The university is seeking to close the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Science as part of its efforts to reduce expenses. Dr. Gregory Straughn informed students in the department at a meeting after Chapel on Monday.
Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said this fall and into the spring the university will decide how to close the department, moving portions to the Department of Biology.
The proposal is to allow students currently enrolled in all three agriculture department majors – agribusiness, animal science and environmental science – to complete their degrees. After that, the biology department will serve students in pre-veterinarian medicine and wildlife and natural resource management, the department’s two most highly subscribed programs. Once students now seeking agribusiness and animal science degrees have been graduated, those majors will be closed.
Dr. Susan Lewis, assistant provost, said closure of those degrees and merging of the others with biology remains a proposal that will require faculty approval but believes it is the most likely path forward.
“We have a lot of conversations to have and the opportunity for input from faculty and students,” Lewis said. “We will now need to start conversations with the faculty councils that ultimately vote on this.”
The department will be allowed to respond to the proposal in writing, then both the proposal and the department’s response will go to a university academic council of nine members who vote to approve the proposal.
Students at the meeting Monday expressed frustration with the decision and asked Straughn and Lewis questions about their concerns.
Mike Keenan, junior wildlife and natural resource management major from Redwood City, California, said he is concerned the wildlife and natural resource management degree will turn into a wildlife biology degree once it moves to the biology department.
“In our department, the two predominant majors are pre-veterinarian medicine and wildlife and natural resource management,” he said. “It is in fact, not pre-vet and wildlife, which head honchos don’t understand.”
Keenan said natural resource management is a huge, growing field.
“The natural resource management degree is kind of like a liberal arts environmental degree,” he said. “You learn about wildlife, you learn about the habitat, the water resource management. So that’s what will be lost when it becomes biology.”
Straughn offered three primary reasons for the proposal. First, the distribution of majors in the department’s nine tracks is concentrated in two majors that make up two-thirds of the department’s majors. Second, a reduced budget for the department means several faculty members who left have not been replaced.
“We made reduction in roles that were vacated and didn’t renew a hire, and that has positioned us in this place,” he said. “There is not funding available for the university to say we can fund two or three positions to keep the department in the same structure it is now.”
Finally, he said retaining the department may not be the best way to steward the university’s resources.
“If that’s the case, it seems to me our best move forward is to look holistically and objectively at what areas are of the most interest or demand and to be able to push our resources towards that in similar ways that we have done the past.”
This is not the first time the agriculture department has faced closure. On Nov. 1, 2011, Dr. Charles Mattis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the time, sent an email to faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences announcing the agribusiness major would be closed while animal science and environmental science majors would be realigned into biology. Three days later, a group of students from the department traveling in a shuttle bus to an annual service project in Medina flipped in a one-car accident, killing one passenger and hospitalizing others.
On Dec. 19, 2011, Straughn, who was interim provost at the time, sent an email to faculty and staff announcing the department would remain under its existing structure. The programs in Animal Science and Environmental Science would not undergo realignment.
In May of 2011, two professors, Dr. Foy Mills and Dr. Florah Mhlanga, left the department. Mills now works at Sam Houston State University and Mhlanga now works at Lipscomb University. Dr. Michael Nicodemus left in 2014, moving to Harding University, and Emmett Miller retired in 2014.
The two remaining full-time faculty are Dr. Ed Brokaw, Chair of the department and professor of animal science, and Dr. Jim Cooke, professor of environmental science. This semester, there are seven adjunct professors.