Lack of state funding threatens rural student enrollment at UW-Madison – The Country Today: Guest Opinions

Bill Tracy, Interim Dean of the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences (CALS), notes the challenges of maintaining strong undergraduate programs in CALS, and the potential impact on students from rural areas. I am not going to bemoan the state budget and its treatment of higher education, as this is a national bipartisan trend. However, we will not be able to do what we’ve done in the past. That is likely, in some ways, a good thing.

Agriculture, natural resources, and the life sciences have changed a lot and I can’t say that CALS (or the campus), as a whole, has. For sure, who we hire and what they do have. Basic research and the capacity to attract external research dollars are valued over applied research that serve specific interests (unless those interests are willing to support it). Our department, Forest & Wildlife Ecology, has faired better than most in that we’ve (so far) balanced our research, teaching, and extension missions, but we’re also not doing the same things as we were when I arrived twelve years ago. The department I started in merged with Wildlife Ecology. Our faculty profile has shifted toward a greater emphasis on the ecology.

The College as a whole, though, hasn’t necessarily made similar changes and, in many ways we’re stuck in some structures that only make historic sense. The challenge is to change in ways that not only reflect our new strengths and budgetary environment, but also maintain our commitment (however altered) to Wisconsin. It will not be the same, but hopefully it will be realistic and sustainable.

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