Unsustainable growth

In the last post, I listed some numbers describing the rapid and unbalanced growth at Florida International University. I follow that up here with some numbers for just FIU’s Department of Biological Sciences.

Over the last 5 years:

  • The number of biology majors at FIU has increased from 1821 to 4219.  This is an increase of 132%.
  • The number of FTEs (full time equivalents) has increased from 978 to 1422.  This is an increase of 45%
  • The number of biology faculty has increased from 48 to 51.  This is an increase of just 6%!!

The one positive thing in the numbers is our diversity. 84% of biology majors at FIU are minorities and 66% of FIU biology majors are women.

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How a university (mis)spends its money.

The Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University just released a report documenting changes in the number and salaries of faculty and administrators at FIU over the past decade.  The report can be downloaded HERE.  Some of the bullet points that I came away with:

From 2004 – 2013:

  • the number of students at FIU increased 51.7%.
  • the number of administrators increased by 44.3%,
  • the number of non-tenure track faculty increased by 56.9%
  • the number of tenure track faculty increased by just 7.3%!!
  • The student to faculty ratio increased (a bad thing) by 21% from 24:1 to 30:1 (and that includes all faculty; the student to tenure faculty ratio increased by >35%)

In terms of salary, from 2004 – 2013:

  • the average salary for non-tenure track faculty increased by 4.5%.
  • the average salary for tenure track faculty increased by 9.2%.
  • the average salary for administrators increased by 9.5%.
  • the highest paid person at FIU is the former president, Modesto Maidique, with an annual salary of 515k (why?).
  • The top 30 highest paid persons at FIU are all administrators.

Tution now stands at $6,506 per year for in-state students and $18,905 per year for out-of-state students. This is approximately double what it was in 2003.  Is this tuition increase justified given the rapidly increasing student to faculty ratio?  Is the increasing student enrollment sustainable?  I will leave it up to the reader to make their own conclusions.

Note: The report did not include information on graduate students.  Other data I have seen indicates that the number of graduate students and their salaries have remained stagnant.

Can better conference location planning reduce science’s carbon footprint?

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The 2014 International Biogeography Meeting in Miami, FL, attracted 409 attendees from > 40 countries. Photo: K. J. Feeley.

The 2014 International Biogeography Meeting in Miami, FL, attracted 409 attendees from > 40 countries. Photo: K. J. Feeley.

One of the most important aspects of science is networking and information sharing.  But this is becoming an increasingly difficult activity to justify given the potentially large ecological costs of attending international conferences.  Indeed, air travel – much of it associated with attending meetings – has helped to push the personal carbon emissions of scientists well above average.  As scientists, we should strive to not only educate people about the negative impacts of increasing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions through our studies and publications, but also through the examples that we set as responsible citizens ourselves.  As such we need to be aware of the potential ecological costs of meetings and consider different strategies to minimize these costs.

Using attendance data from the past four conferences of the International Biogeography Society (IBS) as an example, we estimated GHG emissions for all attendees using the shortest possible direct flight distances to the meetings sites (Canary Islands in 2007, Mexico in 2009, Greece in 2011 and Miami USA in 2013) from their home countries.  Using these data we estimated the amount of GHG emissions which could have been avoided if these meetings had been held in other locations.

Average GHG emissions associated with travel to the meetings ranged from 2.5-3.0 tonnes CO2 per attendee, with an average of 857.1 tonnes CO2 emitted per meeting. For all four meetings, the average travel distances to the actual meeting locations was significantly shorter than to random meeting locations, equating to an average saving of 3402.8 km of air travel per attendee and 324.1 tonnes CO2 per meeting.  If meetings had been held at their optimal locations, there would have been additional average savings of 1866.6 km of round-trip air travel per attendee and 162.3 tonnes CO2 per meeting.

The IBS is scheduled to hold its next meeting in Bayreuth, Germany in January 2015.  We predict that the attendees to this meeting will be responsible an average of 2.5 tonnes CO2 emission each. This is 0.2 tonnes CO2 more per person than would be incurred if the meeting were held at an overall optimal location of London, UK.

Society meetings allow for the rapid dissemination of new ideas and are a necessary part of science.  We do not suggest that meetings should be done away with, but as responsible academics, serious efforts clearly need to be made to minimize the ecological costs of these meetings.  One relatively easy way to minimize ecological costs is to make travel distances and GHG emissions explicit considerations when choosing meeting locations.

Air travel routes of attendees to (left) actual meeting locations, and (right) the respective optimal (i.e., lowest possible total Greenhouse Gas emissions) meeting locations of the biennial conferences of the International Biogeography Society. Line colours indicate number of attendees per travel route; Black = 1, Red = 2-5, Green = 6-10, Blue = 11-20, Turquoise = 21-40, Purple = 41-60, Yellow = 61.120, Gray = 121-200. Average per person round-trip air travel distances and meeting-total GHG emissions that would have been saved if meetings were held in their respective optimal locations are indicated below the panels on the right.

Air travel routes of attendees to (left) actual meeting locations, and (right) the respective optimal (i.e., lowest possible total Greenhouse Gas emissions) meeting locations of the biennial conferences of the International Biogeography Society. Line colours indicate number of attendees per travel route; Black = 1, Red = 2-5, Green = 6-10, Blue = 11-20, Turquoise = 21-40, Purple = 41-60, Yellow = 61.120, Gray = 121-200. Average per person round-trip air travel distances and meeting-total GHG emissions that would have been saved if meetings were held in their respective optimal locations are indicated below the panels on the right.

Twitter: @jamesTstroud

GET THE FULL ARTICLE HERE