The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Physics and chemistry departments set to merge by fall of 2020

3 min read

Physics and chemistry will not face budget cuts and their respective budgets will remain separate. (Grace Tian | The Blue & Gray Press)


Staff Writer

Due to a faculty shortage, the physics and chemistry departments will merge before the fall of 2020.

“To alleviate administrative strain on the physics faculty and allow them to create the most vibrant program they can, we will be merging the department with chemistry to create a new Department of Chemistry and Physics,” said Keith Mellinger, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
In an email to physics and chemistry majors, Mellinger announced the merging of the two departments.

“This change probably raises several questions for you, and you should certainly feel free to reach out directly to me or any of the Chemistry or Physics faculty with them. For now, I want to emphasize that this change will have absolutely no effect on your courses, your major, or your degree plans,” the email read. “Now, after keeping a careful eye on the departments over the last year and a half, we are ready to make some permanent changes.”

Over the past few semesters, the physics department has been gradually losing senior faculty to retirement or relocation – the most recent of whom was George King, whose retirement marked the end of more than 30 years at the university. His departure was the last of the senior faculty, leaving the junior faculty with the difficult challenge of managing the department.
Chemistry department chair Charlie Sharpless has also served as the physics department chair for the past year and a half.
“It’s all about the combining of manpower,” Sharpless said. “[We have] a program that needs to be brought forward a few decades.”
Sharpless said he is in support of the University’s decision and stressed the benefits to the physics faculty.

“[This] will help the faculty be as good as they can be,” he said.
The hope is to overhaul classes and how they are taught, allowing professors to pay more attention to academics as the two departments will equally share the burden of administration.

“From my perspective, I am glad to have senior faculty to work with,” said Varun Mahija, a physics professor. “I need senior faculty to work with. [The chemistry department] has been incredibly supportive of me being here and my research as well as giving good feedback. I’m glad to have people to talk to about experience and new methods of teaching. I am very positive about the upcoming changes.”

According to Sharpless, this merger does not involve any reduction in faculty. Rather, the university is currently looking to bring in more physics professors to add to the new combined program. “Absolutely nothing will be taken from either program,” Sharpless said. He added that neither department will face budget cuts, and their respective budgets will remain separate.

Senior biochemistry major Chris Amurrio hopes that this merger will bring forth greater collaboration between departments. “I would love to see the physics professors offer electives for chemistry majors and vice versa given the [current] lack of choice and variety of electives.”
Sharpless and Makhija confirmed this is a possibility. Merged departments mean an overlapping curriculum will likely take place along with collaboration. Makhija believes that this will allow the physics department to grow and recruit new majors.

“We are thinking of how to get new students in the program,” he said, “I’m always thinking of new ways that we can grow our curriculum.”
As of now, there are no plans for the departments to re-separate. The merge is pending state approval, and this organizational change should occur by July 1, 2020.

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