For the past few years, students in the University of Utah's civil engineering program have wondered if the department would leave the university before they do.
Severe budget cuts, faculty resignations, outdated equipment, difficulty in scheduling the proper number of classes, allegations of ethics violations and internal department strife have all combined to fuel rumors that civil engineering would join industrial engineering in getting the ax.U. officials don't like the rumors and warn that too much talk could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Civil engineers from the community, who serve on the department's advisory council, and engineering administrators want the accent on the positive; they repeatedly stress the university's and community's commitment to its civil engineering program.
Does that mean an entering freshman can count on being able to obtain a civil engineering degree from the U.?
Yes, responded David W. Pershing, dean of engineering. "There is no reason for students to fear that civil engineering won't be here."
In fact, Pershing said, the U. plans to rebuild civil engineering, using as a cornerstone some of the $264,800 funded by the 1989 Legislature for engineering initiatives. The engineering college's other departments will also compete for their part of the money, and the dean said no decision has been made on exactly how much civil engineering will receive.
To rebuild civil engineering, a committee, with members from inside and outside the university, will review and reshape the program.
The committee will decide the department's direction, looking at the state's overall engineering programs so that the U. can carve a strong niche different from programs at Utah State University and Brigham Young University. That will probably mean developing a strong urban emphasis, Pershing said.
Once that is done, the dean said, the U. will hire three new civil engineering faculty members, hopefully by July 1. It may not be that quickly, however, because university administrators experienced with hiring say it takes several months just to advertise a position.
Pershing said he is waiting until the committee does its work before deciding civil engineering's share of the legislative appropriation.
The department's advisory board also plans a hand in the rebuilding. In fact, it was advisory board members, with the support of Sen. Craig A. Peterson, R-Orem, who lobbied heavily to secure the engineering initiative money from the Legislature.
"They've had a hard time, and we're going to see the department go upward," said Salt Lake County Commissioner M. Tom Shimizu, a civil en
gineer who serves on the advisory committee.
"As civil engineers, we've not done a really good job of making ourselves visible, but we plan to change that," said Paul Jara, a civil engineer for Salt Lake City and a student adviser.
The engineers hope to bring positive change by establishing a foundation to promote the accomplishments of civil engineering and to raise money from private sources to boost the U. program, particularly to upgrade equipment.
They believe a strengthened civil engineering program at the U. will kill any notion that USU should be designated to have the only state-supported civil engineering program. That idea surfaced in the Higher Education Joint Appropriations Subcommittee.
"That would be unthinkable," Jara said.
Other local civil engineers agree. They say there is plenty of room in the broad field for more than one program, especially because USU emphasizes water resources.
In addition, Cache Valley doesn't have the jobs to offer an increased number of students working in related areas while they attend school. It is also too far from metropolitan Salt Lake City to accommodate professional engineers, who often take classes to upgrade their skills, said Hal M. Clyde, senior vice president of W.W. Clyde and Co. and a department advisory committee member.
Shimizu, who oversees the county's public works department, which has 20 civil engineers, believes it's foolish to even think Utah could move into the 21st century without producing an adequate supply of civil engineers locally.
Economic development is the goal of cities and counties along the Wasatch Front and is tied directly to civil engineering, from the construction of facilities to development of infrastructure.
Congestion along the I-15 corridor and feasibility of a light-rail system are among the biggest issues looming on the horizon. To address those problems - and similar ones in the decades to come - will take well-trained civil engineers, Shimizu said.
"Going into the 21st century without a strong civil engineering department at the U. would hinder growth considerably," Shimizu said.