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merging Botany/Zoology Departments

David W. Kramer kramer.8 at OSU.EDU
Fri Jun 12 08:45:58 EST 1998


This is in response to the question you posed on the "plant-ed" listserve.
You asked for DATA/EVIDENCE relating to the proposed merger of your

You display your excellent training and instincts as a scientist by asking
for "DATA/ EVIDENCE" rather than anecdotes!  The problem is that actual
data for this kind of change is hard to come by.  What would it look like?
Decline in number of majors?  Decline in number of baccalaureate students
gaining admission to grad schools?  to the BEST grad schools?  Decline in
grants awarded to faculty from NSF?  The problem in getting answers to such
questions is that it will be some years before you could expect such
effects to be noticed.  And then what do you know?  There is no "control"
for your "experiment!"  Thus, ...an anecdote!

I was at Indiana University some years ago (1960's!) when Departments of
Botany, Zoology, and Microbiology were merged into the Department of
Biology.  Old-timers were devastated!  Departments are almost organic
beings!  There are years of sentiment attached to them.  They are family!
One hopes, too, that there is a long history of success!  And we always
know about the "in-fighting," unproductive faculty, and other negatives
that will be moving into our new department from other departments
(discounting our own shortcomings!),  etc., etc.  Some faculty and students
pose false issues, just to preserve the past.  Of course, there could be
legitimate issues such as those you raise.  I can only say, as an alum,
that I think the Indiana University department is as strong or stronger now
than the combined strength of the "old" departments... and we're talking
about departments that were filled with "stars" of their time including
Herman Mueller, a Nobel laureate.  We're also talking about 30+ years of
development since the merger at IU.

There is no reason why old majors (botany, zoology, etc.) can't be
maintained within a department of biology (surely this could be done for
students already in the program).  Faculty often want to preserve
departmental majors for their own students (saves long hours of committee
work to devise new majors) but many of those same faculty would prefer that
their incoming grad students have undergrad degrees broadly based in
biology!  The purpose of grad school is to narrow your training to a more
specific field.  When I enrolled in grad school in the Dept. of Botany at
IU I had a degree from Ohio Wesleyan with a double major in Comprehensive
Science and Botany.  I remember my first meeting with Marcus Rhodes, the
chair, who advised all incoming grad students initially.  He said,
"Finally!... a student who doesn't have to go to chemistry, physics, etc.
to take courses he should have had as an undergrad and for which he would
get no grad credit at IU!"  He went on to explain that a new student from
California (I won't mention the institution but it was the top university
in botany at the time) had taken MANY grad-level botany courses (including
Marine Algae) as an undergrad but did not have a broad base of science from
other disciplines.  "It will be at least a year before he/she can take
courses in our department," Rhodes lamented, "and even then I don't know
what's left for us to teach him/her!"  Well, times have changed but
undergrads still need to have a very broad foundation in the other
sciences, mathematics, computer science, foreign languages, etc.  And a few
carefully chosen education courses wouldn't hurt either!

One strong argument for your proposed merger, I hope, is the substantial
savings in administrative costs.  Rather than fight the merger, perhaps
your energies should be focused on arguing with the administration that the
monies saved from administrative reductions should be plowed into quality
improvement in the new department... larger budgets for new equipment and
supplies, new courses, an instructional technologist to help faculty
integrate technology into the classroom, etc.  Remember that the savings in
administrative costs are "rate", i.e., continuing annual costs and not "one
time" monies.  The savings should keep coming back to the new department in
future years.  If the institution is wanting to recapture this money,
perhaps you can at least argue for a 5-year gradual shift of the funding
(in that time, the administrators at the top who cut the deal will be gone
and there will be no "institutional memory" about the agreement.  The money
will stay with you!)

Finally, I would say that a merger has more potential for increasing
visibility and reputation than would a further fragmentation or a
re-cutting of the pie in new ways.  Here at OSU the Department of Plant
Biology and Department of Zoology are being reorganized into a Department
of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology (our business cards will now
be 3" x 5"!) and a Department of Plant Biology (includes plant cell and
developmental biology... and will probably be renamed)!  The objective is
to emphasize the research emphasis, not the organism being studied.  Notice
that it has done nothing to change administrative costs!  Still two
departments! Is this an improvement?  Time will tell!

With apologies to my chairman and dean if they read this, department
strength has very little to do with administration.  [I say this with 20
years of higher education administration under my belt.]  It has everything
to do with the quality of students, the quality of faculty, the quality of
facilities, and the quality of support, both internal and external.  A
professor's wife once shared with me her philosophy of raising children:
"Learn them, love them, and let them alone."  This could be paraphrased as
the key to a good department:  "Recruit the best students and faculty, give
them the tools they need for teaching and research, and an administrative
organization/ administrators totally dedicated to facilitation not
micromanagement (i.e., 'let them alone')!"

Good luck!

Dave Kramer

Dr. David W. Kramer
Department of Plant Biology
Ohio State University at Mansfield
1680 University Drive
Mansfield, OH  44906-1547
(419) 755-4344  FAX:  (419) 755-4367
e-mail:  kramer.8 at osu.edu

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