The University of Wyoming is about to make a major mistake. It is about to close down its Department of Geography.

Geography, the “mother of all social sciences,” whose principles apply to disciplines such as economics, history, political science, sociology, math, a variety of sciences, ties them all together and brings clarity to each of them. In our interconnected world, an extremely fast-moving world, where knowledge of our country, and other countries, is ever more vital, how can Wyoming’s only major university take out geography … in the year 2018?

The university has clearly not thought this action through. There are negative consequences in closing down the Geography Department. For example, geography courses at the University of Wyoming are integral to teacher training and certification.

Geography is core to Wyoming Social Studies Content and Performance standards, national Next Generation Science Standards, and one-fifth of PRAXIS content includes geography.

If there is no Geography Department, which department can adequately fill this essential requirement for perspective teachers? Which department can provide the essential geographic theory to train students who graduate, and then, in their jobs, utilize geography on a daily basis?

And it’s not like the department hasn’t been extremely productive.

In spite of the UW administration’s failure to replace faculty who, in the past several years, have been hired away or retired, the UW Geography Department has:

  • More than 70 undergraduate geography majors (and growing) and 20 graduate students;
  • Obtained more than $5.5 million in external funding just in 2016;
  • Received donations amounting to nearly $1 million, contributing to student learning and research;
  • Offered a certificate program in the growing field of Geographic Information Science (GIS);
  • Supported educational and public outreach through the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, funded by a $1.47 million endowment through National Geographic Society;
  • Assisted Native Americans living in Wyoming with natural resource planning;
  • Has dozens of its alums employed throughout Wyoming in the private sector, as well as at the local state and federal levels;
  • Trained, through its leadership of the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, thousands of Wyoming K-12 students and hundreds of Wyoming teachers in geographic principles; and
  • Developed the Wyoming Student Atlas in both printed and digital formats.

If the Geography Department is cut, what’s next? The departments of history, political science, sociology and economics?

This is a bad decision for UW students, Wyoming teachers and Wyoming employers. Please contact UW President Laurie Nichols at laurie.nichols@uwyo.edu and UW Provost Kate Miller at kate.miller@uwyo.edu and ask them to rethink it.

Don Morris and Judy Erdmann Kallal are retired social studies teachers from Cheyenne. Kallal earned her master’s degree in geography from UW in 1969.

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