Geology Department changes name to Earth and Ocean Sciences Department

The Geology Department in the fall will change its name to the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department in an effort to make the focus of the department’s work clearer to the student body, reflecting a trend toward similar renaming at other institutions.

“Principally the name change from [Geology] to Earth and Ocean Sciences is being done to reflect the modernization of the science and better represent the teaching and research that we do at Tufts,” Professor of Geology Grant Garven told the Daily in an email.

“Earth and Ocean Sciences seemed like the perfect name for our department … to reflect the fact that we study things exposed on the land surface, and that may have originally formed in the ocean, as well as processes that go on in the ocean today,” Professor of Geology Jack Ridge told the Daily in an email.

Associate Professor of Geology and Chair of the Geology Department Anne Gardulski said many students may not understand the full concept of the term “geology,” so the name change may allow students a better grasp of the discipline.

“Many of our courses explicitly incorporate ocean science, so it seemed appropriate to emphasize the integration, importance, and interconnectedness of the marine realm with Earth systems,” Gardulski told the Daily in an email.

“The old Geology name may have been harder to understand since most geology courses in high school are called Earth science courses,” Ridge added.

This name change had been discussed within the department for several years. Serious discussion began last spring, when the entire faculty agreed on the name Earth and Ocean Sciences during the department’s strategic planning meeting in May, according to Gardulski.

“The Geology faculty were all involved in the decision, which was very important,” Gardulski said. “I wanted to ensure that everyone was comfortable with the new name.”

Once a decision was made, there were a number of administrative steps required to make the change official.

“We sent a letter to [Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger?Sweeney] requesting the change, and then she sent the [request] on to the Provost’s Office with her approval and recommendation,” Gardulski said. “The Provost sent a positive recommendation to the Trustees for vote at their November meeting.”

The Board of Trustees has already approved the request, but the department decided to institute the change next academic year. They hope this will help avoid confusion and allow time for administrative changes in the Bulletin, the Degree Audit Reporting System and websites that must be updated, Gardulski said.

“It seemed best to wait rather than change in the middle of the school year,” Gardulski said. “[The] registrar’s office had been extremely helpful in this process, but it takes some time and effort to locate all those places and make the changes.”

For now, the names of the two majors offered by the department, Geological Sciences and Geology, will remain the same but that may change in the future, Gardulski said, because the department will begin a search for a new faculty member next year.

“We are delighted to be part of the Environmental Studies cluster hire initiated by Dean Berger?Sweeney, and will be searching for a professor in climate change who can provide teaching and scholarship in the science of Earth’s climate and climate history,” she said.

“The new person will bring an exciting new suite of courses and research to Tufts,” Gardulski said. “And we will have to see how his or her contributions fit in the curriculum – it is possible that we might change the names of our major programs in a few years to reflect this new dimension.”

The renaming of the Tufts Geology department reflects a nationwide trend away from the name “geology” toward a more explicit, accessible title.

“It seems there is a sense that the word geology seems narrow, or even outdated, although the word truly does encompass the whole of the Earth,” Gardulski said. “Even the scholarly journals seem to be migrating their names to exclude the word geology … and emphasizing the word Earth in their titles.”

“Many universities have Earth Science or Earth and Planetary Science departments,” Ridge said. Some universities also call the field of study “Earth and Environmental Science,” according to Gardulski.

The faculty hopes that the name Earth and Ocean Sciences emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of their teaching and research, Ridge said.

“Earth and Ocean Sciences also includes a broader spectrum of fields and overlaps more with other disciplines than just geology, which gives the false impression that all we study is ‘rocks,'” Ridge said. “Our faculty are constantly applying other natural sciences and mathematics to the study of earth and ocean processes … [This research has] great societal impacts on how we protect natural systems and manage natural resources.”