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UW Proposes Changes in Geography Education, Research, Service

November 1, 2018

Aiming to meet changing workforce needs while deploying its resources effectively and efficiently, the University of Wyoming has proposed a reorganization of its geography instruction, research and service.

The changes would result in the elimination of UW’s current low-enrollment geography undergraduate degrees and Department of Geography graduate programs, while maintaining a commitment to geography instruction as an integrated and stand-alone subject to support interdisciplinary education at the university.

Students currently in the programs recommended for elimination would be allowed to complete those degrees. UW would continue to offer a minor in geography.

At the same time, UW is moving forward with a proposed new interdisciplinary program in geospatial information science and technology (GIST).

“The discipline of geography is clearly tied to the university’s vision in the way that it seeks to understand the social and environmental challenges of today in order to create a sustainable, diverse and equitable world for tomorrow,” UW Provost Kate Miller says. “While it is not in the university’s interest to serve the need for geography research and knowledge with a stand-alone academic department at present, this proposal retains faculty expertise, foundational courses and the minor in geography, while simultaneously moving UW in a direction that supports new programs in spatial sciences to meet changing student demands and workforce needs.”

The proposal from the provost triggers a process outlined in UW Regulation 2-13, which includes a 120-day period of review to seek feedback from stakeholders including the Faculty Senate, members of the Department of Geography, other interested faculty, the Staff Senate, the Associated Students of UW and other interested parties. The feedback will be collected and reviewed by the Office of Academic Affairs and presented to President Laurie Nichols by the provost, along with any revisions to her recommendations. The president then will make a recommendation on the proposal to the UW Board of Trustees by March 1.

All tenure-track, tenured and extended-term academic personnel in the Department of Geography would be moved into academic units suitable to their expertise. No staff positions would be eliminated.

Coursework in geography was offered at UW as early as 1945 through the Department of Economics, Sociology and Anthropology. A Department of Geography was established in 1966, and its name was changed to the Department of Geography and Recreation in the early 1980s, when it was home to a program in outdoor recreation planning and management. That program ended in 2005; this year, UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the College of Business launched a new degree program in outdoor recreation and tourism management.

The Haub School also offers a degree program in environmental system science (ESS) that is similar to the geography degree program. The ESS program is thriving, with 84 students enrolled this fall.

Enrollment in geography programs, meanwhile, has declined, with just 14-20 undergraduate degrees granted each year between 2011-17.

The Department of Geography is the only remaining small department in the College of Arts and Sciences, as the college consolidated from 30 to 21 departments by the end of 2017.

“This, coupled with the extant dispersal of geographic expertise in a number of other departments, low enrollment in existing geography degrees combined with the availability of the ESS degree in the Haub School and strong campuswide interest in developing interdisciplinary academic programs in (GIST), as well as the need to provide instruction in geography in the most financially prudent way possible, has led to this proposal,” the provost’s document says.

UW also is home to the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC), established in 1996 as an interdisciplinary research center focused on development of geospatial information and technologies and their applications in science, education, government and business. In December 2017, the Provost’s Spatial Sciences Initiative Task Force recommended that WyGISC lead the development of a cross-college GIST program to deliver undergraduate, graduate and professional GIST curricula. Notice of intent for the new programs has been approved by the Board of Trustees, and a full feasibility study is underway, with anticipated board consideration in spring 2019.

The proposed GIST undergraduate degree is among the most employable and in-demand degrees in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The proposed new GIST programs will be well positioned to meet student interests in the spatial sciences,” the provost’s document says.

Under the proposal, UW would continue to provide geography courses for future teachers in the College of Education, through the minor and related coursework.

And the university would remain home to the Wyoming Geographic Alliance (WGA), which promotes geography education across the state -- including hosting the annual National Geographic Society Wyoming Geography Bee. The WGA also provides professional development to K-12 educators.

“UW’s leadership role in the WGA will continue along with our commitment to the teaching of geography at UW,” the document states. “WGA coordination will stay with a current geography faculty member in the near term, and a stakeholder group will be convened to assist in discerning where its stewardship can thrive going forward.”

For more information about the provost’s proposal regarding geography instruction, research and service, go to

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