MU Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute professors affected by tenure changes

Monday, March 12, 2012 | 9:37 p.m. CDT; updated 9:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — The tenure home of four MU professors will be changing.

According to several reports from university administrators, the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute will split Thursday to become a nuclear science academic program and a research program under the MU Office of Research.


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The four professors who were part of the graduate school program will have to choose another department in which to hold tenure and put through grant proposals. The change is expected to be finalized July 1.

The motive

It is unusual for professors to be housed in a graduate school program and not have an affiliation with a specific department.

George Justice, dean of the graduate school, said the school doesn't have the structure to maintain tenured positions and support for faculty research because that is not its purpose.

"We're changing the focus to be able to do what graduate schools do," he said. 

Justice said that when the institute was created its goal was to create an interdisciplinary program that would grow and include professors from various departments. This is still the goal of the nuclear science academic program that will remain associated with the graduate school.

The effects

With the restructuring of the graduate school, four nuclear engineering professors will have to find departments to become a part of. Justice said these faculty members are professors Sudarshan Loyalka, Mark Prelas, Tushar Ghosh and Robert Tompson. 

Ghosh and Prelas recently won a Texty Award for the second volume of their 2011 textbook on energy.

Justice said the four faculty members will have to approach faculty, department chairs and deans of the colleges they seek to join and ask for a position in the department. They have two years to make this switch, and Justice said he has offered to help them.

"I am still their dean until they find new homes," he said. 

Justice said neither the faculty members' jobs nor the academic programs offered are at risk of disappearing.

For current students, Justice said, the program will stay the same, but future students could see a change if the college of engineering decides to offer a nuclear engineering program that is more specific than the nuclear science program offered through the graduate school. 

Potentially, the program is seeking to involve faculty from the colleges of medicine, engineering and arts and science, as well as any others that are interested.

Not all on the same page

Although Justice sees the restructuring of the program as a way to expand its reach, not everyone is as optimistic. Justice said several faculty members have told him they're not as confident in the plan. 

Ghosh said in an email that the changes weren't necessary and put some of the institute's past successes at risk. He cited the rankings by American Analytics, a company that analyzes doctoral program productivity, as evidence of the program's merits. The institute was ranked No. 1 in 2007 and No. 3 in 2010, he said.

"We have proven ourselves, both individually and collectively, what we can do in terms of productivity, national recognition for our program and for the campus," Ghosh said.

Ghosh said he is less worried about his own ability to find a new department than he is about the success of the program after this change. 

"The changes only communicate lack of support to Nuclear Science and Engineering research and education in this campus by this administration," he said.

"To be successful in getting grants, the reputation of the program matters a lot. This will certainly will provide a negative perception of the campus and is bound to affect our ability to get grants."

Ghosh also said the medical physics program received accreditation in 2010, and the restructuring is putting that accomplishment in jeopardy.  

Prelas said he is unsure about the changes because he hasn't studied the documents well enough yet, but hopes that even with the changes the program can continue to improve. 

"We are currently rated No. 3 by academic analytics," Prelas said. "I will support anything that will get us to No. 1. But I don't believe that this plan will."

A surprise or a long time coming?

When the institute was created in 2002, it was an experimental program that would be reviewed later by an external review committee.

In November 2002, a letter written by then-Chancellor Richard Wallace stated that, if there was a negative administrative review, the institute could be shut down and tenured faculty would be reassigned to other academic units. 

In 2010 the external review committee published a report citing many of the strengths discussed by Ghosh but stating concern that the program had not become as campus-wide as originally intended in 2002. 

Ghosh, however, said he's upset that there was not further communication before the decision was made to restructure the program. He said he did not know this change was going to occur until it was announced. 

"We are blindsided," Ghosh said. "No input was sought. Also, I could not find any rationale for doing this in the middle of the semester without consultation with faculty."

In other news:

  • On Thursday, the Truman School of Public Affairs will become its own college and will award tenure and grants, as well as have its own dean. The goal is to use its new status to increase its scope and effects in both the campus and national community, according to a letter from the provost.

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spencer hollenbach March 13, 2012 | 1:07 a.m.

From what I've heard, the move may be somewhat spiteful in nature. Maybe the story should have more perspectives from more sources. What about the perspective of current students? What about the various agencies that try to work with the institute?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 13, 2012 | 7:02 a.m.

Would the Missourian (Ms. Dumbacher) mind verifying two other facets of Nuclear Engineering at University of Missouri System? Remember, there are two research nuclear reactors.

Are all Nuclear Engineering programs at MU graduate level only? MS&T offers MS and PhD programs, but in reality enrollment is pretty much confined to BS degrees. Their reactor reflects this (low power).

Who is currently charged with reactor operation and maintenance at MU? My impression is that this has been contracted. At MS&T the Nuclear Engineering Department also operates the reactor.

The two reactors are not alike (power, fuel requirement, etc.), and their uses tend to be different. From a taxpayers' perspective, confining advanced degrees only to MU, with all BS degrees at MS&T, makes sense, as does the concept to having differing reactors used for different missions at the two campuses (and avoiding duplication where possible).

(Report Comment)
Breanna Dumbacher March 13, 2012 | 12:02 p.m.

I am Breanna Dumbacher, the reporter on this story. I really appreciate your comments and questions. I am in the process of doing some more reporting to find the answers.

Thank you for your comments.

(Report Comment)
Breanna Dumbacher March 13, 2012 | 1:25 p.m.

I am Breanna Dumbacher, the reporter on the story.

After some further reporting I’ve confirmed that there is not a BS degree program for Nuclear Engineering at MU. There is a program where students can earn a minor in Nuclear Engineering, but the Nuclear Science program opportunities are primarily offered through the graduate school. There are graduate degree programs under Nuclear Engineering with emphases in nuclear power, health physics and medical physics.

Also, the University of Missouri Research Reactor Center is an independent center on the MU campus that runs the reactor and reports to the MU Office of Research. Nuclear Engineering professor Sudarshan Loyalka and dean of the graduate school, George Justice both said in an email that the restructuring of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute will not change who handles the reactor and how it will be run.

Here is the link to the MURR homepage if you are interested in learning more about it.

Does this information answer all of your questions?
Thank you again for reading and commenting on the story.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 13, 2012 | 2:13 p.m.

Ms. Dumbacher:

Yes, I believe that answers my questions. Thank you. I would not expect administrative changes to affect the reactor itself or its normal modes of operation.

(Report Comment)

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