In 2005 a total of seven faculty members are retiring from the Physics and Astronomy Department. When I thought about this I realized that this is a very significant time in the history of the department. I rummaged through the material which I assembled in preparing my history of the UWO Physics & Astronomy Department, and came up with a time-line of the comings and goings of faculty since the start of the department in 1919.
The first figure shows the entire 90 year history of physics and astronomy in terms of the faculty who came and departed over the years, right up to the present. Each step on the upper edge of the plot represents the arrival of a new faculty member, while retiring/departing faculty show as an upward step on the lower edge. This plot gives evidence of the depression, the post-war renewal, the rapid growth in the 60s, the stagnation of the 70s, and the contraction of the 90s.
The next figure has two graphs. The lower one present most of the same information as above, but in a different form. The change in size of Physics and Astronomy over the years is particularly clear here. In the upper graph is shown the average age of the faculty over the past 90 years. During times of renewal and rapid growth the proportion of junior faculty is high and the average age is relatively low, as in the 1950's and 60s. During periods of stagnation there is little change and the average age increases - from 1927 - 1944, and 1971 - 1982. At other times the arrival of new faculty and the departure of others reach an equilibrium, and the average age doesn't change very much. In the mid-twenties and from 1955 to 1971 there was a lot of faculty mobility, with new faculty coming and going, and that, together with a few retirements, kept the age steady. However, during much of the past 20 years, most of the departures have been due to retirement, and the number of new faculty has been less, leading to a gradual decrease in size, and an average age over 50 for most of that period.
A glance at these figures shows that 2005 is a special time in the history of the department. I have summarized why in the following table.
First, the average age of the faculty this year is about 45. The last time the department was that young was in 1976, almost 30 years ago. In fact, the average age has decreased by 5 years in just one year, the result of so many faculty retiring this year. The last time such a large drop in faculty age occurred was in 1949, 56 years ago. Never in the history of the department have so many people retired/resigned in a single year. In 1966 five people left, mostly the result of faculty moving to other universities.
Of course, the reason the department has become so relatively young is the arrival of a large number of new, young faculty. This can be measured in a number of different ways, and as you can see, one needs to go back 30 or 40 years to find a time when there were so many Assistant Professors and so few Associate and Full Professors. So what we have now is a department which is new to an extent that has not been seen for 30 or 40 years.
At the same time, the size of the department is smaller than it has been for over 40 years. We have also just finished graduating the largest honors class in at least the past 40 years. To my knowledge, the next largest graduating class since 1960 was in 1964 when there were 13 physics graduates and one (the first) astronomy graduate. Only if we go back to the post-war period, in the late 1940s, were there more undergraduate students in physics programs. That was when all the universities were deluged with war veterans.
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