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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

‘It’s a sad day;’ Suffolk drops physics major

James Bartlett

Suffolk University will no longer offer the physics major as a program of study due to a lack of funding.

The university stopped accepting students into the major as of  Oct. 1, 2021.  However, students can still study physics as a minor and take physics classes depending on availability.

The chair of Suffolk’s physics department, Professor Walter Johnson, explained what this means for existing students and what the university is planning for the future.

“The University has an obligation to allow those students who entered with majors in physics to get that degree… That’s called a teach out plan,” Johnson said.

Johnson said many students and faculty in the physics program were not shocked at the news due to the size of the program and Suffolk’s budget decrease.

“When we first learned this was going to happen, no one was really surprised because when you end up with fewer majors in the program than you have faculty that are teaching it, that’s a real bad sign,” said Johnson. “In physics, we’ve never had many majors but we teach sciences that are required by all the other sciences… The department still exists because it has to teach those courses to support all the other sections.”

Senior physics major and President of Suffolk’s Physics Society Ally Leeming said she has faced distress throughout her time at Suffolk, and how the program seems to be cast aside entirely despite Suffolk winning Outstanding Chapter of the Society of Physics Students each year since 2017.

“It’s not like we’re doing nothing, and we do a research project with Massachusetts General Hospital … it’s an accumulation of seven years of hard work and labor that’s all going to evaporate the minute we graduate,” Leeming said.

Leeming entered Suffolk as an astrophysics major, but was told that there were no options for her to continue on this path. Instead of transferring, she decided to change her major to physics.

“I got an email from Dr. Johnson in the middle of the summer… They gave me three options, I could transfer, I could take the observational astronomy classes at [Boston University]… or they said I can transfer into physics,” Leeming said.

“We needed three classes to graduate with the astrophysics degree but we didn’t know if the credits would even transfer over… I transferred into physics and all my big heavy classes are now independent studies because there are no other students,” Leeming continued.

According to Johnson, Suffolk typically runs classes with less than 15 students as reading courses. Reading courses are classes in which a professor assigns material, the class meets approximately once a week and it is not nearly as personal as full time courses. Johnson explained that physics is not an easy subject to learn through a textbook.

“You’re not gonna learn physics without help,” said Johnson.

Many students within the physics program either changed their major or transferred in order to avoid taking upper level reading courses, and to earn their degree properly, according to some students in the department.

“I learned about it my freshman year. I entered Suffolk as a physics major and an astrophysics concentration…,” said Suffolk sophomore and physics major Cameron Martin. “A week into me being a freshman they ended up dropping the concentration.

“My adviser told me the school stopped accepting physics majors,” Martin continued. “He said I could technically still go here but it would be too much work… so I might as well transfer.”

Leeming said she learned the news of the major’s suspension in September.

“There were glimmers of hope for the program…,” Leeming said. “I think they kept it open for as long as they could in hopes that more people would sign up or enroll as physics students. It was kind of like a hail mary because then the department could justify hiring the new professor.”

Leeming described the entire experience as “horribly aggravating.”

“It’s incredibly heart wrenching because there’s the research project that’s been going on for literally seven years … it is something that people spend their whole undergraduate careers working on and it’s going to be gone,” Leeming said.

Johnson explained that a lot of the downsizing occurred due to COVID-19, and physics is not the only major suffering from the pandemic’s effects.

“It’s important to know that this is not just physics that this has happened to. There are several programs that have been suspended,” Johnson said. “I understand, because of COVID, students want to take semesters off because why would you want to go to school and spend $40,000 on tuition when the course is being delivered remotely and you’re sitting in your bedroom in front of a computer screen?”

Johnson said that he also recognized that the university is trying to stay afloat throughout this difficult time.

“It’s been hard for not just physics, but for small major programs across the country. Times get hard and you have to adjust,” Johnson said. “You have to do what is best for the students and I think the university is doing that, and the faculty is doing that, it’s just hard times.”

Suffolk physics program was ranked fifth in Boston and seventeenth in all of Massachusetts, in addition to repeatedly winning national SPS Outstanding Chapter awards for annual research projects and multiple published research papers.

“The major has attracted unbelievable students,” Johnson said. “They’ve won all kinds of research awards, they go to conferences to present papers. Last year they won another research grant from the National Society of Physics Students, [where] we do a neutron project with Mass General Hospital.”

While Johnson said he understands the need to downsize the department, it’s still hard to see it go.

“It’s hard for everybody,” Johnson said. “It’s a sad day.”

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About the Contributors
Bryce Reagan
Bryce Reagan, Staff Writer | she/her
Bryce is a senior from York, Maine majoring in broadcast journalism. She loves to read and write, listen to music, explore the city, and hang out with friends. She also loves finding new and exciting things to do around Boston and back in her hometown. After graduation, she plans to try and travel as much as she can and hopefully be working in a newsroom.
James Bartlett
James Bartlett, Multimedia Editor | he/him
James Bartlett is a senior studying print and web journalism. Originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, James has a strong interest in photojournalism and new journalism tools such as podcasting and user-generated content. James is currently a Web Journalist at WHDH Channel 7 and has previously worked at and the Newburpoty Daily News. Follow James on Twitter @James_bartlett8 Email him at [email protected]

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    Bob GarneauDec 1, 2023 at 8:50 am

    Sorry to hear this happened to you Walter. It is a real shame; you must be devastated. Good luck to you and your other faculty in the department. To this day, although I’ve had a very fulfilling and rewarding career, I still miss teaching Physical Science and Astronomy for you and Suffolk Students.
    Being a Physics Major at Suffolk and moving on to getting my PhD in Computer Science is the only reason I’ve done so well for myself and my family. Take care,

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‘It’s a sad day;’ Suffolk drops physics major