Executive Summary of Toolkit Development

The American Physical Society (APS) is cognizant of many challenges facing higher education institutions, such as the need for budget cuts, reduction in tenure-track faculty, and decreasing enrollments. Physics departments in particular report that they face varying degrees of threat, for instance, being reduced in size, merged with other departments, and/or closed.

The challenges reported by physics departments prompted APS to develop a Toolkit for departments under threat. This project was fast-tracked to be made available more quickly to programs needing immediate guidance on how to respond to challenges. We welcome your input and feedback as we work to make the site more useful to such programs. Please provide feedback using this link.

Guidance in the Toolkit was sourced from over 50 interviews with administrators and physics faculty, most of whom are department chairs. These administrators and faculty represent public and private institutions at physics departments (with BA, BS, MS, and PhD options in physics) under various levels of threat, ranging from little or no threat to existential threat. These contributors are acknowledged below. Several interviewees were at institutions that had eliminated the physics major or the physics department. These 30-to-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 the administration
  • Administrative views on physics programs
  • Departmental relationship with other STEM departments
  • Perception of the department across campus
  • The presence of departmental faculty in institutional governance structures
  • Intradepartmental dynamics and the role of the chair
  • Presence, knowledge, and role of the departmental 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 for ensuring a department’s future. Some departments doing “all the right things” still found themselves under serious threat, and tactics that were effective for one department proved ineffective for others. However, while there are circumstances out of a department’s control, we believe there are opportunities for every department to improve its standing with the administration and positively influence any potential decisions.


Jim Borgardt (Juniata College)

Courtney Lannert (Smith College and University of Massachusetts Amherst)


Josh Grossman (St. Mary's College of Maryland)

Taviare Hawkins (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

Rajeswari Kolagani (Towson University)

Shadow Robinson (University of Tennessee at Martin)

Toni Sauncy (Texas Lutheran University)

Advisory Board

Theodore Hodapp (Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation)

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 Blose (Eastern Kentucky University)

Lauren Bowen (Juniata College)

Tikhon Bykov (McMurry University)

Beth Ellen Clark Joseph (Ithaca College)

Robert Cohen (East Stroudsburg University)

Philip Cole (Lamar University)

John Deisz (California Lutheran University)

David Donovan (Northern Michigan University)

Keith Dunn (Millsaps College)

Steve Feller (Coe College)

Kurt Fletcher (State University of New York College at Geneseo)

Joseph Ganem (Loyola University Maryland)

Caixia Gao (Colorado State University Pueblo)

Rich Gurney (Simmons University)

Nicholas Harmon (University of Evansville)

Clayton Heller (Georgia Southern University)

Frances Hellman (University of California, Berkeley)

Ron Henderson (Middle Tennessee State University)

Ruth Howes (Ball State University)

Michael Jackson (New Mexico Institute of Technology and Mining)

Kishor Kapale (Western Illinois University)

William “Brian” Lane (University of North Florida)

James Lakso (Juniata College)

Daniel Keith Marble (Tarleton State University)

Jeff Marx (McDaniel College)

Mark Masters (Purdue University Fort Wayne)

Bradley McCoy (Azusa Pacific University)

David McGee (College of New Jersey)

Laurie McNeil (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Victor Migenes (Texas Southern University)

Monty Mola (Humboldt State University)

José Nieves (University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus)

Bruce Palmquist (Central Washington University)

Kevin Pitts (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Douglas Raynie (South Dakota State University)

Willie S. Rockward (Morgan State University)

Steven Rolston (University of Maryland)

Toni Sauncy (Texas Lutheran University)

Ellen Siem (Southern Oregon University)

Elizabeth H. Simmons (University of California San Diego)

Benjamin L. Stottrup (Augsburg University)

Brett Taylor (Radford University)

Martin Truffer (University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Chandra 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)

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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