Lack of adequate funding has caused the demise of the industrial engineering program at the University of Utah. Even worse, the school's civil engineering program is threatened for the same reason.
The loss of that program would be a serious blow to the entire U. of U. engineering college because many civil engineering classes are basic to other courses. It would be like eliminating Shakespeare from a course on classic English literature.Many people make much of belt-tightening as a way for state educational institutions to cope with lack of funds, but as the U. of U. experience shows, that form of slow starvation can lead to a point of no return.
Once a program is lost, it can't simply be brought back in another year when funds may be more plentiful. An expensive starting over would be necessary - and nearly impossible to accomplish.
Losing engineering programs is particularly hurtful because the nation already is not producing enough engineers to keep up with the competition of nations like Japan.
The entire U. College of Engineering is 77 percent below peer institutions in other states for financial support. Yet state funding of the college is only a fourth of its cost. The rest comes from research contracts, which also vanish whenever a program shuts down.
At the U. of U., engineering students are routinely turned away for lack of funding. Civil engineering is one of seven departments in the college. Total enrollment in the college is about 2,000.
Two months ago, the head of the civil engineering department resigned. In the past three years, the department has lost half of its 13-member faculty.
The problems at the U. of U. College of Engineering are dramatic examples of what happens when an institution has to make do with less money, has to hold the line on salaries for years in a row, and has to keep educating the same numbers or even more students.
If the state doesn't adequately support its colleges and universities, it will pay in other ways. Once-proud institutions will become mere shadows of their former selves.