Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

USM cripples all STEM programs by phasing out physics degree

Posted on September 16, 2013 in Letter to the Editor, Perspectives
By USM Free Press

My name is Derick Arel; I’ve been a full time student of the University of Southern Maine for four years.  I’m a non-traditional student in my 30’s, I love learning, and I deeply value my experiences at USM and the education I’ve received.

I’m a physics major.

I’m writing in response to what I’ve recently heard about the future of my department.  I call it ‘my’ department because I feel like the physics faculty has been a second family for me.  I’ve grown so much with them that I can scarcely remember the person I was four years ago.  The small dedicated faculty of this university’s physics department consists of some of the most influential and important people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and each of them ranks among the best educators I’ve encountered.  I cannot imagine a more rewarding educational experience than the one I’ve lived in the past four years.

And so it’s puzzling and nonsensical to me when I hear that the department is apparently no longer permitted to accept new students within the major and that the future existence of the department might be in question.  This decision doesn’t affect my academic pursuits; I’m graduating this year.  But it affects the institution which has shaped me, and I feel a responsibility to weigh in on the matter.

Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences. It represents the quest to understand the deepest attainable truths about reality and life.  Further, physics is a foundational science which supports other departments such as engineering, chemistry, even biology.  A university which removes its physics department is crippling its STEM fields in the same way that removing the English department would cripple the humanities.

The thing that makes a university different from a trade school is that it fosters departments which engage in the study and creation of big ideas. These are the philosophy departments, mathematics, the humanities, and the physics departments. All of western civilization owes its existence to these areas of study.  They are arguably humanity’s most important project.  What else is a university for if not to facilitate these most lofty of human endeavors?

That the physics department is small does not indicate a lack of importance.  All physics departments are small relative to the size of their institutions.  Physics is a difficult discipline and it takes a rare kind of student with deep curiosity and drive to pursue it.  USM is THE university in the largest metropolitan area in our state.  I believe this institution owes more to its community than to directly contribute to the erosion of the United States’ position as a world leader in scientific education and research.

I deeply hope this university’s administration will reconsider the path it appears to be undertaking.


Derick Arel

 Derick Arel is a senior physics major at USM.