Executive Summary of Toolkit Development

The American Physical Society (APS) is cognizant that this is a challenging time in higher education, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Physics departments, in particular, report that they face varying degrees of threat, for instance of reduction, merger, and closure.

This situation prompted APS to develop a Toolkit for departments under threat. This project was fast-tracked to be more quickly available for programs needing immediate guidance in defending themselves against challenges, and we welcome your input and feedback as we work to make the site more useful to such programs. Feedback link.

Guidance in the Toolkit was sourced from over 50 interviews with administrators and physics faculty, generally chairs, representing public and private institutions at physics departments (with BA, BS, MS, PhD options in physics) under various levels of threat, from little to no threat, to existential threat.  These contributors are acknowledged below.  Several interviewees were at institutions that eliminated the major, or the department.  These 30-60 minute interviews consisted of informal and candid discussions focused on a variety of thematically driven topics including

  • The nature of the perceived threat
  • Actions taken and their efficacy
  • How any budget cuts were implemented
  • The impact of any staffing losses
  • Departmental relationship with administration
  • Administrative views on physics programs
  • Departmental relationship with other STEM departments
  • Perception of the department across campus
  • The presence of departmental faculty in governance structures
  • Intradepartmental dynamics, and the role of the chair
  • Presence, knowledge and role of mission statement or strategic plan

While many thematic patterns emerged, one lesson is that each department represents a unique ecosystem.  There is no silver bullet.  Some departments doing “all the right things” still found themselves under serious threat, and a tactic that was effective at one department may have been ineffective at others.  However, while there are circumstances out of a department’s control, we believe there are opportunities to improve one’s standing with the administration and to positively influence any potential decisions.


James Borgardt (Juniata College)

Courtney Lannert (Smith College and University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Advisory Board

Theodore Hodapp (APS)

Eric Brewe (Drexel University)

Scott Franklin (Rochester Institute of Technology)

Jesús Pando (DePaul University)


We would like to acknowledge and give our deep thanks to the following people for their input:

Andreas Bill (California State University Long Beach)

Anthony P. Blose (Eastern Kentucky University)

Lauren Bowen (Juniata College)

Tikhon Bykov (McMurray University)

Beth Ellen Clark (Ithaca College)

Robert Cohen (East Stroudsburg University)

Philip Cole (Lamar University)

John Deisz  (California Lutheran University)

Dave Donovan (Northern Michigan University)

Keith Dunn (Millsaps College)

Steve Feller (Coe College)

Kurt Fletcher (State University of New York Geneseo)

Joseph Ganem (Loyola University Maryland)

Caixia Gao (Colorado State University Pueblo)

Rich Gurney (Simmons University)

Nicholas Harmon (University of Evansville)

Tav Hawkins (University of Wisconsin LaCrosse)

Clayton Heller (Georgia Southern University)

Frances Hellman (University of California Berkeley)

Ron Henderson (Middle Tennessee State University)

Ruth Howes (Ball State University)

Mike Jackson (Millersville University)

Kishor Kapale (Western Illinois University)

W. Brian Lane (North Florida University)

James Lakso (Juniata College)

Daniel Keith Marble (Tarleton State University)

Jeffrey Marx (McDaniel College)

Mark Masters (Purdue University Fort Wayne)

Bradley McCoy (Azusa Pacific University)

David McGee (The College of New Jersey)

Laurie McNeil (University of North Carolina)

Victor Migenes (Texas Southern University)

Monty Mola (Humboldt State University)

Jose F Nieves (University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras)

Bruce Palmquist (Central Washington University)

Kevin Pitts (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Doug Raynie (South Dakota State University)

Shadow Robinson (University of Tennessee Martin)

Willie Rockward (Morgan State University)

Steven Rolston (University of Maryland)

Toni Sauncy (Texas Lutheran University)

Ellen Siem (Southern Oregon University)

Elizabeth Simmons (University of California San Diego)

Benjamin Stottrup (Augsburg University)

Brett Taylor (Radford University)

Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Chandra Anne Turpen (University of Maryland)

Marian Tzolov (Lock Haven University)

Serif Uran (Pittsburg State University)

Chris Varney (University of West Florida)

Andrew Ware (University of Montana)

Chris Wentworth (Doane University)

Jeremiah Williams (Wittenberg University)

Michael Wood (Canisius College)

Rodney Yoder (Goucher College)