Originally created 02/15/02

Cuts pull plug on university program



ATHENS, Ga. - Raymond Freeman-Lynde's brontosaurus thigh bone is a showstopper at grammar schools when the geology professor takes his popular lecture, Dinosaurs: Lifestyles of the Big and Famous, on the road.

Next year, the giant leg bone won't be venturing out on its usual tours.

Falling state revenues have led administrators to cut the funding for the University of Georgia outreach program that sent Mr. Freeman-Lynde and dozens of other professors across Georgia to talk about their research.

Since 1993, Georgians of all ages have gathered at Wednesday night potlucks, Rotary Club meetings and science fairs to meet the university teachers and hear lectures with topics as diverse as The Lord of the Rings, human cloning, rainforest people and the mushrooms of Georgia.

"It's good for the university to have faculty go out into the community," Mr. Freeman-Lynde said. "I understand the constraints, and I just think that it's unfortunate that the economy has required them to make that choice."

The program has been cut by university outreach administrators as part of the $105 million reduction to next year's state higher education budgets. The program cost about $135,000, covering travel expenses and $300 stipends for lecturers. Spending of the stipends is restricted to teaching and research expenses.

Few university programs have been as popular as the Franklin College Outreach program. In nine years, more than 130 professors visited 99 Georgia counties, speaking to more than 100,000 elementary school pupils and community groups about their research. Each year, more professors signed on for the program and more schools and groups sought out the lectures.

Mr. Freeman-Lynde used his lecture stipends to pay his travel expenses and to buy more casts of dinosaur fossils, which he also uses for his classes in Athens.

Ending the program severs an important tie between university research and the state, and, for many faculty members, takes away a good time.

"It's great working with the kids - it's really amazing how bright they are," Mr. Freeman-Lynde said. "And they really like the dinosaurs."

"Almost all the schools around here use" the lectures, said Roger Thomas, a psychology professor and the director of the outreach program. "I think it was a valuable service. It's just sad it won't be available."

Hank Huckaby, the university's senior vice president for business and finance, said it's possible the program could be resurrected if the economy picks up. Someone else would have to run it, because Mr. Thomas plans to retire at the end of this academic year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Freeman-Lynde said he and several professors have agreed to keep taking their respective shows on the road, as often as they can, at their own expense. After all, a professor with dinosaur bones is always in demand, he said.

"Many of us will try to keep it up, to some extent," Mr. Freeman-Lynde said.