, locations, and missions of the institutions (see Table 1). The programs range widely in student and faculty numbers, numbers of options, and clientele. At the same time they have, not surprisingly, many similarities. Perhaps more than any other core academic discipline, physics has an extremely well-established canon. When faculty members from different institutions discuss their programs, they rarely focus on what subjects or concepts are taught; rather they are apt to discuss what textbooks they use for, say, the electricity and magnetism course or for the mechanics course.
This coherence is a strength in many ways: because of the central position that physics occupies in both a thorough liberal-arts education and a solid scientific and technical education, the integrity of the discipline is important. However, the concordance may reflect a weakness as well -- an unwillingness or an historical lack of necessity for the discipline to extend itself or broaden its scope. In this regard, the diversity of programs in the Commonwealth is encouraging: they constitute a rich gene pool from which the most successful curricula for various types of students can develop.
All but two of the Comonwealth's fifteen senior institutions offer bachelor's degrees with majors in physics. In addition, nine of the institutions offer master's and four offer doctoral degrees. With similar core curricula, they differ in the following ways:
PHYSICS PROGRAM GRADUATES AND JUNIOR, SENIOR, AND GRADUATE MAJORS, 1990-1994
Grads (not incl.
|Christopher Newport University||Applied Physics||BA/BS||4.2||30.1|
|College of William and Mary||Physics||BS||20.0||43.9|
|George Mason University||Physics||BA/BS||8.0||23.4|
|Applied and Engineering Physics||MS||6.0||10.3|
|James Madison University||Physics||BA/BS||6.6||19.8|
|Mary Washington College||Physics||BS||9.0||21.5|
|Norfolk State University||Physics||BS||2.8||14.4 (approx.)|
|Old Dominion University||Physics||BS||6.4||20.6|
|University of Virginia||Physics||BA/BS||14.0||31.2|
|Virginia Commonwealth University||Physics||BS||7.4||27.9|
|Physics and Applied Physics||MS||2.8||7.8|
|Virginia Military Institute||Physics||BS||2.4||6.7|
|Virginia State University||Physics||BS||3.6||19.2|
Undergraduate physics majors within the Commonwealth are being given a wide range of concepts with which to understand the physical world. It seems to the task force that these core concepts are being taught with academic rigor at every institution, although some programs have greater strength in their lower-division and some in their upper-division courses. As a result, some programs are able to develop students who might well transfer into other majors at less nurturing institutions. However, the task force also concludes that when they reach the upper-division courses, those students may not have access to a wide enough range of advanced courses. At the graduate level, almost all institutions could benefit from a broadening of their course offerings. Therefore, the task force makes the following
that programs in the Commonwealth cooperate in offering courses to students at all levels of the curriculum.
As we have mentioned several times in this report, one of the most pressing issues that physics programs face is the need to inform students about and prepare them for a much broader range of careers than has been true in the past. Indeed, fewer than half the students polled by the task force visiting teams intended to pursue a career directly related to academic or research physics. While the undergraduates generally felt hopeful about their career possibilities, the graduate students were less sanguine about the degree to which their programs prepared them for, informed them about, and encouraged them to pursue non-traditional careers.
As the descriptions above make clear, some departments have addressed that challenge head-on, for instance by designing professional master's programs geared to a specific job market. Others do an excellent job of providing their undergraduate students with a liberal-arts education grounded in analytic and problem-solving skills that should serve the students well in a wide range of careers. But the process of ensuring that curricula meet the needs of program graduates is a continuous one. Therefore, the task force makes the following
that all physics programs at all levels rigorously examine their curricula to assess the balance in the education they offer in view of the wide spectrum of employment opportunities their graduates will have in the future.
Most physics departments consider their primary role to lie in offering a major program of study in physics and introductory courses for other science majors. But their role in providing general education core courses has taken on added significance in the nineties. The liberal education of all students requires scientific literacy. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "Science is one of the liberal arts and should be taught as such." Only with a basic understanding of science will people be "empowered to participate more fully and fruitfully in their chosen professions and in civic affairs."(7)
For many years introductory physics courses tended to be specialized and usually geared toward the science major. But over the last decade, increased emphasis on the need for more science education has resulted in many new general-education course offerings in an attempt to make physics more attractive for students who enter college with increasingly diverse preparation, interest, and abilities in mathematics and the sciences. Many physics programs have developed courses on topics that address questions students actually have about the natural world -- such as those associated with energy, light, sound, and music -- to fill this need.
To some scholars, this development has not been welcome. A recent report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), for instance, includes in its chapter entitled "The Decline of Rigor" a description of the changes in the science requirements of colleges and universities nationwide in the years from 1914 to 1993. The NAS is particularly concerned about the tendency of such courses to "contain less mathematics [and to be] less likely to have laboratory requirements."(8) However, as the NAS report itself acknowledges, "Non-science majors may learn more if they are not overburdened by having to master techniques and skills for which they have little aptitude and will have little use." Moreover, traditional courses geared to the majors, in order to cover all the content knowledge that potential majors need to progress in the physics curriculum, have sometimes resulted in the memorization of facts and solutions to problems rather than providing students opportunities to learn and practice the means by which they were solved or to provide a coherent and comprehensible overview of the scientific enterprise.
Given these observations, the task force makes the following
that physics programs pay more attention to and reward faculty for the development of new general-education courses.
Physics programs face another challenge: providing service courses for programs for which physics is a prerequisite. They can do this either by teaching service courses specially designed for students in other disciplines or by including material appropriate for such students in their standard introductory courses. In planning such courses, physics departments should study their own experience with mathematics service courses. The task force found a nearly ubiquitous frustration among the physicists it met in the course of the study regarding the failure of their colleagues in mathematics to consult them about the kinds of quantitative skills and knowledge physics majors need. (Evidently this feeling is not confined to Virginia: the University of Rochester decided not to eliminate its doctoral program in mathematics in part in exchange for the department's promise to better tailor its calculus courses to the needs of scientists and engineers.) This frustration should alert physics faculty to the need to communicate with faculty in programs for which they are providing the foundational knowledge.
Physics prerequisites for other programs are in some cases critical to those programs' success: any institution without a strong physics program will be unable to attract the best pre-med majors, and a weak physics department can hamstring an engineering school. But those service requirements can entail a serious strain on departmental resources when those programs are initiated or grow in size. The numbers at large universities with major engineering schools are almost overwhelming; for example, Virginia Tech has more than 3200 non-physics majors enrolled annually in its service courses. Enrollments such as these preclude some innovative approaches that are labor, space, and equipment intensive, such as the "discovery method" developed by Priscilla Laws and others at Dickinson College, although they still permit the initiation of others such as the studio physics approach pioneered by Jack Wilson at RPI. But such enrollments do create the need for focused attention to the methods of instruction for large lecture courses. Some departments, rather than resorting to the traditional solution of "chalking and talking," have made use of new teaching technologies to increase the amount of active learning in an environment typically characterized by the enforced passivity of students.
The task force therefore makes the following
that physics departments work closely with their colleagues in other departments to ensure that their curricula fit together well, and that they explore the new teaching techniques and technologies to enable more active learning in their large lecture courses.
The teaching responsibilities of physics departments reach beyond the campus: physicists share the responsibility for science education at all levels in the Commonwealth. This can involve direct interaction with primary- and secondary-school students or community-college students, or it can focus on the preparation of and in-service education for teachers in those programs. The task force was pleased to learn that most institutions have outreach programs with an impressive range of offerings to K-12 schools, if not to community colleges, from special courses to strengthen and update teachers' knowledge of physics and astronomy to visits and lectures at nearby schools.
that the physics programs in Virginia consider it part of their mission to ensure the excellence of the entire science education of Virginia's students, from primary school through the two- and four-year institutions of higher education.
To judge by those with whom the task force visiting teams talked, undergraduate students in the physics programs in Virginia are a very satisfied group. They have every reason to be: their programs generally have many of the hallmarks of a high-quality undergraduate experience, as summarized from the literature by the Education Commission of the States.(9)
The graduate students generally struck the visiting teams as a less satisfied and less active group than the undergraduates. By the time students enter graduate school, they seem to be focused less on general academic preparation and more on preparing themselves for a particular kind of job, and many expressed uncertainty about whether their programs had adequately prepared them for or informed them about the world of work. The task force has concluded that self-contained master's programs, in particular, should be designed to prepare students for non-academic employment -- they should all, in short, be professional rather than "terminal" programs, an unfortunate but sometimes all-too-descriptive label. And programs have a responsibility to inform all incoming graduate students about their prospects for employment, based on the program's record in placing its graduates.
Alumni are a good source of information about what a program's graduates go on to do, how well the program prepared them for their working lives, and how it might do the job better for its current students. Some of the programs were in contact with their alumni on more than a random and anecdotal basis, while many were not. Besides advising the faculty on how to keep the curriculum in line with the skills needed in the workforce, alumni can mentor students in the programs by serving on panels to explore their varied career choices and how to prepare for them, as well as by providing internships and an employment network. When programs solicit that information, help, and advice, they need to make clear to the alumni and to the students who will become alumni how they are using the information provided to improve the program.
that all programs track their undergraduate major and graduate alumni and make use of alumni contacts as mentors for their students and as advisors to the faculty. The task force suggests that programs set up homepages and alumni listserves, perhaps maintained by students in the program, as one easy way to keep in touch with their graduates.
The task force found on its campus visits that the physics faculty at Virginia's colleges and universities are typically very dedicated and hard working. On the whole they seem to be first-rate teachers but stressed by the competing demands of the classroom, their research program or laboratories, their mentoring of individual students and study groups, and the shared administrative duties of their institution. The ratio of faculty to physics majors was comparatively high, which allows these students significant opportunities for individual attention. At the smaller institutions, the entire physics faculty (usually a small number) was given excellent marks by their number-one customers, the students. In the larger institutions, the task force had predictably more mixed impressions, possibly because of the large service enrollments and possibly to some degree due to the centrality of research in the lives of faculty who teach at the research institutions.
Table 2 displays the rounded number of full-time-equivalent state-supported physics faculty (FTEF) at each institution, the number of total student credit hours (SCH) taught by each physics department, the 1994-95 credit hours per FTEF taught in each program, and the total amount of sponsored research the program reported generating annually. Sponsored research funds cannot reliably be calculated or compared per FTEF, since the time periods vary and the staff numbers may have been different when the research was funded. The degree to which a department has the "critical mass" of faculty necessary to do high-quality research is affected not only by its numbers of teaching faculty but by its non-state-supported faculty and research staff and its cross-disciplinary interactions. Finally, faculty effort spent in outreach activities is hard to quantify but is one important component of program effectiveness.
The physics departments under scrutiny in this study did not express worry about any imbalance between the role of the faculty member as teachers and researchers. Although that balance varies according to institutional type, most physicists see research at some level as a necessary part of their maintenance and growth as teachers and their capacity to provide hands-on experience to their students. The visiting teams did note, however, a very natural concern that there be a fair distribution of the tasks that make up modern academic life: teaching, research, administration, and outreach.
FACULTY AND WHAT THEY DO
|JMU||10||3,592||202||21||382||$48,743 (5-yr. average)|
|UVA||35||11,762||744||3,242||450||$5,474,000 (5-yr. average)|
|VCU||9||5,983||554||176||746||$397,512 (5-yr. average)|
|VSU||4||1,590||50||92||433||$279,574 (3-yr. average)|
The physics departments under scrutiny in this study did not express worry about any imbalance between the role of the faculty member as teachers and researchers. Although that balance varies according to institutional type, most physicists see research at some level as a necessary part of their maintenance and growth as teachers and their capacity to provide hands-on experience to their students. The visiting teams did note, however, a very natural concern that there be a fair distribution of the tasks that make up modern academic life: teaching, research, administration, and outreach. This observation leads the task force to make the following
that all programs review the balance of responsibilities carried by each faculty member to ensure a fair and equitable, but not necessarily identical, distribution of tasks.
Table 3 shows the demographic characteristics of the physics faculty in Virginia: the total headcount, their average age, and the rounded percentage of them who are white, black, other minority, male, and female.
As its age distribution suggests, a large number of Virginia's physics faculty -- like those elsewhere in the nation -- were hired in the academic boomtime of the first few decades after World War II, and in some longer-established programs a significant number are approaching retirement age. This age distribution has two major effects on students. First, in general older faculty members' predominately academic experience often has not prepared them well to educate students for or advise them about the current broader range of career options. Secondly, the lack of non-academic employment experiences makes them less able to act as a nexus between potential industrial employers and graduating students.
DEMOGRAPHICS IN PHYSICS
|Institution||Mean age||% white||% black||% other|
|% male||% female|
Faculty who are eligible for retirement or who qualify for one of the state's buy-out programs sometimes do not take advantage of these opportunities because they cannot, after retirement, continue to do what they enjoy most: do physics and share this joy with students. In some physics programs in the state, becoming an emeritus professor also results in the loss of an office, telephone, access to computing facilities and other supports that one has enjoyed as a faculty member. Institutions who have significant numbers of physics faculty approaching retirement age should evaluate their treatment of emeritus faculty and make necessary changes to eliminate the fears of potential retirees. If those fears were addressed at relatively modest cost, faculty members might be more willing to retire, thus allowing for the recruitment of the next generation of physicists.
When a program is able to hire new faculty members, it is sometimes stymied by the unavailability of start-up funding, the money necessary to set up a laboratory and research program. Faculty and administrators at several of the institutions visited by the task force noted the lack of resources that could be devoted to both attracting and kick-starting the career of a promising young scientist. The problem is also evident when an institution attempts to recruit a well-known mid-career scientist at another academic or industrial research institution. Such hires should be balanced against departments' needs for a more even age distribution; at the same time, they can add great scientific stature to a department and more than compensate for the buy-in cost with the subsequent sponsored research funds that follow these pedigreed scientists. As the world-class US industrial research labs (IBM, AT&T, Xerox, Exxon, etc.) have downsized over the last five years, and as the turmoil continues in the former Soviet Union, a large number of first-rate mature physicists have become available for academic positions. However, the competition for them has been fierce, and only the larger, more endowed institutions nationally have been able to afford the startup costs. To the degree that Virginia can attract more of these world-class scientists, it will simultaneously raise the scientific stature of the Commonwealth's physics departments, give students a look at industrial career options, and have a net positive influence on the research budget.
that the institutions ensure the continued vitality of their physics programs through creative early-retirement programs and emeritus options, as well as through adequate start-up funding for new faculty who are both at the beginning and in the middle of their careers. For their part, programs should, without compromising in the least their academic standards, work to increase the representation of physicists experienced in work outside the academy and women and minority physicists, as well as to develop a better age distribution among their faculty.
The statistics for Virginia's science departments show that the student statistics do not reflect the demographics of the Commonwealth or even of higher education with respect to women and minorities, as Table 4 demonstrates. Of Virginia's 424 upper-division undergraduates majoring in physics in 1994-95, 86 percent were white, eight percent black, and five percent other minority; 82 percent were male, 18 percent female. There were 252 graduate students studying physics in the Commonwealth in 1994-95, of which 84 percent were white, 5 percent black, and 11 percent other minority; 86 percent were male, with 14 percent females.
STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS -- PHYSICS MAJORS
|#/% white||#/% black||#/% other|
|#/% male||#/% female|
|u.g.: 3/7% |
|u.g.: 38/83% |
|u.g.: 8/17% |
|GMU||u.g.: 25 |
|u.g.: 32/89% |
|u.g.: 2/6% |
|u.g.: 32/89% |
|u.g.: 4/11% |
|JMU||u.g.: 21||u.g.: 18/95%||u.g.: 0/0%||u.g.: 1/5%||u.g.: 17/89%||u.g.: 2/11%|
|LC||u.g.: 20||u.g.: 29/97%||u.g.: 1/3%||u.g.: 0/0%||u.g.: 24/80%||u.g.: 6/20%|
|MWC||u.g.: 20||u.g.: 21/91%||u.g.: 0/0%||u.g.: 2/9%||u.g.: 18/78%||u.g.: 5/22%|
|NSU||u.g.: 22 |
|u.g.: 1/8% |
|u.g.: 11/85% |
|u.g.: 2/15% |
|ODU||u.g.: 24 |
|u.g.: 29/97% |
|u.g.: 0/0% |
|u.g.: 25/83% |
|u.g.: 5/16% |
|UVA||u.g.: 19 |
|u.g.: 52/95% |
|u.g.: 2/4% |
|u.g.: 44/80% |
|u.g.: 11/20% |
|VCU||u.g.: 25 |
|u.g.: 28/80% |
|u.g.: 2/6% |
|u.g.: 7/20% |
|VMI||u.g.: 20||u.g.:4/80%||u.g.:0/0%||u.g.: 1/20||u.g.: 5/100%||u.g.: 0/0%|
|VPI||u.g.: 21 |
|u.g.: 76/90% |
|u.g.: 5/6% |
|u.g.: 69/82% |
|u.g.: 15/18% |
|VSU||u.g.: 22 |
|u.g.: 0/0% |
|u.g.: 4/100% |
|u.g.: 2/50% |
|u.g.: 2/50% |
|W&M||u.g.: 20 |
|u.g.: 38/86% |
|u.g.: 4/9% |
|u.g.: 9/20% |
Consequently, the total number and percentage of physics degrees awarded to women and African-Americans in Virginia is low, even for the physical sciences.(11) The degree production for the past three years, for instance, is displayed in the following table:
PHYSICS DEGREES CONFERRED BY VIRGINIA'S PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS, 1994-95
|Baccalaureate||394||31 (8%)||78 (20%)|
|Master's||142||8 (6%)||20 (14%)|
|Doctorate||83||1 (1%)||13 (16%)|
Although Virginia does better than the nation at recruiting women and minority students and faculty into physics, the numbers and percentages are still small.(12) The task force therefore concludes that the Virginia physics community needs to intensify its efforts to recruit and retain a diverse student body and faculty until they constitute a solid presence in that community.
This is important for several reasons. First, if the physics profession is to enhance the scientific literacy of the citizens of the United States and the Commonwealth, it is crucial that the knowledge of physics not be confined to the "majority" (actually in the minority) population. Moreover, any profession is enriched by the diversification of its practitioners, since people from different backgrounds can often bring a fresh point of view and different talents to collaborative work. But most pragmatically, the enrollment problems faced by some physics programs could be alleviated by such a significant broadening of the pool of students to whom they appeal. Nationally, fewer than a half of 1 percent (the annual average for 1989-1994 was about 4900) of bachelor's degrees are in physics. The American Institute of Physics has identified 750 undergraduate institutions that award that degree. Thus colleges have on average about 6.5 majors per year.(13) Since the Council considers unproductive any baccalaureate program that graduates on average fewer than five majors per year, it is very much in the interest of the physics programs in the state to encourage and provide opportunities for women and minority students to major in physics and thereby significantly increase their enrollments. And finally, the state benefits from the increased production of knowledge workers.
Typically, undergraduate recruitment is done at the institutional rather than at the departmental level. So in order for departments to have an effect on the recruitment of a diverse group of students likely to have an interest in physics, they need to develop effective working relationships with their admissions offices. High schools with strong science programs or above- average minority populations need to be identified, and physics faculty need to recruit actively from them students who will major in science and engineering disciplines in college. Many of the physics departments of Virginia institutions have effective outreach programs with teachers in the local schools, and these personal contacts could be valuable in identifying and nurturing qualified women and minorities.
that Virginia's colleges and universities design targeted recruitment and retention strategies for minority and female undergraduate physics majors.
Unlike undergraduate admissions, graduate recruitment is usually done at the departmental level, either by a faculty committee responsible for all graduate affairs or by a separate graduate admissions committee. This gives departments more control over the diversity of the entering graduate class. Because no descriptions of special recruitment efforts were included in the reports to the task force, it is impossible to summarize here the efforts that programs are making. It is the task force's impression that most departments rely heavily on standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examinations, in sorting graduate applications. Admissions committees should be made aware that there is no agreement that standardized test results are highly correlated with research performance and success in graduate school.
The representation of minorities and women in Virginia's graduate programs is even lower than at the undergraduate level, as Table 4 showed. Every attempt should be made to actively recruit and attract women and minorities into graduate programs at Virginia universities through networking and professional contacts. A department chair's commitment to increasing the fraction of women in a graduate program can be strikingly successful. For instance, under the leadership of an aggressive department chair, Howard Georgi, female representation in the incoming class to Harvard's Ph.D. physics program was significantly improved, to nearly 40 percent.
In both the nation and the Commonwealth, the graduate applicant pool includes both national and international students. Clearly foreign students, from a range of countries and ethnicities, do provide valuable cultural and racial diversity and ensure that institutions can pick, train, and possibly enrich America's workforce with the best and brightest from the entire world. But these considerations need to be balanced with the need for Virginia's institutions to focus their educational efforts on qualified Virginians and other Americans, if only because those students are most likely to work in Virginia and the United States after graduation.
As a group, the state's physics programs have done a good job of keeping their admissions decisions in balance. Of the students studying physics in Virginia at all levels, two-thirds are Virginians, just over a quarter are non-Virginian US citizens, and only seven percent are foreign residents. Only the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech have substantial numbers of foreign students at the graduate level: they constitute over a third of the UVA graduate group and just under half of Tech's. These two institutions' physics departments should continue to monitor carefully their graduate admission statistics to ensure equity and maintain an appropriate balance.
that the physics programs in the Commonwealth diversify their graduate populations, and that they not rely exclusively on foreign students to do so.
The underrepresentation of minorities and women on physics faculties in the United States is significantly greater than in the other physical sciences, particularly at Ph.D-granting institutions.(14) Unless they constitute a "strong minority of at least 15 percent,"(15) women and minority faculty are apt to feel isolated. Such persons are invaluable as role models, mentors, advocates for special concerns, and "existence proofs" for students. Until qualified women and minority faculty are actively recruited by the physics community, the discipline will continue to have problems attracting, educating, and retaining large, currently uninvolved segments of the student population.
The most important factor influencing retention of women and minority students and faculty is the treatment of them in the department. Regardless of gender or ethnicity, all students should have equal access to research opportunities, be able to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, and be encouraged to develop professionally to their full potential. In 1990 the American Physical Society (APS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored site visits aimed at improving the climate for women in physics departments. The report identifies some common problems, such as the absence of female faculty, especially those who have successfully combined a career and family; poor communication with the department chair; various forms of harassment and no effective procedures to deal with them; and the absence of other kinds of support. It also suggests many solutions, including faculty recruitment, improved communication, and a safe and supportive environment.(16) While the report focuses on women, the problems and most of the recommendations are transferable to any minority population.
Support networks help improve the academic and social climate for women and minorities. As we have mentioned, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) can be very effective in connecting undergraduate students to each other, the faculty, the department, and the APS. At several institutions graduate students and/or faculty women have organized "women in physics" or campuswide "women in science" groups or established chapters of national organizations such as the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) or the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). These have been most successful when they involve women at every level -- undergraduate, graduate and faculty. They provide a support network and a forum for discussing professional concerns of particular relevance to women. The solidarity and sense of community help improve the climate in physics and integrate women into the profession.
that the physics programs in Virginia actively recruit and remove all barriers to the retention and promotion of qualified women and minority faculty.
In order to provide high-quality instruction in physics, it is essential that well-equipped modern laboratories, quality teaching space, adequate storage space, computers, library resources, and a shop for repairing and fabricating equipment (staffed by faculty, technicians, and student project assistants). Departmental facilities should be consistent with their programs' goals, mission and curricula.
According to information provided in the self-study reports, the amount of assignable space per teaching faculty member for the physics departments varied up to almost threefold within the same institutional type. At the four Ph.D.-granting institutions, the amount of space dedicated to the physics departments varied from 35,000 square feet to 91,000 square feet, with three of them between 35,000 square feet and almost 42,000 square feet. This comes to between about 1400 and 2600 assignable square feet per teaching faculty member. For those institutions whose highest degree level in physics is the master's, the total space allocation varied from about 6800 square feet to 17,000 square feet, or from about 950 to almost 1700 square feet per teaching faculty member. The space allocation for departments offering Bachelor of Science level programs varied from almost 6000 square feet to almost 12,600 square feet, or from approximately 1250 to 5200 square feet per teaching faculty member. There are reasons for the differences, including variations in what is counted in that space, the amount of sponsored research, and the numbers of staff and faculty who are funded by those grants. But institutions at the far extremes might want to review their space allocations.
Two institutions, having done so, are in the process of making major changes in their facilities: Mary Washington College is currently planning a new facility, and a new building to house portions of the departments of physics and oceanography is presently being constructed at Old Dominion University. This new building will have 45,000 square feet for the department of physics, and it will replace the space that the department now occupies in another building.
Several departments have expanded their research facilities by forming partnerships or linkages with research centers and scientific laboratories located both in and outside of the Commonwealth. For example, the Tidewater universities all have active involvements with the nearby Jefferson Lab and NASA Langley Research Center. Virginia State University has a particularly close relationship with the Tri-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As a result of these linkages, students and faculty at these universities have access to the excellent research opportunities available at these facilities. This kind of cooperation will become increasingly important as the National Science Foundation gets out of the business of modernizing facilities under the Academic Research Infrastructure Program. The 1997 NSF budget request follows the Vice President's National Performance Review's recommendation that responsibility for "the upgrading and renovating of university laboratories" be turned over to the states, local communities, and institutions.(18)
Although all institutions are directly or indirectly accessing a supercomputer for computational purposes, other computational equipment and facilities vary widely among the institutions. Physics students and faculty members at the institutions also have varying capabilities to access the resources available on the Internet and the World Wide Web for instructional and research activities. The 1996 General Assembly made a generous allocation to the colleges and universities as part of the Higher Education Equipment Trust Fund (see the "Technology Appropriation" line in Table 6 in the next section) to help them upgrade their computer and telecommunications capacities. In addition to supporting their academic programs, a few institutions are using their computational resources to provide services to local communities.
Like any other program at a college or university, the physics program incurs costs and provides benefits for the students, the university, the community, and the advancement of disciplinary knowledge. Many of the benefits and even the costs are difficult to measure because of insufficient data. They are especially difficult to compare, because of the noncomparability of the data that are available. Moreover, despite often feeling underappreciated on the contributory side and undersupported on the cost side, most faculty have been reluctant to do a serious cost/benefit analysis of their work. This problem is not confined to physics programs. But in these tight fiscal times, given the relatively high costs of and few majors in physics programs, it is especially in their interest to have complete and reliable data with which to make a reasoned case for the resources that they need and the contributions that they make. It is also critical for physics departments to understand how they fit into the broader college or university picture of program costs, so that they can respond reasonably to administrative decisions.
The cost data submitted by the institutions represent such a wide range of reporting formats and specificity, and they differ enough from those obtained through a May 1996 request by the American Physical Society on our behalf, that few reliable assertions or comparisons can profitably be made, beyond the one that the cost-to-student-credit-hour ratio is greater (roughly one and a half times the average in those institutions that made the calculation) than that of the average program. This leads to the
that the physics programs in Virginia, with the aid of their institutional fiscal officers, regularly track their costs and contributions, and that those data be made available to all members of the department. Deans and provosts should collect comparable data about all programs and make them generally available, in order to promote responsible dialogue about the distribution of resources and the expectations that they have of each department. The State Council of Higher Education should develop a uniform cost/benefit analysis model to facilitate this process.
Because of their relatively modest enrollment in the major, if not in their service courses, physics programs cannot generally point to the production of large numbers of student credit hours as a major benefit that they provide to the institution. However, they are often among the top departments in obtaining external grant support, with its benefit of overhead return to the institution. The degree to which this is possible varies, of course, by institutional type. But even programs in predominately teaching institutions can seek external support for work connected to their teaching missions, including student support, visiting lecturers, teaching equipment, work with the local schools, or curricular innovations. To give only a few examples, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium awards undergraduate research scholarships and graduate fellowships for students whose work is related to aerospace science. The American Physical Society provides a list of women physicists who are willing to come to campus for lectures. The Department of Education administers the Eisenhower Program, through which colleges bring up to date in their disciplines high-school teachers who teach science and mathematics. Finally, the National Science Foundation's recent presentation to the 104th Congress's Second Session stressed that "in a set of activities ranging from Research Experiences for Undergraduates through comprehensive undergraduate education reform, graduate traineeships, and awards to new investigators with both research and education objectives, NSF emphasizes the ties between research and education and moves to reinforce them."(19)
With federal research support flat or even declining, industrial support and research related to local economic development should provide an increasing base of support for physics-related research. Benefits that such support brings the institution in addition to money include the development of additional career contacts and paths for students, the disciplinary and community recognition that first-rate research brings to the institution, and some overhead return to further support the institution (a portion of which should be returned to the department to encourage future entrepreneurial activities).
Therefore the task force makes the following
that physics programs develop strategies to obtain or increase external funding, including funds for the teaching mission and industrial support for research.
Physics relies very heavily on laboratory and computing equipment for research (generally paid for by grant funds) and teaching (for which the Higher Education Equipment Trust Fund [HEETF] is the major resource). The Higher Education Equipment Trust Fund has been extremely beneficial to all equipment-intensive disciplines in the state. But when the task force visiting teams asked departments about the HEETF funds available, most did not know the amount of these funds that had been awarded to the institution, much less how and what amount their administrations had decided to allocate funds to the department. Some departments were not even prepared -- for instance with lists of needed equipment -- to spend the money should it become available. The 1996 General Assembly made a significant investment in equipment, including sums to cover equipment deficiencies and obsolescence and a special appropriation for teaching technology and some aspects of infrastructure development, as Table 6 demonstrates. Departments will need to be prepared to act quickly in order to spend this money effectively.
HIGHER EDUCATION EQUIPMENT TRUST FUND APPROPRIATIONS
that central administrations allocate equipment money as quickly as possible, that the departments make an effort to keep informed about the institutional equipment allocation and what their share of it will be as soon as is practicable, and that the departments provide their deans with regularly updated lists of equipment that they need and the benefits they will provide the program. All departmental faculty members should contribute to the development of this list, which should be congruent with a rolling departmental five-year plan for each program's curricular and research development, adjusted as needed according to what the department learns from its student assessment and graduate tracking programs.
In Part III of this report, the task force suggested ways in which departments could cooperate in offering students a wider range of learning opportunities. The same kinds of cooperation could also strengthen their research and the learning that occurs when undergraduate and graduate students engage in advanced research projects.
Through cooperation and sharing resources, Virginia's physics (and other scientific and engineering departments) could, with existing state resources, have much greater effect on research and education. Simultaneously, they would become more attractive candidates for state, federal, and private support for those activities. For instance, NSF is proposing to increase its support for its Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program by more than 40 percent in 1997, to almost $18 million.(20) Subcritical research groups or individual researchers requiring access to expensive instrumentation or unique facilities have much to gain by multi-institutional collaboration. The task force therefore makes the following
that such research collaborations among Virginia's physics departments be encouraged and supported.
Why should an individual or group of physics faculty members participate in any of the partnerships or alliances cited as examples in this report? The obvious benefits come from the strength of the partnership in attracting and using resources more effectively than can small groups or individuals. Partnerships and shared ventures are particularly valuable models for research, development, and the associated college-level training because of the expense of these ventures and the stagnation of state and federal funding for these activities. The task force encourages the Commonwealth's academic institutions and the legislature to recognize the inherent and economic value of such partnerships and to support their growth.
|Baccalaureate||4615||180 (4%)||792 (17%)|
|Master's *||822||21 (2%)||153 (14%)|
|Doctorate||1481||11 (1%)||184 (12%)|
* The master's figures cannot be compared to Virginia's, since they include only individuals with professional but not terminal master's degrees.
According to the same data source, the national figures on faculty are even more dismal: less than 2 percent of national physics faculty are black and 6 percent are female, compared to Virginia's 5 percent black and 10 percent female.