Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The University of Southern Maine's consideration to cut the degree program in physics is not in the best interest of Maine's economy.
Students of the hard sciences play a big role in the state’s future.
A fundamental prerequisite for growth and commercialization in Maine's technology sectors is a workforce adept in critical science and math skills. Cutting the physics program is particularly disturbing, since it would create workforce deficiencies that would place Maine companies at a commercial disadvantage.
The Maine economy needs a strong technology cluster made up of firms and specialists that develop and design complex systems aligned with the needs of businesses and institutions.
Economic progress and productivity gains demand that Maine workers at all levels have high levels of skills and competencies to apply and make use of technology that is pervasive in Maine workplaces. The availability of a highly skilled and qualified workforce is critical to Maine's technology cluster.
Cutting USM's programming at this time would remove an important component of workforce development and signal that the university does not understand, or care about, the needs of Maine's businesses.
The fastest-growing businesses employ workers with advanced degrees. These are the companies capable of importing significant money into the state through the development of emerging and disruptive technologies.
The correlation between entrepreneurs and advanced degrees is clear from a National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics report. This report highlights Maine's disturbingly low percentage of doctoral degrees (5 percent in Maine versus 14 percent nationally) in science occupations.
As the fastest-growing businesses are predominantly found in vibrant metropolitan areas, it is clear that more attention needs to be given to strengthening existing programs and providing advanced degree opportunities at USM.
Instead of cutting science and math programs, USM should be ensuring that there are educational pathways for students to achieve advanced degrees.
I want to thank you for your excellent editorial in support of the physics bachelor of arts at the University of Southern Maine ("Our View: Cutting physics major wrong budget solution," Sept. 14).
As chair of the USM physics department, I want to make one important point at this time: Cutting the physics major is not a budget solution at all. The physics department is a revenue generator -- a profit center -- for USM.
Every year the physics department generates tuition and fees revenue in excess of expenses by more than $400,000, a number that has been increasing annually for the past two decades.
Although there are a small number of "low-enrollment" upper-level classes (typically three classes with enrollments of between three and 10 students each semester), the average class size in the department, including these small classes and labs capped at 16, is 30.5 students.
And even the small classes almost always generate more tuition revenue than the cost to offer them.
This information is verified in the program review of the physics department conducted by the USM Faculty Senate in 2012.
I'll leave to others or to a future letter a discussion of the value of the physics major, but it is important to make sure that all understand that physics is not losing money at USM.
I would like to respond to the Sept. 14 Portland Press Herald editorial: "Our View: Cutting physics major wrong budget solution."
I totally agree. Cutting hard science programs such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics is not the direction a university should be headed.
I don't see the budget issue of the courses having too few students a good enough reason to eliminate part of the intellectual muscle of the college.
As a retired Southern Maine Community College faculty member, who supervised the academic support program, I am aware of the curriculum offerings at SMCC, some of which are offered mostly for transfer students.
For instance, liberal arts students have an opportunity to take calculus I, II and III as part of their associate degree electives.
Calculus I classes generally fill up because it is required in some programs, but SMCC offers sections of calculus II and III with only six or seven seats filled so students can take and transfer these credits.
The science and mathematics curriculum has really taken off since SMCC became a community college. I hired some of these students as tutors because they had excellent math and science skills. The University of Southern Maine should be trying to recruit these students into the hard science programs at its college.
The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science charter school, which just opened this fall, is focusing on STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
As Baxter develops its 11th- and 12th-grade curriculum, USM should be working with Baxter to give students an opportunity to take college level STEM-related courses, which include physics, while they are still in high school.
Those students could be taking upper-level physics courses by their second year of college. This could be a great recruitment tool.
Don't cut the major; fill it.
Joyce E. Leslie
Cartoonist was right about Planned Parenthood services
In the Sept. 15 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram, you reprinted the Aug. 25 cartoon by Steve Meyers regarding Planned Parenthood.
A reader wrote that she wanted to correct a false statement conveyed in the cartoon.
Mary Rose Pray of Wiscasset asserts that Planned Parenthood does not provide cancer screening. She is the one who is writing the false statement. Planned Parenthood provides Pap tests, breast exams and cervical screenings.
These are very specific cancer screening tests. The broad range of other exams for women's general health that are available through Planned Parenthood may identify other cancer concerns.
Shame on the Maine Sunday Telegram for emphasizing Ms. Pray's error by adding the headline, "Cartoon misstates services Planned Parenthood offers."
Martha Rogers, R.N.
Don't ask doctors, nurses to work too-long shifts
Why are we letting hospitals get away with having doctors and nurses work 16 and more hours a day? Have you ever tried it yourself? You forget things, make mistakes, etc., etc.
Look what happens when you try to drive when you are that tired -- it's worse than dope.
Who wants someone like that taking care of them when their life depends on it? Keep this in mind next time you have to go into a hospital.
Maybe Maine needs to put new sign on the turnpike
So, I read that all the members of the Public Utilities Commission, as well as the public advocate, who have to decide on a new contract for Poland Spring water, have connections to Poland's parent company, Nestle ("For regulators and Nestle Waters, conflict by the gallon," Sept. 1).
And I see that uninsured motorists are responsible for a couple hundred accidents in Maine every year ("Uninsured drivers pose physical, fiscal hazards," Sept. 1). Oh, and there are those drivers with multiple OUIs who are still on the road, causing injuries and deaths.
And then there is the political cartoon about our potty-mouthed governor who has, on multiple occasions, made Maine the "talk of the nation."
Perhaps it is time to take down all those welcoming signs that tout Maine as "the way life should be."