Geologist's Quest Creates Rift in UC Admissions Policy

    A former UC Davis professor has sparked a vigorous campaign against the University of California to encourage more emphasis on earth and space sciences in university admissions.

    Geologist Eldridge Moores, who helped pioneer the once-controversial “”plate tectonics”” theory, has been pushing for changes in the UC admissions requirements to encourage education in earth and space sciences in California high schools.

    For more than three years, Moores has urged the University of California to change its “”d”” subject guidelines for laboratory sciences to explicitly include “”earth and space science.”” Currently, the guidelines only list biology, chemistry and physics.

    And for the third time, the proposal has been rejected by both the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools and the University Committee on Educational Policy. The committees are composed of faculty from across the UC system, both scientists and nonscientists alike.

    “”The main reason seems to be a perception that earth and space sciences are somehow less ‘worthy’ than biology, chemistry or physics,”” Moores said.

    According to state estimates, fewer than 10 percent of California high school students take classes in geology, meteorology or other studies on Earth, the solar system and their histories.

    “”The sad fact is that UC is out of step with the national standards,”” Moores said. “”That is an outmoded concept based upon a century-old system of high school education.””

    But there are no national standards for elite university admissions, according to UC Davis civil engineering professor Mark Rashid, who is the chair of B.O.A.R.S., an Academic Senate committee that deals with undergraduate admissions policy.

    “”Any claim that courses other than biology, chemistry and physics cannot be certified under the ‘d’-subject area is not true,”” Rashid said.

    He said the “”a-g”” course certification policy is in place for one reason: to ensure a minimum level of preparation freshman entrants need to undertake any of the majors offered on UC campuses.

    Biology, chemistry and physics are considered essential, foundational material for further study in any science or engineering field, he said.

    “”Courses in other scientific disciplines can, and are, certified for ‘d’-subject admissions credit – they just have to be rigorous enough, by including sufficient foundational material in biology, chemistry and/or physics,”” Rashid said.

    UC officials approve sciences outside the traditional three core disciplines to meet UC admission standards on a case-by-case basis.

    “”Some school administrators may be reluctant to offer earth and space science courses – and students reluctant to take courses – if the course has not been UC-approved,”” UC Office of the President Director of Undergraduate Admissions Susan A. Wilbur said. “”I am not aware that anything is being done to encourage schools to offer more earth science courses.””

    Wilbur added that she has no data as to whether the number of students enrolled in earth science courses has increased or decreased.

    Since they were made public, Moores’ ideas have received an extremely thorough review by both B.O.A.R.S. and UCEP, Rashid said. In all cases, his proposal was overwhelmingly rejected.

    “”I admire and support his desire to find ways to expose more high school students to these subjects,”” Rashid said. “”But his approach is badly misguided.””

    Rashid also indicated that the university both supports and encourages the study of earth and space sciences.

    “”No one in UC, least of all myself, is marginalizing earth and space science subjects, or asserts that they are unimportant,”” Rashid said. “”I regret very much that Professor Moores has chosen to cast the situation in this light.””

    UCOP spokesman Paul Schwartz did not respond to requests for comment.

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