Physics cut creates a snowball effect, LTCC students say |

Physics cut creates a snowball effect, LTCC students say

William Ferchland

About a dozen students gathered before Lake Tahoe Community College officials to lobby for the return of a high-level physics program they said is instrumental to the college’s academic reputation.

Students Tyler Blauvelt and Katie Orr led a presentation laced with passionate pleas, some by math teachers, for the return of the physics program, cut for next year – a victim of budget cuts necessitated by declining enrollment.

Instructor Brendan O’Neill was appreciative of the effort.

“I knew they would speak up but I didn’t know how many,” he said.

In the winter quarter this year, O’Neill taught general physics and two calculus-based physics classes. College President Guy Lease said the total enrollment among the three classes is 17 students.

The estimate on the number of full-time students who would leave the college because of the program’s termination is 10. A student-run survey indicated 24 of 50 math and science pupils needed physics as a study requirement. Twenty-three of the 24 students said they would not return to the college next year if physics wasn’t on the schedule.

“I feel you’d be losing your top students,” said student and college employee Emily Pharrer.

Math teacher Larry Green anticipated a “snowball effect.” The loss of the physics program would detrimentally influence the math program which would then carry over to the number of available tutors, he said.

“Losing physics is not just losing physics,” Green said.

Lease said other small community colleges, such as Lasson and Barstow, don’t carry physics programs. The one at LTCC was targeted because of O’Neill being a first-time teacher at the college and the low enrollment.

“I think it’s a feather in our cap to have it. The question is can we afford to have it?” Lease said.

Trustee Roberta Mason, along with trustee Molly Blann, voted to keep the program during a February meeting. Eliminating O’Neill’s position and the program would only save the college about $20,000, Mason said.

Mason, who has a chemistry degree, wanted to give O’Neill another year.

“I’m willing to at least give him a year to see what our situation is at that time,” she said.

Fritz Wenck, president of the college’s board of trustees, believed the students “spoke eloquently and passionately” about saving the physics program. The board will likely re-address the issue at the next board meeting, he said.

Blauvelt, who wants to become a mechanical engineer, stressed to the board that giving O’Neill more time to build the program would help lure students.

“(The board) can’t be getting the whole picture here,” he said.

There were other potential remedies raised at the presentation. Kristin Swann proposed establishing a science club. Another idea from Swann was packaging programs together that need physics, such as a pre-engineering program.

Bruce Armbrust, a mathematics teacher, said he could teach physics but his qualifications wouldn’t meet standards. He likened it to him “pinch-hitting for Barry Bonds.

“You can do it (but) it’s not smart,” he said.

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