The progressive academic program built out of investigating the grey area between science and the humanities is facing a grim future.
SF State Provost John Gemello on Monday released a list of proposed programs and departments to be cut in an effort to shore up a $10.3 million budget gap of Academic Affairs. The NEXA program found itself on that list.
The interdisciplinary program of the College of Humanities merges science and humanities to study their relationship through such courses as “The Nuclear Revolution” and “Nature, Culture and Technology.”
The program, which currently has 360 students enrolled, was started in 1975 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Since 1979, it has been supported and funded by the university.
“To throw this program away is a disaster,” said Susan Lea, professor of physics and astronomy. “These classes show students that there’s more ways at looking at a topic…There are no others that run this way. Students will miss the opportunity to delve into different topics at the same time.”
Senior David Lucas, who prides himself on being one of the program’s lone majors, said he was shocked at its proposed elimination.
“The whole point (in coming here) was to do something creative,” explained Lucas, 25. “It’s made for people who don’t want to follow the traditional route to a bachelor degree.”
Lucas transferred here from Humboldt State in 2002 as a NEXA major with an emphasis on future studies. He says the flexible program allowed him to create a major tailored to his bilateral interests in science and its philosophical issues.
“(NEXA classes) give you an interesting perspective, which is why I think it’s valuable to keep,” he said. “Science is responsible for a lot of things that happen. There are a lot of science critics who don’t know how systems work.”
Taking its cue from the Renaissance spirit, which saw a correlation between the arts, science and humanities, NEXA's mission has been to bridge the gap between science and its cultural impact. As such, classes are often taught in tandem by two professors from different branches of study, usually a science or business curriculum coupled with philosophy or English.
“These classes really integrate what students know with other perspectives,” said Mary Luckey, professor of chemistry and biology. “It’s intellectually productive for students. I think that it will be a shame for students.”
Connor Robinson is a comparative literature sophomore currently taking the NEXA course, “The Big C: Literary and Scientific Perspectives On Cancer.” It examines cancer memoirs through the context of the biology of the disease at work on its authors.
“It’s one of the best programs here,” said Robinson, 19. “It’s a completely new way of learning … I think losing the program would be a major blow to the intellectual community. It brings the intellectual community together.”
Many involved in the program were not surprised by the news Monday. Some say NEXA was an obvious target to slashing since it draws on professors and lecturers from various campus disciplines, including philosophy, English, physics and biochemistry.
“No one is really willing to go to bat for it,” Professor Lea explained. The astronomy and physics professor also teaches NEXA 380, “Cosmologies and World Views,” which was slated for the fall 2004 semester. “They’re busy worrying about their own departments.”
Still, several people interviewed were bewildered by the program’s proposed elimination in light of the few exclusively NEXA professors. They questioned how much money the university will be saving in the end.
“It’s more symbolic than practical,” Lea said. “I’d prefer they target at things that is sound academically, rather than what is expedient.”
The impact of cutting NEXA is likely to be felt hardest in general education course offerings. Many NEXA classes are used to fulfill Segment III requirements.
According to the press release from university, the list of suggested programs for elimination will go to the university’s Academic Senate, where faculty representatives will vote on it. The process could take up to several months before any decision is definite.