University of Nevada may close College of Agriculture

Mar 5, 2010

University of Nevada may close College of Agriculture

In a recent session, Nevada’s legislature voted to reduce UNR’s budget by 6.9 percent, an $11 million reduction. This reduction is in addition to last year’s cuts, which totaled roughly $33 million. In the face of such monumental deficits, the provost’s office felt that cutting programs was the only remaining course of action for the university.

Their proposal initially called for complete elimination of the Department of Animal Biotechnology, as well as the Department of Resource Economics. According to Dr. Ron Pardini, dean of the College of Agriculture, these cuts ultimately sealed the fate for the entire college.

"They proposed to cut Resource Economics and Animal Biotechnologies," said Pardini. "There were only five departments in the college to begin with. You can’t run a college with just two or three departments, so they proposed to cut the entire College of Agriculture."

Under the final proposal, the college’s remaining departments, Biochemistry, Nutrition, and Natural Resources/Environmental Science, would be absorbed into various departments within the College of Science. However, students would no longer be able to achieve degrees in Animal Science, nor would degrees be available in Agricultural or Natural Resource Economics. In addition, the university plans to close its meat lab, shutting down the student-run "Wolf Pack Meats" marketing program. They also intend to close the Main Station Field Lab, a 1,000-acre facility adjacent to the city of Reno which currently houses livestock and farm facilities for use in research and teaching. The loss of these facilities, according to Dr. David Thain, may be the unkindest cut of all.

"The research station out here offers a lot of opportunity to get hands on with livestock," points out Thain, "that won’t be available anymore."

Though there has been much speculation as to why the College of Agriculture has been targeted in this round of cuts, Thain, extension veterinarian and assistant professor for CABNR, feels that at least some of the blame lies with the ever increasing disconnect between the public and their food supply, a lack of knowledge that he says leads university officials to place less priority on agricultural endeavors.

"This particular (university) really has lost touch with what the mission of the land grant college is and why it’s so important for the average public to know what it takes to feed them," says Thain.

In the proposal, University Provost Marc Johnson cites low enrollment as the primary reasoning behind the closure, stating that the animal science department is "characterized by relatively low enrollment and low outputs of student credit hours and graduates."

University President Milton Glick echoed this sentiment in a recent interview with the Reno Gazette Journal, stating; "One of the reasons some of these programs were selected (for elimination) is they don’t graduate a lot of students, so there are not a lot of students who will be affected."

However, according to CABNR’s publications, over 900 students are enrolled in the various majors offered by the college. Thain also points out that of the 60 to 80 students who enter just the pre-vet program annually, roughly 10 percent of them are admitted to veterinary school, a success rate that rivals that of most western universities.

The loss of Animal Science faculty at the university also translates to a loss in research, particularly research related to the Great Basin area of the U.S., which many feel is unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere. Although Nevada shares the Great Basin region with several other states, UNR is the only major university actually located in the vast desert.

"Most of our research here really targets the Great Basin," says Thain.

He points to current research projects, which range from helping to develop one of the nation’s top fine-wool lines of sheep, to a cooperative effort with University of California, Davis, examining tick-borne foothill abortion in cattle.

According to Pardini, at least some research may be able to continue. The provost’s proposal calls for retaining the state’s extension program, as well as the Agricultural Experiment Station, which is comprised of several research stations around the state. This includes the Gund Ranch, a 10,000-acre beef ranch the school operates near Austin, NV. However, it is unclear how much research will be able to continue with so few left to conduct it.

"We have been doing research and funding it through the experiment station, and we can continue that," says Pardini. "But it will be difficult without an animal science faculty."

Though well on its way, the proposal is not yet set in stone, and the dean has no intention of giving up his college without a fight.

"There is a process," he says. "They can’t just wave a magic wand and do all this."

Under the proposal, CABNR has one month to provide a rebuttal justifying the need for their programs. The final decision rests with the board of regents, who will not convene on the subject until May.

"We think that there is significant information that wasn’t covered, and we’ll provide them with it," says Pardini. "We’re going to provide a compelling argument to keep the college alive and keep these two departments open."

One of the major issues with the proposal lies with UNR’s origins as a land grant university. The land grant system goes back to an 1862 congressional act known as the Morrill Act. Under the act, each state was given federal land, which they were required to sell. The funds from these sales were then to be used to build state universities. The act also required these universities to maintain programs in practical subjects. Agriculture and mechanics were specifically mentioned. Today, nearly every state has at least one land grant institution, and all of them provide an agriculture curriculum.

"This proposal seems to be contrary to the Morrill Act, and we will be bringing that up," says Pardini, adding, "This is kind of earth shaking. If (the planned proposal) happens, we will be the first land grant university in history to eliminate its college of agriculture." — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent

Officials at the University of Nevada, Reno, (UNR) announced a plan on March 1 that, if brought to fruition, would leave the state without an agricultural college. The plan to dismantle UNR’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources (CABNR) is part of a larger proposal designed to meet budget reductions mandated by the state legislature.