In a cost-saving move, Leiden University in the Netherlands has proposed excising five sections--including two internationally prominent research groups--from its Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences. Rumors of the plan have already triggered howls of outrage from critics.
With its population of science students dwindling, the university has been forced to trim its math and science budget by 20%. Although math, chemistry, and physics have suffered the biggest enrollment drops, a strategic plan unveiled last week calls for evolution and ecology to bear the brunt of the cuts. Among the groups to be axed are animal ecology, led by Jacques van Alphen, and Hans Metz's theoretical evolutionary biology group. Both are well known for their research on speciation, host-parasite relationships, and evolutionary dynamics, says Stephen Stearns of Yale University, one of more than 100 scientists to fire off a letter of protest to the university. "Many of us have sent our best students" there, Stearns wrote. The decision is "shortsighted and gravely mistaken," adds evolutionary biologist Russell Lande of the University of California, San Diego.
The Leiden cuts mirror a national trend favoring molecular biology over other fields, Metz says. Ecology funding at Groningen University--the country's other top center for ecology--is dwindling as well, he points out. A university spokesperson responds that although some good research may be lost, the plan will help stimulate interdisciplinary research.