Monday, September 11, 2006

The semester just gets better and better ...

Regular readers will probably remember that for the past two summers I've taught a field course up in Canada. The course was taught at a site my campus recently acquired, and now owns and operates; it's provided a unique opportunity for our program to be able to expose biology majors to field research and field biology.

I've dedicated much of my spare time for the past two years to working on projects related to this site. I've led two groups of students on research trips to the site, written two NSF grants to partially fund work at the site, written a large internal grant (at the last minute) to fund planning for the site, and done many smaller tasks in an attempt to spread knowledge about the site. I was not compensated for any of this work except the time and travel involved in actually teaching the two courses (even the time I spent each year working with students to plan the courses went uncompensated). And I'm not alone; many other professors and administrators at my campus have also worked tremendously hard on tasks relating to the site.

Early this year, before writing our second NSF grant, I was told by our president (a great advocate for our work) that while the long-term financial future of the site was in doubt, we had about five years of funding to count on. That was what we needed to hear before dedicating time to last year's courses and grant proposals; five years would be enough time to find out if we could create a financially sustainable program at the site.

However, last week we met with the president, who told us that the administrative body that runs the site is now seriously considering selling it. A committee (which no faculty will reportedly be on, and which I was told didn't even want to hear from us) will be created to evaluate the financial condition of the site, and to recommend whether to sell it or not. The president has informed us that it is likely the committee will recommend the site be sold; while we can probably count on one more year there, we shouldn't plan for anything further.

Tip to administrators: If you want to rip out your faculty members' hearts in one easy step, follow the procedure above. It'll work wonders.

While I've had two great years at the site, and have had some amazing experiences with some of the best students I've ever had, a large part of my motivation for working on the site was the knowledge that the research we were starting now would be able to help other researchers 5, 10, 20, or 40 years down the line. The site has been virtually untouched by humans and relatively unstudied; thus we were working on trying to figure out what types of animals, plants, and fungi were there. It was hard (and fun) work that was going to take years (especially since none of our faculty or students have time to do the research or are experts in the required fields), but the real payout was going to be in a few years when we could start using our taxonomic knowledge to facilitate more complex studies at the site (and hopefully entice more researchers to work at the site), as well as in a few decades as we watched what happened to the site over the long term.

Now we have one more year left.

All is not lost yet, as no decisions have been made for certain. But what we've been told is that unless we can show that the site can be sustainable financially within about a year, it's going to be sold. Given that the administration has apparently done relatively little to create a financially stable operations model at the site (most planning I've seen has focused around teaching money-losing courses at the site), this will be a virtually impossible task.

We're being told that we should be excited about this last year; I'm not. I didn't spend hundreds of hours of my spare time these last two years working on this site just to have everything washed away before we've even had a chance to try to make the site sustainable.

1 comment:

Radagast said...

Importing comments:

Visit me on...

We're hopeful that there is; part of the problem is that it's been difficult to contact people (as we're so far away), and it's also been difficult to even know who to contact (since we're not even in the same country, and thus the governmental agency structures are different). This year we've finally gotten some internal funding to take a trip to the region to try to work on building partnerships, which will hopefully help.
September 18, 2006, 9:53:50 AM PDT – Like – Reply

Is there anything that could be done locally? Is there a BC company that could have any interest in being shown to be a god corporate citizen and helping to sustain the site? Perhaps from the fish farming or other resource industries that need the PR?
September 15, 2006, 8:25:04 AM PD