Thursday, May 07, 2009

Rural sociology department is on the chopping block at Washington State University

Budget cuts are affecting universities around the nation, and at Washington State University, one casualty will most likely be the rural sociology department. While official layoffs won't come until June, the university plans to cut 370 jobs and eliminate several departments, including the Department of Community and Rural Sociology.

The department is widely known in the field for its work in research, extension and teaching. Professor Don Dillman is an internationally known expert in survey research. Emmett Fiske began some of the first extension programs in conflict resolution. Washington State is the state's land-grant university, meaning service to rural areas is supposed to be part of its mission.

Jose Garcia-Pabon, an extension agent working out of the department, has spent two years working to increase educational opportunities for Latinos in rural communities in the area. He hoped to expand the program across the state, but says that he's no longer certain it will happen. "I'm pretty concerned about it because we take Latino outreach very seriously, and we want to feed the pipeline of Latino students and want to see that they go to college," he told Michelle Dupler of the Tri-City Herald. "It is a really important aspect of the university's work to have a community relations person working with the Latino community." (Read more)


Crystal Ainardi said...

A facebook page has been created for them

Lorna Michael Butler said...

It is deplorable to learn that this outstanding department and its outreach programs will be cut. The service to Latinos and other special needs communities, e.g. smaller farmers is critical particularly in times of economic research. Until 2000 I was a member of the Department of Communities and Rural Sociology. To me, it was clear that only through a well organized Extension system, was it possible to deliver the needed educational and applied research services to vulnerable populations. Losing the impressive faculty and staff staff that is currently in place will be a major loss to Washington State.
Lorna Michael Butler

Rex Campbell said...

I am one of the "gray" rural sociologists that has watched and appreciated the excellent and innovative work of Don and Emmet and other WSU people have made for several decades. Don's books have been a standard reference for me to give to my graduate students interested in survey research.

This decision may have been made from "bean counting" without a full understanding of the impacts that a relatively small numbers of high quality professionals can and have made. We had a past dean (Roger Mitchell)who said that all it takes to have an excellent program was to have at least three good professors. WSU decision makers would do well to follow this advice.

I worked with Elson Floyd when he was here at MU. I am surprised that he would take such a drastic step.

Unfortunately, WSU may not be the only cuts of programs and tenured faculty given the sharp reductions in state support around the nation for higher education.

fmh1 said...

I share many of these sentiments. As a point of reflection, I completed the 2nd Leadership Class for Ag Experiment Station faculty while I was Head of the Rural Sociology (called Rural Development) Dept. at Mississippi State. I recall quite vividly attending a seminar while in an intensive semester conference in Indianapolis, IN on "vertical cuts" as an administrative tool.

The "leader" giving the talk was a VP at UC-Davis. After his fairly smug lecture on getting all of the "expendable" faculty moved together into one or two departmental "niches," and then assembling a hand-picked group of faculty to rank priorities among all departments so as to emulate a democratic means of then axing those two "niches," he asked us for comment. No one did. So, I raised my hand and asked if anyone in the room had directly witnessed tenured faculty getting fired without cause (e.g., de-prioritization). No one had, even the senior administrator giving the lecture!

I then replied that I was the only one in the room, then, who had directly experienced such "vertical cuts" when the Nuclear Engineering program had been closed at Miss State University by the Dean of Engineering. I explained that of the five tenured faculty let go (ignoring even more untenured ones), two left for other positions elsewhere, another sued (and won on discriminatory dismissal grounds, costing, I think, about $175K in an award to him), while two others were hired by other Departments on campus. One of the latter two was immediately elected to be the Mace Bearer at graduation, a way of saying "up yours" to the Dean in question. In conclusion, I explained that there was NO MONEY SAVED by these vertical cuts! Plus, the loss of good will and the reduction in morale clearly made the option a clear loss in organizational efficiency. (Side note: that same Dean is now President of a technical University in NJ.)

The moderator of the seminar immediately called for an unscheduled break. In the men's room during break, I was severely castigated by those CSREES folks running the show and a verbal call was made to my Experiment Station Director (who told me about this). I guess I confused the seminar with one back on my own campus!

I am now retired from Miss State and serve as a policy "bean-counter" (demographer) on the Chancellor's Staff at the University System of Georgia, teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Emory University. I see even more how fruitless such short-run, bean-counting, strategies can be. Bad times do require budget cuts since most state entities cannot spend in the red. Unfortunately, some administrative emperors are naked as jay-birds as we say in the South.

While it is truly a tragedy, although it was my reading of the official press release that some faculty (Don Dillman, for instance) would be retained in a different appointment, the only long-term strategy is to go with the market when administrative pig-headedness prevails. Look at how the Univ of Wisconsin has been raided this year. Without any insensitivity intended: Is the Univ of Idaho hiring?

Frank Howell