Small minds, insular thinking. It’s an infection that’s spread across the United States in the last several years, and one victim of the “disease” is the death of one of the most successful science programs of its kind in the entire world.
In 2016, Barry Dunn became president of South Dakota State University. One thing he did when arriving was review the state of the “Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence” (GSCE)…a truly WORLD-renown science center established in 2005 to develop and apply remote sensing and other geospatial data for research and education purposes. Some of the biggest names in the field were lured to South Dakota State. In the last 13 years, Mike Wimberly…Matt Hansen…David Roy…Geoffrey Hennebry…Mark Cochrane…all were key parts of GSCE and its development. Over the last 13 years, they’ve had a massive impact on the field, applying remote sensing data and analysis techniques to applications that include understanding disease vectors and risks of West Nile virus…helping to establish and use the next generation of satellite sensors…mapping fire extent and severity…mapping changes in our ever-declining grassland ecosystems…and many, many more.
Students from all over the world moved to South Dakota, of all places, to work with such a wonderful collection of researchers. The research impact has been enormous. The reputation is sterling. The senior scientists at GSCE brought in huge amounts of external research dollars. It has been, by all logical measures, a raging success.
It’s now decimated. During his review process, Barry Dunn in his infinite wisdom decreed SDSU GSCE wasn’t of any benefit to South Dakota, partially because 1) it didn’t do all its work IN South Dakota, and 2) it didn’t have enough South Dakota students. So, they cut $1 million in core funding. They effectively gave the research leads a 25% pay cut. The result of the drop of support? For the next semester that starts in a few weeks, literally NONE of the GSCE Senior Scientists will remain. That’s right…ALL have decided enough is enough, and all are moving on to greener pastures. A science center like no other, one South Dakota could put up against ANY similar science center in the world…and it’s gone belly up, thanks to new “leadership” at South Dakota State.
Small minds, insular thinking…what the hell has happened in this country? Doing work that’s WORLD-renown and applied in all continents is deemed a NEGATIVE, because they didn’t do all their work in South Dakota? Too many foreign students is a “problem”? It’s a problem that’s certainly not limited to SDSU, GSCE, or South Dakota. To me it all falls under the same kind of anti-intellectualism, anti-“expert”, anti-SCIENCE paradigm that seems to have infected America.
A South Dakota institution is gone after far too short a time, all thanks to tiny little minds with a lack of vision and appreciation for the bigger picture.
This is exactly what happened to the USD Psychology Department’s Center of Excellence (Disaster Mental Health) about 10 years ago. The Center was world-renowned, the faculty AND grad students traveled to disasters all over the globe. The faculty wrote the first manual on protocols for disaster mental health, now used by the Red Cross. But, it didn’t bring in gobs of grant money, and it didn’t benefit South Dakota, specifically and only. So, they cut it. A huge loss to the University, the students and faculty, the University system and the world.
That’s sadly so typical, isn’t it? Overall there’s such an anti-intellectual, anti-elitist, insular kind of a mindset that’s taking over. The GISCE program did bring in a ton of grant money, but that didn’t seem to matter. Heck, we still get weekly updates on West Nile risk in South Dakota that came from the work of the center, but unless it’s related to agriculture, SD State seems to have very little interest in it right now.