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FALL 2010
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Short Reports

Ithaca–Geneva Department Mergers Strengthen CALS Mission

By Ellen Leventry '95

The establishment of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management wasn’t the only big news to come out of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences this summer. The Ithaca- and Geneva-based sister departments—Entomology (Ithaca and Geneva), Food Science (Ithaca) and Food Science and Technology (Geneva), Horticulture (Ithaca) and Horticultural Sciences (Geneva), and Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology (Ithaca and Geneva)—merged as of July 1, 2010.

The four new departments will be known as the Department of Horticulture, the Department of Entomology, the Department of Food Science, and the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology.

 Although the Ithaca departments and New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva departments have been working collaboratively for many years and developed strategic plans in concert, the college’s “reimagining” effort provided an opportunity to unite the programs and resources offered on both campuses for full advantage.

“When we looked at the number of faculty and staff in these various programmatic areas, they represented perhaps the largest concentration of personnel in each of these areas of nearly any place in the world,” notes CALS Senior Associate Dean Jan Nyrop.

“It made sense to capitalize on the fact that the departments were already planning together and that the distinctions between the two locations were blurring a bit in terms of teaching and the types of research being done. We wanted to build on that and come out with an even stronger entity by formally saying it’s one.”

CALS Senior Associate Dean Max Pfeffer believes the simplified structure will be “less confusing to potential students and to others looking to partner with Cornell. They’ll look from the outside world and now find one, unified Department of Entomology or one Department of Food Science.”

The mergers make the organization of CALS more like the structures of similar land grant institutions, but Pfeffer explains that the college is not concerned with imitating its peers.

“We want to be in a position of intellectual leadership,” he says. “We are thinking less in terms of following a model [that] somebody else has put in place than... how we can be leaders in areas that are key to our mission, and that’s where we really want to be in the long term.”

Pfeffer adds that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “The spirit of the way we’re approaching this is lots of faculty input and careful consideration of different possibilities.”

Marvin Pritts, chair of the newly formed Department of Horticulture, views the reorganization as a valuable and logical evolution: “Geneva and Ithaca have been getting together on a regular basis for years for retreats and curriculum planning and extension coordination. Formally merging didn’t scare anybody because they’ve been collaborating for a long time.”

No stranger to department mergers, having experienced three in his 26 years at CALS, Pritts feels that a larger department not only has the advantages of flexibility and adaptability, but that faculty will have new opportunities for collaboration in research and outreach.

But the new possibilities for teaching excite Pritts most: “The Geneva faculty, traditionally, have not been able to be as involved in teaching as their Ithaca counterparts. But with newer technologies they will be able to take a more active teaching role, benefitting the students since they will have a greater breadth of faculty to learn from and courses to engage in.”