On Oct. 6, the UC Davis Graduate Council notified the University’s Geography Graduate Group (GGG) of the suspension of its 2010-2011 admissions.
The proposed suspension, which would prevent further admissions and recruitment into the program, is the first of a two-step process geared towards closing and discontinuing the program.
The decision comes at the recommendation of the Graduate Council, the subcommittee of the Academic Senate responsible for graduate student policy at UC Davis.
“The council came to their conclusions based on the detailed review of two subcommittees over the period of three years,” said Graduate Council Chair André Knoesen. “Even though there was enormous passion expressed by the students, we did not see the excitement translate to the faculty in terms of defining curriculum for advanced principals of geography.”
The GGG disagrees. The review committee responsible for overseeing the progress of the GGG was lacking information, they said to group representatives Alex Mandel and Michele Tobias. The committee consisted of three professors from UC Davis and an external professor from UC Santa Barbara, who met in 2007 to analyze the dated 2000-2005 review period.
According to Mandel, the Graduate Council’s decision to recommend closing of the program did not come until summer 2009 and the GGG did not hear about it until they received the October letter. This was problematic because the admissions process for the fall 2010 school year had already started, Mandel said.
“The only thing that came out of it was a letter from the external professor,” Mandel said. “The UC Davis professors, which had little involvement with the GGG, did nothing, just a memo agreeing with him.”
The GGG, like other graduate groups on campus, is distinct from a university department, which has greater funding and access to full-time teaching equivalents (FTE). This distinction severely limits the classes that can be held.
According to Mandel, graduate classes tend to run on “overload,” where professors must teach graduate classes on their own time, in addition to what classes they already teach. This has improved substantially in the past year, he said.
“We have two professors, the department is allocating more teachers and we have a new curriculum [that] incorporates the four categories from the Association for American Geographers’ (AAG) journal,” Tobias said. “We’re focusing on reversing the admissions suspension while we appeal the discontinuation of the GGG.”
In addition to allegations of improper review procedures, Mandel and Tobias claim that in spite of recent improvements in curriculum and increased staff agreements for teaching classes, the GGG had not heard from the Graduate Council prior to their October letter of notification.
“I think [this proposal] means a step backwards in academic and scholarly work,” said Michael Byrne, California geospatial information officer. “Geography is a discipline that is crucial to understanding our world and in particular how the change as a society. Even the current administration understands that place-based issues are important to national policy development.”
Another issue the representatives attributed the closure with was lack of communication.
“We didn’t hear anything, and we thought we were fine,” Tobias said. “We want the graduate council to work with us to resolve this.”
Though the proposed closure of the GGG has garnered much opposition, both the Graduate Council and the GGG agree that the pending closure of the program does not stem from financial woes, as the program costs relatively little, requiring a payroll for one or two individuals.
“This is a very long bureaucratic process,” said Stephen Brush, chair of the GGG. “So many people are concerned and I believe we will prevail, but we are in for the long haul.”
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