National Academies Press: OpenBook

Agriculture and the Undergraduate (1992)

Chapter: 12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority

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Suggested Citation:"12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 104
Suggested Citation:"12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 105
Suggested Citation:"12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 106
Suggested Citation:"12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 107
Suggested Citation:"12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional Education as the Priority." National Research Council. 1992. Agriculture and the Undergraduate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1986.
Page 108

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CHAPIER 12 The Priority: Undergraduate Professional E`iucation Joseph E. Kunsman, dr. How do we educate students so that they can meet the de- mands of the new world? This was asked by many who attended the conference. The information presented at the conference and in this volume shows that the methods and materials are already there. It is like the man of the East who came to the monk in the marketplace and asked the way to the city. Those within hearing distance laughed. He was already there. So with us. A recent reading gives me pause and raises a strong concern. The reading was from a letter dated 185S and was sent by Chief Seattle to the President of the United States regarding yet another sale of Indian land to the expanding American republic. That fa- mous letter begins with the question and comment: But how can you buy or sell the sky, the land7 The idea is strange to us" (campbell' I 990:28). Chief Seattle asks another question that we have avoided deal- ing with for nearly all of our history: "Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered7 The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires7" (Campbell, 1990:29). Questions regarding what to do about significant change have never been a favorite of Americans, and even less so for academics. If you are old enough, you can remember with humor and some degree of pride the early space race-the race to the moon. One morning, Americans awoke to find that a people with strange names and a foreign Ideology had put a beeping piece of technology over our heads. The beeps of Sputnik were greeted with recriminations all around the United States. Evidently, everyone was to blame. It very suddenly dawned on us that we did not have enough math 104

UNDERGRADUATE PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION ematicians, physicists, and the like, and nobody seemed ready or able to address the need. What followed was an exciting pyrotech- nic display of U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force rockets exploding on their launchpads. Undaunted, however, and with typical American arrogance, our president declared a space race and said we would be first on the moon within 10 years. Of course, we were first on the moon, but In 8 years. Unfortunately, it appears that we are no longer confronted with that kind of world. There are no more decade-long races. Instead, a major Ideology In Eastern Europe falls not in years but in weeks. A mayor war fought between the worlds second and fifth largest armies takes not years but days. And when the Japanese stock market fluctuates, Wall Street and Nebraska grain farmers alike re- spond not in hours but in seconds. The American distaste for planning, thinking, and problem solv- ing will not serve us well In this antebellum world. Joseph Campbell, who must have had Americans in mind, once said, "What men of deeds have ever listened to sages7 For these, to think Is to act, and one thought Is enough" (campbell' 1970: 171). That must be the American way. Business as usual is an American credo, fortified by the aca- demic community in its resolve to staunchly conserve our heritage. In the College of Agriculture at the University of Wyoming, a faculty task force has been reviewing our version of the under- graduate experience. We began with Paul Kennedys epic volume The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Kennedy, 1987). The last section of that intriguing volume is titled The United States: The Problem of Number One in Relative Decline." That sectionts major thesis is as follows: "IT]he only answer to the question increasingly debated by the public of whether the United States can preserve its existing position is 'no,-for it simply has not been given to any one society to remain permanently ahead of all the others" (p. 533). Paul Kennedy is reminding us that there is no such thing as a permanent manifest destiny, no matter how hard we wish to be- lieve that there is. Shafts deadly quip fits well here: "Rome fell, Babylon fell, Scarsdalets turn will come" (Kennedy, 1987:533). But that is the point for us to ponder. Paul Kennedy explains that "the decline referred to is rela- tive not absolute, and is therefore perfectly natural; and that the only serious threat . . . can come from a failure to adjust sensibly to the newer world order" (Kennedy' 1987:534). Who is going to plan sensibly? Obviously, this nation is counting on the products of our colleges and universities our graduates. Frank Newman speaks even more precisely to the dilemma in a Carnegie Foundation Special Report: Higher Education and the American Resurgence (Newman, 1985). Newman notes: "The economic times 105

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE have changed. Ours is a more technological, more international, but most of all more dynamic world. This country's ability to com- pete and to lead is dependent on the nature and quality of higher education. An understanding of technology is important to gradu- ates, but so is the capacity to take initiative, to be creative, to understand the International nature of the world, and to compre- hend the need to both compete and cooperate" (p. 28). Our educational system Is the envy of all the world. Its Incred- ible achievements need not be chronicled here. Yet, there is work to be done and Important adjustments to be made. For Instance, take two specific dilemmas. Many years ago we bought enthusias- tically the concept of the German research university, and the re- search-teaching amalgam we have forged Is our pride and heritage. If we did not sincerely believe that, we would not hold an under- graduate curriculum conference at the National Academy of Sci- ences. However, we must acknowledge that we are faced with a difficult and troubling dialectic. I am reminded of the Indian mystic who, upon entering a temple, looked at the holy Image and debated within himself whether God had form or was formless. He passed his staff from left to right. The staff touched nothing. He concluded God was formless. Then he passed the staff from right to left. It struck the image. He under- stood that God had form. Of course, dialectics work well in Indian mysticism, but less so in tightly budgeted, self-indulgent, immoderate universities. The teaching and research amalgam Is our strength, but It is also our dilemma a dilemma worthy of our Immediate attention. Re- dressing the balance can benefit both research and teaching. Appro- priate funding for both is requisite for progress. The system and I myself- have supported the recent national research initiative for agriculture, food, and the environment. It was appropriate. An un- dergraduate teaching initiative is also appropriate, and it begs everyonets support. A second dilemma seeking a remedy is that of teaching prestige and reward. Many chapters in this volume address this issue. For the noblest of professions, a noble reward is due. Ensuring an appropriate reward for our finest teachers is a difficult but achiev- able task. It should be pursued with vigor at both the local and national levels. Yet, another complementary note must be sounded here. Several years ago I attended a presidential conference on excellence in education. One of the highlights for me was the keynote address by Senator Richard Lugar (R.-lnd.) (Luger' 1983). 1 remember that he made the point that we could no longer get by in education on the backs of dedicated missionaries. It was a popular theme at the conference, and I shared it with many of my col- leagues. But over the years, the more I thought about it the less I believed it. Dedicated missionaries make the learning experience. 106

UNDERGRADUATE PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION Someone once said that the most important ingredient in good education is the appetite the appetite of the teacher as well as that of the student. That appetite is what got all of us to the college and university In the first place. 1 never cease to be amazed at those surveys that show that college and university faculty, given the choice, generally have a preference for teaching over research. It is a noble task, and we like being noble. Encouraging that nobil- lty may be one of the easiest reforms to implement improvement in our present educational system. But we must be realistic. It is a local issue, but It needs national reform. A state university, for example, cannot do it alone. It calls for a national attitude of reallo- cation of resources. Karl Brandt began the conference (see Chapter l) with an expla- nation of what he believes and why he worries. As we concluded the conference, we could safely say that we believe the methods and materials for improving our undergraduate educational effort are available and workable. Yet, equally apparent is our apprehen- sion regarding our ability to apply the proper effort and achieve the desired results. For we take note that many of these curriculum reforms are not new, just unused. These ideas have not been tried and found wanting. They have been found to be too hard and have been left untried. In Isso' many of us were thrilled by the production on the Public Broadcast Service of Richard Wagnerts Ring Cycle, Der Ring den Nibelungen; four operas and 16 hours of the world projected In myth and music. Woton, the one-eyed sky god, and his accompa- nying pantheon represent humankind. But I saw a special kind of humankind, the academic, the college professor. The first opera in the cycle, Das Rheingold, is most Instructive for us and serves as a fitting conclusion tO this chapter. Woton, sky god and flawed hero, spends most of Das Rheingold attempt- ing tO manage human avarice, using his half-blind intuition. As expected, his efforts result in intrigue, hatred, and general human disorder. Frustrated by his limitations and the enormity and com- plexity of the task, Woton decides to abandon the real world and retreat to Valhalla, his mystic castle in the sky. Das Rheingold concludes with Woton and his entourage of lesser gods majesti- cally crossing over reality on a beautiful rainbow bridge to the castle in the sky. Those of us in academe have a magnificent history of retreating from the world and its messy problems to our mythical ivory tow- ers. Yet, this republic of ours and its citizens have placed great, If not also slightly misplaced, confidence in us. They also invest a good portion of their fortune to support our efforts. This significant confidence and financial investment and the enormous importance of our task must elicit from us not a retreat but a herculean effort to provide the best and most applicable undergraduate education. 107

AGRICULTURE AND THE UNDERGRADUATE Wagnerts ring cycle began with wotonts retreat from the world he helped to create, and as a result, it ends 16 hours later with G~tterddimmerung, the twilight of the gods. This is not a comforting analogy in this most robust of times. Maybe it is best, then, that we accept our challenge: to produce educated individuals prepared, as Paul Kennedy says, for sensible planning. This is no easy task, but we have asked the monks, "Where is the city?" The conference participants confirmed that we are al- ready there. Like my colleague, Karl Brandt, I believe and I worry. But mostly, I believe. Many times during the conference we heard speakers share the conundrum that history is too important to leave to histo- rians, or that education is too important to leave to colleges of education. Using this rubric one last time, let me point out that undergraduate education in agriculture is too important to be left to deans and directors of resident instruction. we simply cannot educate another generation in the deficient manner In which we were educated. Everyone in the agricultural community faculty, deans, students, chief executive officers, and presidents must become actively involved. we can do it together, but let us not leave it undone. A great republic is counting on us. References Campbell, J., ed. 1970. Myths, Dreams and Religion. Dallas: Springs Publications. Campbell, J. 1990. Transformations of Myth Through Time. New York: Harper & Row. Kennedy, P. 1987. Random House. Lugar, R. G. 1983. Keynote Address. National Forum on Excellence in Education, Indianapolis, Ind., December 8, 1983. Newman, F. 1985. Higher Education and the American Resurgence. A Carnegie Foundation Special Report. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Princeton University Press. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: 108

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This book presents efforts to chart the comprehensive changes needed to meet the challenges of undergraduate professional education in agriculture. The United States needs to invest in the future--in human capital and the scientific knowledge base--to revitalize one of its leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system. That objective can be met by educating all students about agriculture as well as by educating others specifically for careers in agriculture.

Agriculture and the Undergraduate includes perspectives on rewarding excellence in teaching and formulating curricula to reflect cultural diversity, the environment, ecology, agribusiness and business, humanities and the social sciences, and the economic and global contexts of agriculture.

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