Science Academy idea is good, the timing is not

When you’re looking for a tangible means by which to measure most things, looking at how the numbers stack up is usually a good way to go.

The numbers are supposed to be Honest Abe when it comes to telling you what’s up with a particular situation.

According to the numbers, the state of Kentucky is ranked 47th out of 50 states in its number of scientists and engineers.

In an effort to do something about that, Western has taken its push to bring the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science to the Hill to new heights. Western officials will be going to the General Assembly in January to ask for funding.

The ultimate goal for President Gary Ransdell and others at Western will be to get on the governor’s budget recommendation in 2004 for an easier track to $2.6 million in funding needed to complete the project.

But while Western administrators’ efforts to help Kentucky improve its crop of analytical thinkers are admirable, the move might be premature, considering the needs that Western must meet right now. There is a world of change already happening around campus, and we might be stretching ourselves a little thin in the names of progress and recognition.

Hey, we know Western will always be fighting for a place in the spotlight with UK and Louisville up the road, but it can be done without overexerting ourselves and potentially our own resources.

The academy would be aimed at gifted Kentucky high school juniors and seniors and would give them the chance to earn as many as 60 college credit hours while living on campus. That is obviously a big plus and something that administrators will highlight to the General Assembly.

However, with an already bustling enrollment – Western’s largest ever this year – how will there be room for another group of students, no matter what the caliber? Our classrooms are overloaded, and we don’t have enough professors or money to pay them as it is. While we have renovated some of our aging buildings, there are still more to be tuned up. Thompson Complex and Snell Hall definitely come to mind. The new Complex for Engineering and Biological Sciences is progressing well, but even it isn’t supposed to be finished until March 2004. How can they justify getting this academy as part of the budget recommendation if we don’t even have a building in which to teach Western kids in those fields?

Center for Gifted Studies director Julia Roberts said it is important to keep the legislators informed about the academy and its benefits for the state. Again, that is a positive, no doubt about it. But we assume that means that you hope these students stay in-state to go to college and possibly will stay put for their careers. Fine. But say they choose to attend college at Western. A student the caliber you hope to be grooming will be eligible for scholarships. That just means more money out of Western’s pocket.

Or if they go elsewhere, then we have effectively overcrowded our campus and strained our resources for nothing while they wind up attending another state school. How does that work?

There are a lot more problems on the Hill that need attention before we go headfirst into this academy, no matter what the possible benefits.

We aren’t saying that it isn’t something that should never be pursued, and we realize it will happen. We are just concerned about the students that go to Western now.

They need to be getting the best possible education with the dollars they spend.

Numbers tell us a lot, but in this sense, it doesn’t take a gifted math person to know these numbers don’t quite cut it.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 10-member board of student editors.