SPECIAL SERIES : SF State Budget Woes
Engineering Practically Unscathed by Cuts
April 19, 2004 7:56 PM
If emotions were given life, it is possible that delight and elation would be seen bouncing off the walls in the School of Engineering.
After weeks of intense apprehension and speculation about the future of its degree programs, the School of Engineering has come out almost unscathed by surviving the chopping block -- at least for now.
Its graduate program has been proposed to move to self-support, and growth of its undergraduate program will be limited to its current size and degree programs, the university announced Monday.
“I think it’s great the program is saved, but at the same time there is uncertainty about our future,” said Wenshen Pong, engineering professor and graduate advisor. “Due to constant budget cuts, it seems we will always be up in the air and could end up in the same situation again.”
Although the School of Engineering may be in the clear for the time being, Pong’s fears are not unfounded. News of a further $72 million cut to the California State University system leaves everyone guessing about who or what goes next.
Judy Pelton, who graduated with an engineering degree from SF State in 2002, feels that alumni must now step up and take care of their own to keep the engineering program intact.
“I am thrilled about the news but this situation is just the writing on the wall,” Pelton said. “I still feel like the program is in jeopardy, and it seriously needs funds to survive, which could come in the form of alumni support.”
Thinking about the future is definitely on the mind of Sheldon Axler, the dean of the College of Science and Engineering. But for the time being he is allowing himself to enjoy the moment.
“I am delighted the engineering department will remain at SF State,” he said. “I’m happy for the students and the faculty. I am just so happy this worked out.”
Many proponents of the School of Engineering cite Axler’s commitment to the fight as a key reason the programs have survived thus far. In what has been described as a “four-hour marathon,” Axler sat down with SF State President Robert Corrigan and Provost John Gemello last week and carefully laid out the various arguments about the strength of the engineering programs and the importance of their livelihood.
“They were open-minded and flexible. We were thankful for that,” said Axler.
Deflecting any personal responsibility, Axler said he felt the provost and president based their decision more on the idea that they realized the engineering department has a perfect fit with the university’s mission statement. Not only is the program one of the most diverse on campus, it has been the catapult to sending students to a completely new economic level he said.
Although both the president and provost were unavailable for comment, there are some who feel the public outcry of support swayed their decision-making process. In recent weeks, several articles highlighted the potential fate of the School of Engineering prompting both current and former students generated a letter-writing campaign.
Silvino Cruz was one of the hundreds who wrote Corrigan. “At the time I did not feel my letter would make a difference, I felt it was a lost cause, and I was just going through the motions.”
“Now looking back, it makes you feel good that the letters, the phone calls --that they were not a waste of time.”
Looking ahead to the future, Shy Shenq Liou, the director of the School of Engineering, said he sees a more focused department all of SF State can be proud of even in the face of pending budget cuts.
This is not to say the department will be without changes. According to Liou, the School of Engineering will be unable to hire any new faculty and as a result will declare itself an impacted major for undergraduate studies.
In addition, by the fall of 2006 the graduate program will be self-supporting and operated by SF State’s College of Extended Learning. In the meantime, no new graduate applicants will be admitted to the program while still allowing for current graduate students to complete their studies.
This news could not have come any sooner to engineering students like Sonja El-Wakil, 27, who could not contain her excitement upon hearing the news she would not have to find a new place to finish her studies.
“Students are very happy and relieved,” Liou said. “We are all energetic and we now have a lot of work ahead of us.”
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