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Report of the PAAAB for 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

May 17, 2010

Memo to: Steve Sanders, Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy

From: Physics and Astronomy Alumni Advisory Board (PAAAB) Bill Anderson, Chair

Membership of the PAAAB includes Bill Anderson, Tom Armstrong, Bruce Barrett, John Beacom, Mike Hennessy, Mona Kessel, Warren Legler, Colleen McKee, Richard Sapp, Joe Shields, and Ed Sion. Note that at the conclusion of the meeting it was announced that Drs. Legler, Sapp, and Sion had competed their terms on the Board and that replacement Board members would be identified at a later date.

Subject: Report of May 10, 2010 PAAAB Meeting

The Board again expresses its appreciation for the hospitality shown by the Department faculty, staff, and students and for the preparation and planning done by the Department to make this a meaningful meeting. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments; we trust that our inputs will be viewed as constructive and useful. They represent an extra-department point of view...a different set of eyes.

All of the inputs received by the Board during the meeting were assessed from seven different perspectives. These were morale, infrastructure, staffing, financials, planning, instructional program/recruiting, and student career development. Summary findings follow:

  1. Morale. Morale in the department is mixed. Students who met with Board members were positive and upbeat about the department. The department has many success stories to its credit in its research and academic activities. The availability of new space vacated by Pharmacy is viewed as a positive development. At the same time, budget cuts continue to stress the department.

  2. Infrastructure

    1. Facility For the time being it seems the pressure for space is relieved due to vacated offices and labs from the Pharmacy move. Remodeling costs for this freed space becomes a new issue. In the absence of other funding sources, as new hires are added, their start-up packages may include provisions for remodeling. Malott is very old and needs attention, especially with respect to wiring and ventilation. In the five year plan, a new science building is planned adjacent to Malott which will be targeted for scientific research. Malott is expected to be “gutted” and remodeled as a whole, addressing these serious infrastructure issues. The Board encourages short and long term planning of space in these difficult circumstances. A well thought out plan can put the Department in a strong position if funding becomes available. The plan must include requirements for facilities, new or retrofitted, especially with regard to vibration and power.

    2. Internet/ Broadband This is apparently a well known problem throughout the university. It is expected that the new provost, being a computer scientist, will give this matter attention and priority. The Board urges the Department to continue to highlight the importance of this problem with respect to its currently funded research involving supercomputers, data from national labs, NASA, CERN, etc. A well thought out plan can prevent time and money being wasted on bad solutions.

    3. Teleconferencing The new rearrangement of space allows the sharing of teleconferencing equipment with the chemistry department. The Board sees this as a positive development in the short term. The hope in long term is that the Department can team with the chemistry department and leverage this interaction to benefit both departments.

    4. Power Quality Electrical power is intermittent and noisy in some labs making it difficult to perform experiments vital to currently funded research. The Board recommends that these problems be highlighted as part of the facility planning process.

  1. Staffing

    1. Office Staff The Board noted a significant increase in staffing concerns over the previous year, this includes both office staff and faculty. The loss of two staff positions has placed the Department in a difficult work around position. The Board strongly supports the Department’s plans to do a complete evaluation of office staffing requirements to help decide how to proceed.

    2. Faculty It was noted that the number of Department faculty members is at a three decade low of 23. At this staffing level the Department is borderline in being able to teach all courses needed for its undergraduate and graduate students and, at the same time, being able to maintain the full research potential and requirements of the faculty. The Board strongly supports the Department’s request for one or two new faculty hires in the coming year. The Board continues to endorse the longer range goal of obtaining an endowed professorship dedicated to leading the multi-department, multi- university initiative in developing new technologies for energy conversion and storage.

    3. Laboratory Director The Board strongly encourages the Department to acknowledge the potential, pending retirement of its laboratory director/coordinator by starting immediately to train and groom a new faculty member to become the laboratory director.

  2. Financials In the recent depressed economic climate, the Department came through with a relatively healthy situation. Although operating budgets were frozen and salaries were frozen and there were no new hires, endowments recovered and there were no furloughs or lay-offs. It is planned that a new faculty member will be hired next year but the academic year will start two staff members short and the operating budget will be reduced by 5%. Research expenditures are robust and growing but the number of faculty is small for the coursework and students supported. Interim Dean Greg Simpson and Associate Dean Rob Weaver provided a sobering assessment of the allocation of restricted resources. The Board urged the CLAS leadership to help the Department meet its goal of 28 faculty members in the near future.

  1. Planning A new planning process has emerged in the Department involving a faculty retreat this summer (2010). The needed mix of junior and senior faculty members will focus on what needs to be accomplished and ways in which to strengthen the Department. Every five years there will be an assessment of the Department’s organizational structure, status of the graduate program, climate in the department, workloads, outcomes based on surveys and feedback from alums, and a roadmap for hiring. The Board recommends that infrastructure be added to the list of study topics. The August retreat will lead to a 10 to 15 page document which will serve as a guide for future Department actions and initiatives.

    The Board endorsed this planning being done in an environment of economic uncertainty. The Department’s commitment to moving ahead with the identification of growth areas in research, perhaps including new interdisciplinary efforts, is to be commended.

  2. Instructional Program and Recruiting It was noted that spoken English proficiency requirements for teaching assistants continue to prevent recruiting students who would otherwise be well qualified for graduate positions in the Department. The value of having non-endowment funds readily available for summer stipends was reviewed. The lost of an office staff member responsible for keeping graduate student records and making follow-up contacts has created a problem for the Department which still needs to be resolved.

7. Student Career Development The Board discussed strategies for improving and extending the communications between Department student majors, alumni, and faculty. Social networking emerged as a tactic well suited to this purpose. Several goals were discussed, namely:

  1. Providingstudentswithexamplecareerpathsthatcan result from department degrees – especially possibilities for those at the baccalaureate level.

  2. Equipping faculty, especially student advisors, with information to aid students in considering course selections (where electives are available) that improve student preparation for post-graduation employment.

  3. Creatingopportunitiesforstudentstogetmatchedto summer employment and internship possibilities using the experience, insight, and knowledge of department alumni.

Tom Armstrong (BS Physics 1962; Emeritus Professor) has been tasked by the Board to pursue this development. It is understood that the Board supports and encourages this effort to elicit voluntary contributions of time and good will from all Departmental alumni. Prof. Armstrong is further instructed to avoid unreasonable impositions on students, faculty, and alumni in this effort. It is further understood that the Department

Chair has final authority to guide this process.

In addition to the above comments, observations, and recommendations, a few other items were noted

  1. Steve Hawley should be commended for his efforts to increase the visibility of the engineering physics program within the School and the University.

  2. The shortage of faculty which is creating class scheduling problems for students needs to be addressed soon.

  3. Department alumni need better information on the purpose and membership of the Alumni Advisory Board and information on how to contact the Board members,

  4. The Board recommends that a study be made of the engineering physics curriculum at other universities in order to better understand how the program at KU compares.

5. The Board requests that, in the future, electronic versions of the presentations made during Board meeting be made available for subsequent review and analysis.

Thank you for giving the Board the opportunity to develop and provide these inputs. The Board looks forward to continuing to work closely with the Department.