Dear Members of the Kansas State School Board,
I am the Welsh Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have a number of colleagues at Kansas State and the University of Kansas and had the chance to present a seminar there a few years ago and see the vibrant scientific community that had grown up there.
Your current discussion of what to include in your curriculum is an interesting one to all who teach at State Universities. One of the great things about my home state of North Carolina is the investment the state has made in science, beginning with the founding of the Research Triangle Park more than 50 years ago. This has provided a tremendous boost to the state’s economy, particularly as agriculture and traditional manufacturing decline.
In many ways your decision to consider adding “alternative theories” to your Biology curriculum will be a boon to states like mine, as it will ensure that we continue to be favored by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries looking for states with a well-educated work-force. It also means our children will be at an advantage as they go to look for technology related jobs, here and elsewhere, since they will have a sound scientific education. Finally, it will help Department’s like mine when we compete with you for the best young faculty candidates, and as we try and woo some of your more senior scientists to join us here.
I am a Presbyterian and see no conflict between my religious beliefs and my science, but also no reason my own beliefs should somehow be promoted over those of others under the cloak of “science”. In particular, I have been very impressed with the interesting theories developed by Bobby Henderson and other proponents of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Theory, which seems to me to be equally well-founded as is Intelligent Design Theory. While I would prefer to see Kansas students learn science in their science classes, if you choose to open the field more broadly, I would encourage you to give equal time to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Professor of Biology
My emphasis. The Kansas economy is largely dependent on agriculture and the manufacturing around Wichita. This PDF tells a scary tale about the aquifer under the semi-arid western part of Kansas.
Compare the areas where water levels are declining fastest to this map of the average value of agricultural products sold per farm in 2002 (care of the USDA), and you’ll see that the highest earning part of the state is also the closest to running out of water. Someone told me that there has been a drought in Kansas for each of the last 7 years, though I can’t track down a source on that right now.
In a globalized economy, manufacturing is always sketchy, and Kansas’s manufacturing is closely tied to a single company’s fortunes. If Boeing goes down, so does much of the heavy industry in and around Wichita.
What’s the answer? I think I’ve made it clear that I think there’s huge potential for clean wind electricity from Kansas, and there’s a lot of potential for development in the knowledge industries. It won’t happen on its own. The Research Triangle involved the integration of several major universities and hard work to attract industry, faculty and students to the area. Once there was an influx of good people to the region, new businesses sprouted to take advantage of the graduating students, the children of faculty, and the excess energy of the faculty and students. Kansas can do that, but it means making some serious investments in the long term.
I don’t see the political will to do that on either side of the aisle. This will involve spending serious capital. More than the $350 million invested in biotech, and without the petty restrictions that money carries. It’ll take a lot of money and a lot of effort over many years to make this happen, but I don’t see another way to protect the Kansas economy.
Where should the money come from? Taxes, I guess. It’s an investment, and in the end, everyone in Kansas will be richer, but it’ll take time. Think of it as an IRA. You put away a little extra money for a few years, and then you can live on the interest.
This isn’t a detailed plan, but I hope it’s a start of a conversation.