Friday, December 6, 2013
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Edward Gleason, manager of the Southworth Planetarium at USM, talks about the possible elimination of the physics major at the university on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
University of Southern Maine physics students work on physics problems Thursday, Sept. 13, 2013 as physics professor Paul Nakroshis, second from left, helps Ramses Damayo, left, a junior at USM. The university is eliminating the physics major because of under-utilization. Other physics majors are junior Deb Hilton, second from right, and senior Trevor Hamer, right.
Kalikow said the financial concern is professors teaching small numbers of students, not the average class size or department budget.
UNDER-ENROLLED CLASSES A TARGET
Ziffer said USM's decision contradicts an effort touted by state and education officials to get more students involved in science, technology, engineering and math. She said physics graduates go on to high-wage jobs and start businesses in the area.
The median annual salary for a physicist is $105,430, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Physics is also the basis for various careers in manufacturing, engineering, scientific research, biology and astronomy, among other disciplines.
"We are producing people who contribute, who have high impact," Ziffer said.
Two students in the program now are in USM's three-year-old Pioneer Program, which gives full scholarships to top students from Maine.
"I'm worried about being able to get classes," said Tyler Nelson, a freshman who is in the Pioneer Program and double-majoring in physics and math. "I feel like they are pushing around the small majors."
Small majors and under-enrolled classes have been under the microscope throughout the University of Maine System since 2010, when its trustees instituted the "Rule of Five" -- that each major should graduate at least five students a year -- and the "Rule of Twelve" -- requiring that classes have at least 12 students or be cut.
USM spokesman Robert Caswell said the school cut 47 classes this fall because of low enrollment, including one upper-level physics course in which only four students were enrolled. Of the 1,599 undergraduate classes remaining, 187 have fewer than 12 students.
Physics is not the first major to be cut under the Rule of Five at USM, Caswell said. German and Russian were cut in recent years because of low enrollment.
Since 2009, the school has added majors in sports management and in tourism and hospitality, and a doctorate in nursing practice.
The physics department went through the same review and threat of elimination several years ago, but the USM president and provost at the time came to a different conclusion, recommending that the department get more resources.
"Well, of course they came to different conclusions," Kalikow said Thursday. "It was two, three years ago. That was a different world. It was before frozen tuition, before even more declining enrollments, and before state appropriations were level, at best.
"We have to serve the students in the most effective way with the resources we have," she said.
Under Stevenson's proposal, the department must respond to the plan by May 31. The decision to eliminate the major needs approval from Kalikow and then the UMaine System's board of trustees.
PLANETARIUM LOSES MONEY
The physics department also oversees the popular but money-losing Southworth Planetarium. LaSala, the department chair, is the director of the planetarium.
Planetarium Manager Edward Gleason said Thursday that he didn't know of any plan to close the facility and, in fact, recent shows such as the current "Dinosaurs at Dusk" have been among the venue's biggest draws.
"We're generally used every day, year round," said Gleason, who has managed the planetarium since 1999.
"We have concerts, poetry, mythology classes, science classes. It's very popular. ... especially with school groups and for this dinosaur show," he said, gesturing to the program running on the ceiling.
But the planetarium, which was built in 1970, generally loses $13,500 to $19,600 a year, Caswell said. Recent shows and aggressive marketing have reduced the losses.
Although Stevenson's memo suggests that the planetarium could close, Kalikow said Thursday that the university intends to keep it open.
"I don't want it to close," she said. "I want it to be better."
The closest planetariums in Maine are at Bates College in Lewiston, the University of Maine in Orono, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and Lee Academy in Lee, southeast of Millinocket.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: