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In the February 1997 issue of APS News, John Connell gives his "take" on teaching at a two- year college (TYC). In particular, he mentions that he finds many of the points about TYCs raised by M. Sawicki in a previous letter (November 1996) unfounded, based on his 26 years of teaching at a TYC. I have been teaching at such an institution for 10 years now, and I find a tremendous amount wrong with Connell's rebuttal. His statement, "TYC teachers can keep up research if they really want to," incensed me beyond words.
I am the only member of the physics department at Sussex County Community College. I teach all the physics classes alone, without help. These include algebra-based physics and calculus- based physics courses, courses in astronomy and differential equations every spring, and at least one section of an introductory computer course each semester. I must also create the budgetary requirements for the entire lab, as well as order, store, clean and repair all the equipment for the physics lab courses. My teaching load is generally more than 20 credit hours per semester. In addition, we are required to sit on at least two committees, advise students and find some way to actively participate in our community. So when exactly are we to find time to do any research?
The nearest university with a physics program is two hours away. With my schedule I cannot even take classes, let alone interact with others in the profession and conduct research. I have heard the suggestion of running a lab for instructional purposes. This would be fine if I had a laboratory devoted solely to physics - I share a lab with environmental sciences, geology, ecology and sometimes biology - and a lab assistant. Often we do not have enough equipment for every lab group to be doing the same experiment simultaneously.
In summation, let me congratulate Professor Connell. He is apparently at a TYC that is well-located, well-funded, and where he has the luxury and benefit of all best possible worlds: he can do research and teach. Somehow I do not believe that his circumstances are typical of those of us teaching at the majority of TYCs. Despite programs designed to help us, many of us are isolated, overworked, and underfunded, without the possibility of further coursework or research, and will remain so unless our circumstances are recognized and addressed by organizations like the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers.
Newton, New Jersey
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