Nuclear Engineering Major Eliminated
Columbia Daily Spectator
February 7, 1990
"SEAS to restructure nuclear engineering grad division"
by Kirsten Fermaglich
The Department of Applied Physics and Nuclear Engineering has shortened the department name and recommended the restructuring of the graduate division, after the elimination of the undergraduate nuclear engineering major last January.
The Department decided to change its name to the Department of Applied Physics because the elimination of the nuclear engineering major has made the inclusion of "nuclear engineering" confusing and misleading for many prospective students, said chair and professor Gerald Navratil.
The major was eliminated by the former Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) Robert Gross because the University did not have the funds to continue the major, according to Navratil.
"What's happened is that the school is in sufficiently bad financial straits that it simply cannot afford to give that many majors . . . The school cannot carry small majors," Professor of Applied Physics Leon Lidofsky said.
Undergraduate students interested in nuclear engineering will now have to major in applied physics and concentrate in nuclear engineering, Navratil said.
The proposal to change the department's name was passed by the University Senate January 26.
The department has also proposed a change in the structure of its graduate program, Navratil said.
The department recommended last week to the SEAS Committee on Instruction (COI) that the nuclear engineering graduate program be restructured into an interdepartmental committee made up of professors of nuclear, mechanical, and civil engineering, as well as a professor of radiation science from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, according to Lidofsky, who is heading the committee.
The committee will aid students in studying other aspects of nuclear engineering besides physics, Lidofsky said.
"[The point of the program is] to make a mechanism possible where graduate students in other departments . . . focus in doctoral programs on problems involving nuclear reactors," Lidofsky said.
Nuclear engineering is often considered an interdepartmental field at other schools and is generally administered by committees similar to the one proposed by the Applied Physics Department, Lidofsky said.
Columbia's nuclear engineering program was structured interdepartmentally until the early 1970's, when it was changed for mostly financial and staffing reasons, according to Lidofsky.
The graduate program's change to an interdepartmental committee is not related to the elimination of the undergraduate major, he said.
The undergraduate major in nuclear engineering had been suffering from very low student enrollment and retiring faculty for several years before Dean Gross decided to eliminate the major, according to Navratil.
The dean did not consult with the department before eliminating the major, but the possibility of the move was discussed extensively by the professors in the field before the decision was made, Navratil said.
The dean's decision was prompted by Professor of Applied Physics and Nuclear Engineering Herbert Goldstein's announcement that he would retire at the end of this year, according to Navratil.
Goldstein was one of the only two professors left teaching nuclear engineering, Navratil said.
Additionally, interest in nuclear engineering has declined nationwide because of environmental concerns, according to Navratil.
However, Columbia's engineering program has been suffering for about 10 years, since the program's attempt to build a trigger reactor was opposed and finally stopped by Columbia students and administrators, Goldstein said.
Columbia University Record
February 2, 1990
From the Senate
A second resolution provided for a change of name for the Department of Applied Physics and Nuclear Engineering. Since the department is terminating its undergraduate program in nuclear engineering, that part of its name was to be deleted from the statutes.