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Volume 18 Issue 10 (October 2008)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 52-53 | PDF (168KB)


Accreditation: Wrong Path for the Geosciences

Timothy Bralower1,*, William Easterling1, John Geissman2, Mary Savina3, Barbara Tewksbury4, Geoffrey Feiss5, Heather Macdonald5, Dallas Rhodes6

1 College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
2 Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA
3 Dept. of Geology, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota 55057, USA;
4 Dept. of Geosciences, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York 13323, USA
5 College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187, USA
6 Dept. of Geology and Geography, Georgia Southern Univ., Statesboro, Georgia 30460, USA

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Earth scientists are in a unique position to contribute to pressing issues of great societal relevance, from managing water supplies to extending the supply of fossil fuels and other energy sources, mitigating the effects of natural hazards, evaluating environmental health, and predicting and mitigating the consequences of global warming. Geoscience departments have a unique responsibility to address these issues effectively as they educate students, build research programs, and provide outreach and service to society. It is in this light that we examine the potential impact of accreditation of geoscience bachelor degree programs (B.A. and B.S.) now under development by a coalition of professional societies as presented in the September GSA Today (GSA Ad Hoc Committee on Accreditation [GSA ad hoc comm.], 2008).

The potential effects of accreditation on departments and their students would differ depending upon the nature of the accreditation system. Herein, we consider the effects of a moderately formal system comparable to that used by the American Chemical Society: a rigid curriculum, detailed accounting, and review by an external disciplinary board (similar to Model 3 in the GSA survey; GSA ad hoc comm., 2008). Our perspectives on the effects of accreditation come from a variety of institutions: Six of the authors are geoscience faculty and two are university administrators (a dean and a provost) with broad views of other science and engineering fields with accredited degree programs.

We are deeply concerned that national accreditation would have a negative impact on geoscience departments and their missions to educate both future geoscientists and science-literate citizens. These missions can be more effectively accomplished through promoting strong, flexible geoscience departments and professional licensing than by constraining undergraduate geoscience education.

Manuscript received 28 June 2008; accepted 21 July 2008.

doi: 10.1130/GSATG25GW.1