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Archive for Uncategorized

… well it’s time to go!

Posted by: | April 24, 2012 | 2 Comments |

With apologies to Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson of The Spaniels:

Goodbye, Beavers, well, it’s time to go,
I hate to leave you, but I really must say,
Goodbye, Beavers, goodbye.

As I sit here mulling over my “final” observations for our College’s newsletter, The Source, Lonnie is in my office packing stuff that I have accumulated over the last many years during my sojourns in New Jersey, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Kansas, Indiana, and now Oregon. She’s joking that I’ll be the only one in Washington, DC with a collection of entomological and motorcycling tsotchkes—an interesting combination, indeed!

I never thought that my tenure as dean of the College was going to be so short. I continue to relive the phone call I received late last summer, as Todd Bastian and I were heading to the Portland airport, which invited me to consider this leadership role at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and which has changed my life completely. I do not know what’s in store for me, having never left college, as it were. By nature I am impatient, and my wife reminds me that government may not be the best place for an impatient man. We’ll see—my intention is to make a difference.

Regardless, it’s going to be exciting—to be able to help frame our nation’s food, agricultural, and natural resources research and education agenda.

The outpouring of congratulations, goodwill, and gratitude has been amazing.

As I look back, it’s hard to believe that it’s coming on close to three years since I became dean. You may have heard me joke about how it must have been bad luck I brought to Oregon State University, because the College was subjected to serious budget cuts—just since 2009, we have lost almost 25 percent of our state support.

It felt like every waking moment—and for that matter even in my dreams—I was involved in working with my colleagues in trying to come up with ways to deal with the budget reductions.  We eliminated positions, we reduced our footprint, we made offsets with grant support and donated funds, and we required stakeholders to ante up.

The 2011 legislative session was an amazing event which brought out unequalled and passionate support of our stakeholders, including our students.  With their support we were able—for the most part—to turn back a proposed and very significant budget reduction. In my years of working in multiple institutions, I had never seen anything like it.

Although it felt like all of my efforts were aimed at dealing with the budget reductions, I take pride in a number of things I brought to the College—for framing the vision of preeminence, purpose, and impact, for bringing a more purposeful approach to help student and faculty success, for creating the sense that our academic endeavors must ultimately be about innovations that help society, and for articulating the idea that everything we do must be purposeful and deliberate. It’s good to see all of these efforts come to fruition in the past two and a half years or more—in enabling support for our faculty, staff, and students, in framing the research agenda, in the development arena—helping the College strive for preeminence.

Good things have come of the efforts of our amazing students, faculty, and staff, and my role has been that of a catalyst, an enabler, a facilitator, and a cheerleader. I believe I brought a can-do attitude and an unapologetic sense that our College is one of the best of its kind.

Tune in — in the years to come, the seed we have planted in the form of a number of initiatives I hope will come to fruition, to provide “shade for the generations to come”.

During the past almost three years, I have traveled many miles in Oregon, interacted on  and off campus with many, and have made lifelong friendships. Oregon State University and Oregon are my wife’s and my adopted home, and we will cherish our time here and our friends. I know our paths will cross again!

You may have heard me speak to how we are all the sum of our experiences. My thinking and my vision, as I get ready to take on the mantle of leading our nation’s food and agricultural research and education agenda, has been honed by my time as dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

I want to thank you for your passionate and unparalleled support of our College and my efforts as dean, and for having allowed my wife Gita and me to be a part of this amazing institution and this amazing state.

Instead of goodbye, I bid everyone au revoir!

under: Uncategorized

Useless degrees?

Posted by: | January 27, 2012 | 7 Comments |

In a recent blog post on Yahoo! Education entitled “College Majors That Are Useless” (http://tinyurl.com/6p3sqee), writer Terence Loose states, “Want to make sure you don’t pick a dud of a degree? Check out our list of most useless degrees,” and goes on to list Agriculture as “useless degree #1”, Animal Science as “useless degree #4”, and Horticulture as “useless degree #5”.

Huh?

Mr. Loose’s opinion is based loosely—pun intended—on U.S. Department of Labor projections cited in an article in the online version of Newsweek magazine, the Daily Beast (http://tinyurl.com/5rm7eyl), which itself is difficult to fathom, considering what we know from other analyses.

Apparently, for Mr. Loose and for the Daily Beast, it’s all about making money! They consider these graduates do not earn as much as engineering, business, and IT graduates and, therefore, they are useless.

Not surprisingly, the Yahoo blog post loosed a national firestorm of responses attempting to refute Mr. Loose’s opinion—including some from our own students and alumni—in emails, personal Facebook pages, blog posts, Tweets, and in proverbial hallway and water cooler conversations.

“I Studied Agriculture and I Have a Job” (http://tinyurl.com/77pqlwu), a Facebook community page created in response to the Loose blog elicited within 24 hours almost 4,000 “likes” and counting.

I am shocked that any one would say that degrees in agriculture, horticulture, and animal science are useless.

I wonder if Mr. Loose woke up on the morning he wrote his blog and ate breakfast, followed by lunch and dinner. Well, maybe he didn’t realize that folks who studied such majors likely enabled his meals.

Similarly, the healthy fruit and vegetables that are chock full of antioxidants and other “good” things are what horticulturists enable him to have.

I wonder if Mr. Loose breathed in some air and drank some water. Yet again, some agriculture majors make sure that those are kept clean and plentiful.

And all the IT degrees, engineering degrees, business degrees, etc. don’t mean a thing if we don’t have food, which is what the agriculture, horticulture, and animal science degree holders enable.

And, lest we forget, we will have almost 10 billion people on Earth in just another 40 years, just about 50 percent more than we have today. We’ll need many more of those agriculture, horticulture, and animal science graduates to be able to feed all of those people.

The amazing efficiency of American agriculture is such that less than 1.5 percent of our population is involved in producing our food. So, the demand for such graduates in actually producing food may be low. In addition to production agriculture, however, graduates of these majors end up in many other endeavors.

They go on to careers as geneticists, food scientists, life scientists, ecologists, environmental scientists, golf course superintendents, viticulturists, landscape specialists, horticultural therapists, vegetable specialists, fruit specialists, plant scientists, animal scientists, plant breeders, animal breeders, veterinarians, medical doctors, soil scientists, hydrologists, food safety specialists, natural resource specialists, cancer biologists, toxicologists, nanotechnologists, microbiologists, pest management specialists, educators, researchers, and on and on and on.

They work in government and non-governmental organizations, in universities, high schools, and colleges, in the private sector and corporations, and with international organizations.

They work in the agrochemical sector, the agribusiness sector, the biomedical sector, and the pharmaceutical sector. They work as Peace Corps volunteers and help people in developing countries. They are entrepreneurs, they are inventors, they are discoverers.

They get jobs or go on to graduate school or professional schools shortly after graduation.

Indeed, a recent Georgetown University study showed that agriculture and natural resources graduates face one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States (http://tinyurl.com/7aymmsq).

A Purdue University study suggested the agricultural, food, and renewable natural resources sectors (http://tinyurl.com/6t4zuja) of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated 54,400 annual openings for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees in food, renewable energy, and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015. The kicker is the agricultural programs in the nation will produce five percent fewer graduates than are needed.

Our College, and many like it in the United States, have revamped curricula and offer an education that enables students to develop critical thinking skills, communication skills, ethical skills, experiential skills, and leadership skills, along with technical knowledge in the various agricultural disciplines. Such a combination is making our graduates competitive for jobs in many different sectors.

The College created a Leadership Academy and a minor in leadership to help inculcate such skills in our graduates; additionally, our expectation is that 100 percent of our students have one or more internships, externships, or other experiences on campus, in corporate and private sector, and in government or non-governmental organizations, and some even avail overseas opportunities. Thus our graduates are equipped not only with excellent technical knowledge, but also “soft skills”.

At the end of the day, our graduates are addressing the needs of our nation and our world. They are involved in many different useful endeavors and are earning a good living, contrary to Mr. Terence Loose’s opinion.

Ciao,

Sonny Ramaswamy
Reub Long Professor and Dean

under: Uncategorized

Students: The Reason For being!

Posted by: | November 2, 2011 | No Comment |

My life usually revolves around meetings or travel or entertaining visitors, alumni, and friends or giving lectures at various venues or going on fundraising trips with Todd Bastian or Jack Holpuch, our development professionals.

Typically, the conversations I am involved in are varied. They might be about budgets, or research, or teaching, or food, or natural resources, or jobs and the economy, or fundraising, or Extension, or space, or–whatever. You get the picture! One day is never the same as another, which makes my job a whole lot of fun.

Recently, however, most of my interactions have all been about our students—the reason Oregon State University was established as a Land Grant University.

About our students. The students returned en masse when classes started on September 26. Yet again this year, enrollments are up at Oregon State University—to almost 25,000. The College’s enrollments also are up—our total enrollment is more than 2,300 students, a bit more than a 13 percent increase from last year, which is a record.

Many more of the incoming class are transfer students from community colleges, rather than true freshmen. Demographics also have changed, with a significant number of Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Native American, and international students. Many of these students are the first in their families to attend college, which is a significant challenge for the students, as well as for the College.

Scholarships are vital. I had the pleasure a few days ago of welcoming and honoring our “Rising Scholars”— freshmen and transfer students selected for various scholarships. For this 2011-2012 academic year, the College awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships to these Rising Scholars.

With ever-escalating increases in tuition, unfortunately, more and more students rely on need-based scholarships. Indeed, seven out of 10 students in the College need some form of financial assistance.

Our role in developing leaders. The College launched its new Leadership Academy this fall term, with an inaugural cohort of ten students. The Leadership Academy is meant to help students develop “soft skills”, i.e., leadership skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, team skills, networking skills, etc. Students in the Leadership Academy, identified as Fellows, are mentored by faculty and administrators in the College; I have the privilege of mentoring an outstanding young man, Thomas Griffin, senior in environmental economics, policy, and management from Culver, Oregon.

Jonathan Velez, the inaugural Bradshaw Professor of Leadership, oversees the Leadership Academy, and an alumna of our College, Kellie Strawn, is its director. Leadership Academy Fellows receive a stipend of $1,500—funds for which have been provided by several generous donors. We continue to seek additional donations to be able to offer scholarships to more students. In addition to the Leadership Academy, we are creating a minor in leadership. This latter effort is to enable students across the College to develop leadership skills.

Curricular changes on the horizon. As I have noted previously, we are revamping our majors and curricula, streamlining syllabi, and incorporating a number of “value added” experiences, such as enhancing leadership skills. Additionally, we require that students undertake “experiential learning” in the form of internships, externships, and other hands-on experiences in laboratories, in the field, on campus, off campus, in the corporate and other private sectors, and in government and non-government sectors.

Along these lines, we are building efforts to offer study abroad opportunities to more and more of our students. Our hope is that in just a few more years, one of four students graduating from our College will have had a study abroad experience. These experiences could include service learning, research, Extension experiences, work in corporate facilities, or study at partner institutions.

We are committed to enabling the success of our students, and the above are a few examples of our efforts in that direction.

Meeting changing student demographics. As the demographics of entering students change, we must adjust our teaching, advising, and financial aid efforts to meet the challenge of catering to the needs of students who might come from underrepresented or economically disadvantaged groups, or are the first in their families to attend college.

I have commissioned a work group of faculty, staff, and students to recommend how best the College may meet the challenges of the changing student demographic, and to help frame a vision for how we can help ensure the success of our students from underrepresented groups. The work group is to submit its report to me this fall, and we hope to execute a plan starting in January 2012.

These are truly exciting times, because the life-blood of our College—our students—bring excitement to our campus and validate the reason for our being!

Ciao,

Sonny Ramaswamy
Reub Long Professor and Dean
Director, Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station
College of Agricultural Sciences

under: Uncategorized

Mazel Tov: Budgetarily Speaking

Posted by: | July 14, 2011 | 2 Comments |

Budgetarily, the past several months have been intensely frenetic and stressful, characterized by the expression of passionate support by OSU President Ed Ray, our students, stakeholders from practically every walk of life, newspaper editorials, and key legislators.

The Governor’s recommended budget for the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, OSU Extension, and OSU Forest Research Laboratory for the 2011-2013 biennium proposed an almost 20 percent reduction from the 2009-2011 budget. Once the magnitude of that reduction was clear, with the help of stakeholders, we mounted an effort to seek the legislature’s support for an add back of $12 million and holding the budget reduction to no more than eight percent.

Our stakeholders – representing the vast expanse of the natural resources and conservation groups, along with literally hundreds of farmers, ranchers, vintners, orchardists, cheesemakers, vegetable producers, foresters, nurserymen, 4-Hers and FFAers, Master Gardeners, bankers, lawyers, doctors, judges, grocers, and just plain citizens – from the left to the right of the political spectrum – stepped up to contact legislators.

At legislative hearings, stakeholders spoke passionately about the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory – the so-called Statewide Public Service Programs. Some evoked deep emotions as they spoke of what these endeavors enabled them to do. President Ray spoke passionately about the Land Grant DNA of Oregon State University and how the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory were core to that Land Grant mission. All urged legislators to add back $12 million.

The $12 million add back became the Mantra.

Stakeholders met legislators – particularly the leadership of the Oregon legislature’s House and Senate – in their offices or in their districts and at grocery stores or in doctors’ offices. They made telephone calls. They wrote letters. They sent postcards. In droves, they attended OSU Day at the Capitol and made their case with legislators, chanting the Mantra – add back $12 million.

A passionate group of individuals mobilized other stakeholders who could provide personal narratives of the importance of funding the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory. These narratives were repeated in many parts of the state: in Portland; in Bend; in Pendleton; in Medford; in Newport. Each told a unique and intensely personal story – about jobs and the economy, about mint, about ice cream, about cattle, about orchards, about food safety, about water, about air, about food, about exports, about 4-H, about Master Gardener, about wheat, about potatoes, about the range, about natural resources, about wine, about restaurants. Their stories depicted an amazing array of the breadth of people and endeavors impacted by the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory. Each ended their personal story and chanted the Mantra – add back $12 million.

Newspaper articles were written. And editorials. Each ending with the Mantra – add back $12 million.

The legislative leadership identified $9.1 million. The stakeholders continued to chant the Mantra – add back $12 million.

Legislative leadership identified an additional $2.9 million.

More stakeholders reminded the legislators about – you got it, the Mantra – add back $12 million.

Right down to the wire.

The $2.9 million add back was part of what was referred to as a “Christmas Tree” bill. And it passed.

And, finally, the bill with the $9.1 million passed.

The legislature responded to the stakeholders and came through: $12 million was added back to the proposed 2011-2013 budget for the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory.

While I was ready to pull out the noisemakers and celebrate – my colleagues Bill Boggess and Jack Breen reminded me we are still short $8 million for the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory for the 2011-2013 biennium. That is, of course, significantly better than the $20 million reduction originally proposed!

We have identified a way forward that will include offsets from grants and contracts and loss of some services and positions due to attrition. We hope there might be additional Education and General budget dollars. Still, there must be an additional reduction in our overall endeavors.

Combined with reductions of the past few years, we are down about a third in overall state support for our endeavors. Longer term, we will need to work to reverse this, if we are to continue to have a significant impact on Oregon’s economy.

The ride over the past months has been intense, and I am glad we have the $12 million added back. This would not have been possible without a bunch of heroes in this amazing, months-long effort: our passionate stakeholders and several key legislators.

The new biennium looks a lot better today than it did just a few, short months ago. And, let’s hope it stays that way.

Mazel Tov and thanks, everyone!

 

Sonny Ramaswamy
Dean and Reub Long Professor

 

 

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In the “Tale of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Considering what’s been happening in the last several months, I think the above characterizes our College current situation.

These are truly the best of times for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Our student enrollments are up 25 percent. Many of our students, undergraduate and graduate, have acquitted themselves well in various competitions—a great example of that is the number of awards they have won or been involved in, including various leadership positions in organizations such as the FFA, which was on display during the 83rd Annual State FFA Convention in Central Point in southern Oregon.

We are on track to surpass last year’s record of extramural grants received to well over $60 million. In a recent survey done by Thomson-Reuters, the impact of our College’s publications was ranked third in the nation, behind the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University, and ranked in the top ten, globally. The best part is that the research is being translated and delivered to end users—in the realm of irrigated agriculture, vegetable and fruit production, ruminant nutrition, or small farms to such endeavors as food safety or potential cancer therapy and environmental challenges or water and land use to enabling mint producers and onion producers to create jobs and help the economy in the small communities of Oregon or the wheat producers who help create jobs in the Portland Metro area.

The generosity of our donors has been amazing, helping us reach almost $55 million—which is enabling student success and faculty excellence. We have created new scholarships and endowed the Leadership Academy and professorships. Construction of the Animal Science Pavilion is imminent.

These are also the worst of times.

You may recall, the Agricultural Experiment Station’s budget was reduced by approximately $11 million during the 2009-2011 biennium. We sought input from a whole bunch of stakeholders and came up with a plan to deal with the same, including restructuring of campus departments, elimination of several programs and 24 professorial and 36 staff positions, and made a proposition to our local stakeholders to provide 25 percent of the base operating funds. We thought that we had developed a workable glide path.

Unfortunately the idea of a workable glide path has been short-lived.

Owing to the continuing economic challenges our state faces, the Governor has proposed that the 2011-2013 biennial budget for the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory be reduced by $20 million—an almost 19 percent reduction. What is particularly concerning is this is more than twice the 8 percent cut recommended for the remainder of Higher Education. The cuts are particularly unfair, considering we cannot raise tuition to help offset cuts like the rest of Higher Education.

I have learned that we have had a legacy in Oregon of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory—the core of Oregon State University’s Land Grant mission—being treated inequitably with the rest of Higher Education. The irony is that these endeavors are the research, development, and deployment arm of the food, agricultural, and natural resources endeavors of our state, which accounted for over $45 billion of Oregon’s gross domestic product of $180 billion. Additionally, funds provided to these endeavors allow undergraduate and graduate students to receive enabling, experiential learning, not just book learning. Apparently, endeavors such as discovering new ways of helping figure out how to provide food, clean water and air, and shelter, protecting human and environmental health, and creating jobs and enabling the economic well being our state are not endeavors worthy of being supported.

States north, south, and east of us or in other parts of our nation treat their Experiment Stations, Extension, and Forestry endeavors very differently, even protecting them because they cannot raise tuition, as is possible in funding for the teaching endeavors.

Just the Agricultural Experiment Station’s budget is proposed to be reduced yet another $11.4 million for the 2011-2013 biennium.

In order to accommodate this significant, additional reduction, the College will need to close, shutter or consolidate five branch experiment stations and eliminate a number of additional programs, including 30-35 professorial positions and 40-60 staff positions in research and Extension, which are critical to our teaching, discovery, and outreach endeavors, and to the state’s economy.

Based on an analysis of the bare minimum needed to prevent permanent and irreparable destruction of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Extension Service, and Forest Research Laboratory, we have come up with a proposition that the state legislature consider an “Add Back” of $12 million to the Governor’s recommended budget for the 2011-2013 biennium; this would make the overall reduction for us on parity with that recommended by the Governor for Higher Education in general.

This proposal has been almost universally endorsed on and off campus, including the State Capitol.

My almost 3,000 mile trip around Oregon during Spring Break suggests wide support amongst our stakeholders for the $12 million “Add Back” to our budgets. They are sending emails, letters, post cards—I am told the onion growers are sending 700 postcards; now let’s see if some one else can top that—and handwritten notes to the legislators, along with making phone calls or visiting legislators in the State Capitol.

We also have significant support amongst a number of key legislators.

A number of students, young people, farmers, ranchers, conservation group representatives, and others, including OSU President Ed Ray, have testified passionately before the Ways and Means Committee of the state legislature for the add back of $12 million.

Let’s hope these efforts indeed pay off and we will get the $12 million Add Back.

As you read this, and if you believe in the well being of our endeavors, I exhort you to please reach out to the legislators and plead with them to add back the $12 million to our budget.

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2011—start of the second decade of the millennium. This New Year brings with it—for our College—anticipation, along with trepidation.

Anticipation, because our College’s enrollment is at an all time high—more than 2,000 students, the result of a 25% increase in enrollment. Enrollments have increased across the board in our undergraduate majors, but particularly so in Animal Science, Fisheries and Wildlife, and Food Science and Technology. Similarly, enrollments are up in our graduate programs and amongst students from under-represented groups. These are all good and exciting, but there is trepidation—the result of concerns about not having enough faculty to teach the courses, space challenges, and the need for scholarships and other forms of financial support for many of the students.

Anticipation, because we are deploying new approaches to enhance student success, such as the expectation that every student in every major have experiential learning opportunities in the form of internships and externships, research and Extension experiences, study abroad, and the Leadership Academy. Trepidation, because deploying these new approaches needs to be done in a way that they indeed enhance student learning and success.

Anticipation, because our extramural grants are way up. In just the first six months of this current academic/fiscal year, our faculty and staff have received over $36 million in external grants—at this pace, we should shatter in FY 2011 the record $55 million received in for the entire FY 2010. Trepidation, because conversations at the Federal level are pointing to significant cutbacks in discretionary funding that provides funds to federal agencies that are the source of many of our grants.

Anticipation, because the generosity of our alumni and friends has allowed us to attain and, indeed, surpass our goal in the Campaign for OSU. Thus far we have raised over $50 million in the form of scholarships, faculty endowments, funds for facilities and infrastructure, and general support. This generosity has enabled us to attain preeminence and provide much needed scholarships for our students, many of whom need the financial help. Trepidation, because our Campaign Extension goal—for enabling student success and faculty excellence—is $85 million, leaving us two years to raise an additional $35 million.

Anticipation, because we have spent the last year in developing a plan to restructure our College, including merger of some units, revamping curricula and majors, new approaches to seek alternative sources of funding, and greater integration in our mission areas of research, Extension, and teaching. Trepidation, about execution of these plans, and the potential for the continued softness in the State’s economy that could derail the best laid plans.

In general, however, we are excited that our faculty, staff, and students will continue to attain preeminence in everything we do. We are excited because of the opportunities for external grant support from not just Federal agencies, but the untapped potential for support from corporate partners, international organizations, and various foundations. We are excited that our friends and alumni will step up with their generosity in donating to our College, because of their passion to enable student success and faculty excellence.

The winter issue of The Source provides stories of preeminence and the anticipation of achieving greatness.

Happy New Year.

Ciao,

Sonny Ramaswamy

Dean and Reub Long Professor

under: Uncategorized

End of summer, already?

Posted by: | September 29, 2010 | No Comment |

Summer is over, which means it’s the start of a new, academic year.  This is the favorite time of the year for me – a sort of spring-like re-awakening that occurs on campus, with the return of our students, the lifeblood of our college and the ‘land grant’ reason for our being.  During the summer, our current students are off, working at jobs or on the farm, internships, taking classes, involved in study abroad, or participating in research projects.

Leaving aside all of the budget challenges and college restructuring conversations, planning, and execution, 2010 has been a strange year, meteorologically speaking. Winter was relatively warm, dry, and sunny, with seriously below-normal rainfall in some parts of the state.  In contrast, spring was prolonged, wet and relatively cool, and the drought was mitigated, in part.  Summer was relatively cool, except for a few days of above-90 degrees in Corvallis.  Across much of the state, the agricultural enterprise was affected, to the extent that harvests have been delayed by two to, and in some cases, maybe four weeks.  I even overheard some folks asking, what climate change!  I hope this does not bode poorly on the harvests, hurting our producers and, thus, the state’s economy.

Last year we saw a significant increase in student enrollment – almost 12% over the year before.  This is a phenomenon being seen throughout our nation – not the result of any baby boomlets, but rather the result of the severe economic downturn, which historically has contributed to increased college enrollments.  We also are seeing significant increases in international students, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The challenge continues to be the greater and greater reliance on some form of financial aid – scholarships, part time jobs, loans – that students need, to be able to continue their studies.

What awaits us, in terms of student numbers for this upcoming academic year, we will not know until mid-October, when the counts are undertaken.  If the projections are borne out, then we are in for yet another record-breaking year.

The pressure to make available financial aid is going to be even greater.  While we have had significant success in fundraising during the current Campaign, which helps in offering scholarships to students, we will need to rely even more on the generosity of our alumni, friends, and other donors.  Additionally, the record-breaking $55 million in grants and contracts this year is also another avenue to engage students to work on research projects and other such endeavors, which pay stipends.

This year we will be initiating some new opportunities for our undergraduate students, including:  more coordinated approaches for offering experiential learning, internships, externships, and research experiences; study abroad, along with opportunities to participate in research and engagement efforts overseas; and enhancement of leadership skills.  We are becoming more intentional and purposeful in offering these sorts of “extra-classroom” experiences, which makes a huge difference in enabling students to succeed.

Incoming students will also hear of or see execution of the planned restructuring during this upcoming year, in particular the merger of the departments of animal science and range ecology and management and the departments of horticulture and crop and soil science.  Our, promise, however, is that returning students will be able to finish out in the major they had; new students might be availed new opportunities that are possible as a result of the mergers. I hope students will volunteer, if opportunities arise, to help with and participate in the execution of these mergers.

This past year, a small committee of alumni and staff has been working on a plan to revitalize our special group of friends, called E. R. Jackman, which over the years has played a critical role in providing funding and scholarships to students and student groups. Our vision is for the E. R. Jackman group to continue and expand their focus on developing and supporting relationships that promote the mission of the College of Agricultural Sciences.  The role of this organization has been and will continue to be of significant importance to our College. I have approved the report submitted by the committee early this Fall that outlines their intent to expand on opportunities to involve more friends and alumni into the fabric of our College.

This is also the time of the year when we are preparing for Homecoming.  We hope to see our alumni, not only at the football game or other events that are part of the university-wide festivities, but also our college’s signature event for Homecoming – Celebrating Success, scheduled for October 29 – and a tailgate before the game.  Details for these events are forthcoming.

To all of our students, we say:  Welcome and Good Luck, Wilkommen and Glück, Huānyíng and Hǎo yùn, Swagatam and Saubhagya, Bienvenue and Bonne Chance, Bienvenido and Buena Suerte, Aloha Mai and Pomaika`i, Merhaba and Haz jaid – be al tawfeeq.

Sonny Ramaswamy

Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences

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The Year That’s Been

Posted by: | July 14, 2010 | No Comment |

It has been a year since I moved from Purdue University to Oregon State University.  What a year it’s been!  From a budget perspective, I couldn’t have said it better than Will Rogers, who is quoted as saying: “Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t, they got worse.”

I arrived on the scene in July 2009, and was told that we needed to deal with a nearly $10 million shortfall.  We came up with a plan to deal with the same, which resulted in eliminating nearly 60 faculty and staff positions.  Paraphrasing my colleague, Bill Boggess, we slammed the brakes on everything – from filling key positions to eliminating operating funds to putting on hold a number of key initiatives.

The legislature wrapped up its work in the summer of 2009, and voted in tax increases of over $750 million to protect education, health, social services, and other essential parts of the state’s economy.  Soon thereafter a signature campaign was initiated to get a ballot measure on the tax increases.  The measures passed in January 2010, thus, obviating the need for additional cuts to our college.  Lo and behold, the spring 2010 budget forecast was off by more than $570 million, pretty much wiping out the tax increases.  As a consequence, we were informed we needed to eliminate another nearly $3.5 million.  Fortunately, reductions the College planned for the biennium during last fall were sufficient, so that we did not need to go back to the units to cut their budgets yet again.

Just when we thought that we had a plan to deal with the budget shortfall and move on, the University informed us last fall that the footprint of our College needed to be reduced. I empanelled a faculty panel under the stewardship of emeritus dean C. J. “Bud” Weiser, which provided us a thoughtful set of criteria and guidelines to restructure our College.  This was followed up by seeking input from internal and external stakeholders at a series of town hall meetings on and off campus.  Using such input, and based on the guidelines provided by the University, we proposed reducing our footprint from 12 academic departments to eight.  We also proposed name changes for the College and some of the academic units, and proposed greater integration of our research and Extension efforts.  After much deliberation, we decided on staying put with the number of branch experiment stations.  This decision was predicated in part based on the passage of the tax measures and a value proposition that, because of the unique local needs met by each station, and as a shared responsibility, local communities must step up to help achieve the goal of providing one-quarter of the base budget for each station.

We articulated a vision for our College of being nationally preeminent, as a result of undertaking discovery with purpose, delivery of enabling educational programs, and positive impact on people, communities, the economy, and the environment.  Our signature areas of focus included: sustainable food and agricultural systems; bioproducts, biomaterials, and bioenergy; natural resource stewardship; environmental and human wellbeing; and underpinning all of this, the need for outstanding fundamental sciences.

The University also created divisions aligned with its strategic vision, and our College is in the Division of Earth Systems Science, along with the colleges of Forestry and Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.  This has created some interesting opportunities and challenges, which we are working through.

The University has approved much of the restructuring proposal, except for a few items, making necessary only a modest revision of our proposal.  The idea of seeking local support for the branch experiment stations has been met with various responses: from resignation to skepticism to a can-do approach of getting it done.  There are indeed a number of questions and concerns about how this can be brought about. I have stated repeatedly that, if there is agreement that the stations bring local value, then we will need to figure out how best to provide the base support to them so that they indeed thrive and not just limp along.  I have also stated “one size does not fit all”, i.e., each station will likely have a different suite or portfolio of approaches they can develop to meet the goal of obtaining 25 percent of the base support.

There are a number of actions in the restructuring proposal that are “low hanging fruit” and can be accomplished soon.  Others, such as the merger of departments will likely take the rest of this new academic year, while the goal of achieving local support for the stations will likely take two to four years, depending on the location.

With all of the stresses of budgets and restructuring during this past year, I was concerned about the potential impact on our College’s efforts in meeting its fundamental mission of research, Extension, and teaching. I can state unequivocally that our College has been preeminent; our efforts have been purposeful, and have impacted Oregon, our nation, and indeed the world.  Much of this has been brought about as a result of our faculty and staff obtaining extramural grant support:  on the order of nearly $55 million in competitive grants. Our newsletter, The Source, and our magazine, Oregon’s Agricultural Progress, have provided some stories of the amazing efforts of our faculty, staff, and students. I have had the pleasure of seeing our faculty, staff, and students being recognized with awards and kudos.  I have interacted with students and their families.  I have been privileged to participate in the Pendleton Roundup and numerous events around the state.

In retrospect, while Will Rogers’ observation has been true as far as the budget situation goes, this past year has been an affirmation of why I came to Oregon State University:  the unmatchable vision, passion, and efforts of our faculty, staff, and students, and the unwavering support of our stakeholders. This is a great place, and I am so glad to be member of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ family!

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Homeward Bound

Posted by: | December 10, 2009 | No Comment |

December 9, 2009

HomewardBound

Homeward Bound

I don’t know if it was the fact that we were to be ready by 7:15 to head to the airport for our return trip home or the Muezzin’s call or the dogs barking or the choppers flying low, I woke up at 5:15.  I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but I was completely awake.  As I lay there, I relived the last few days of our trip to Iraq.

The Iraqis we met truly want to move on to a more peaceful life for themselves – they are tired of all the violence that’s been going on for nearly 30 years.  The system is broken completely.  Just in terms of food and agriculture – the country imports well over 85% of its food.  Environmentally, it’s a disaster.  Sustainability – forget it.  Water – they have plenty of it, at least for now, but the way it is used for Agriculture results in terrible salinity.  The colleges and universities have highly inbred faculty; the ones who had been trained overseas are retired, dead, or have left the country.  The facilities are decrepit.  The only positives are the population is young and eager; the sex ratio is skewed towards females, as a large number of men have either died in the wars or have been killed; and there is a realization on the part of the ministries and administrators they need to shape up, in terms of their capacity and infrastructure.  The Americans I met, whether at the Embassy or people like Dr. Araji, Lee, and Hope, they want to help the Iraqis.  The Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Hondurans just want to earn a living and help their people back home.  The PSDs – former soldiers from America, the UK, Canada, Ireland – want to earn a good living in a short time (I discovered that a PSD earns six to seven times as much as he did when he served as an active soldier), knowing full well the risks involved.  When we think of America spending almost a trillion dollars on the war effort in Iraq since the invasion, I reckon more than 85% of the amount is on all of the logistical needs of our armed forces – the contractors, the providers of food and water and gasoline and other necessities, the people that keep the armed forces fed, the multi-national security guards at the various installations, the PSDs that protect visitors such as ourselves (I discovered for example that the round trip from the IZ to the University of Baghdad College of Agriculture cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 for the PSD detail assigned to us).  It goes on and on and on.

During my entire stay in Iraq, I was never afraid, although violence outside the IZ is boiling just under the surface – at least that’s the sense I got from the events of the previous day of the coordinated multiple bombings, and the needless death of tens of innocent people.  (I discovered that the Pentagon called our respective families to say that we were all safe).  Saying that these acts are senseless doesn’t cut it.  The perpetrators – terrorists, insurgents, killers – are bent upon causing chaos because they want control. They want power.  The innocents get caught in the middle.  It’s always the innocents.  It was a strange series of thoughts that went through my mind and the fact that being in the IZ one is divorced from the reality of the life outside – and then I thought of what my cohorts and I could do to help the Iraqis achieve their dreams.  The only thing I know is the Land Grant System, which has helped America become America – the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the World.  An adaptation of it has helped India.  Hopefully, we could help develop a program that could indeed help the Iraqis as well.

I finally got up, cleaned up, and got ready – ate a quick breakfast, and said goodbye to Thapa, our Nepali waiter with whom I spoke in Hindi.  I said goodbye to the Honduran guards with whom I spoke in Spanish – they thought I was Brazilian the way I spoke Spanish!  I said goodbye to Lee and Hope.

Our usual PSDs – Taylor, Chad, Alex, Ahmed aka Cesar, Paul, and the others were off to Suleimaniyah on a six-day trip with another group of American contractors.  Instead, we had Mark and Ash, both Brits, and others, who were to take us to the airport for a 9:30 flight to Istanbul and onwards to our respective hometowns.

Inspection

Inspection

Our drive to the airport took us out of the IZ – at the entrance to which in the opposite direction we could see the Iraqis entering the IZ for their chores of the day, and each having to step out of their automobiles, open the trunk and hood and all of the doors for inspection, be frisked from head to toe, before they are allowed in – not just for entering into the IZ but all over.  This is necessitated because of the car bombings (VIEDs in military parlance – Vehicle-Improvised Explosive Device).

Waiting

Waiting

With all these checkpoints and other efforts, you wonder how anyone can get close to various buildings to car bomb them – the speculation in Baghdad was that the Iraqis at the checkpoints must be paid off.  That still is a lot of individuals to be paid off, as one has to go through multiple checkpoints.

At the airport the drill was a series of security checks, starting with leaving our luggage behind the omnipresent T-walls to be sniffed for bombs or whatever, then through multiple scanners, checking in, and then to the gate.  We talked about next steps, and bid goodbyes and boarded our flight to Istanbul where we split up.  My flight ends in Eugene via Munich and San Francisco, and then the drive back to Corvallis.

The trip to Iraq has been good, albeit shorter than we had anticipated, in part because of cancelations of visits to some sections of Iraq.  Uneventful.  I promised my cohorts I would craft a draft report and recommendations for them to comment on before we send them to our hosts – Paul Brinkley, Ahmed Araji, and the others – in charge of the Expeditionary Business Task Force for Business & Stability Operations in Iraq.  We hope that we can indeed make a difference in the lives of Iraqis.

Until the next steps in Iraq.

Ciao,

Sonny

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Ramadi

Posted by: | December 8, 2009 | No Comment |

December 8, 2009

We were informed last night to be ready by 8:15 this morning to leave for the University of Anbar Agricultural College in Ramadi, Anbar province, which is approximately 100 km from Baghdad. In addition, Dr. Ahmed Araji had made arrangements for us to visit with the Governor of the province as well.  I was anticipating a good, productive day of meetings.

Destroyed Bridge

Destroyed Bridge

Anbar province, particularly Fallujah and Ramadi, has seen its share of intense fighting and violence, but has in the recent past calmed down tremendously.  However, because of the bombing of a school last night in Baghdad, some recent instances of bridges being blown up in Ramadi, etc., I thought that this trip might be a bit more interesting.

Deans PSD

Deans PSD

Our PSD met with us at 8:15 this morning, and we got dressed up in our usual IBA, helmet, etc., and Taylor informed Ahmed that the visit to the Governor’s office was out, because that was not on our original itinerary, and the PSD needed to have the Marine Expeditionary Forces’ approval at least 72 h in advance on our itinerary, including any changes.  The MEF provides intelligence, air support and other information about conditions to the PSD.  Dr. Araji was very upset with Taylor, but really he couldn’t push this any further because the PSD was basically hired to protect us.  I can understand Ahmed’s concern as well – not only was there going to be loss of face for not meeting with the Governor, but also could be a lost opportunity to engage the political muscle to help the universities.  Regardless, we settled in to our respective SUVs, and headed out.

Deadly Force Authorized

Deadly Force Authorized

Yet again we were to go through Camp Victory to avoid some rough areas; additionally, our Bravo SUV needed gasoline – these vehicles are huge and also weighted down with the extra weight of armor, and get only about 5 miles or so per gallon.  It took us quite some time to make our way into the interior of Camp Victory – going through checkpoints and the signs all over: “Deadly Force Authorized.” Camp Victory likely is more than 20,000 acres in area – driving around looking for gasoline took almost 45 minutes.

AlFawPalace

AlFaw Palace

We got to see Al-Faw Palace, along with multiple smaller palaces, built by Saddam for his and his family’s and friends’ use, with a lake for fishing, animal preserve for hunting, and beautiful surroundings.  Al-Faw Palace now serves as Gen. Odierno’s command center, and apparently is beautifully appointed.

Billets

Billets

We also saw the billets, housing, logistical support, Quartermasters area, fuel area, tanks, Humvees, MRAPs, APCs, soldiers, civilians, etc., etc.  The logistical challenge of supporting 150,000 soldiers could be seen in the expanse of Camp Victory, and it reminded me of Napoleon’s saying: “An army marches on its stomach.”

Logistics

Logistics

We finally left Camp Victory and made our way to a really nice six-lane highway heading west to Ramadi.  As we were leaving Camp Victory, we discovered that there had been some bombings in Baghdad, but did not know the details.

Desert

Desert

Just about 30 km out of Baghdad the scene is desert-like.  Sand and the occasional small brush.  The desert stretches as far as the Jordanian/Syrian border.  As during the previous couple of days we ran into numerous checkpoints, American and Iraqi convoys, long lines of 18-wheelers carrying all manner of supplies to Ramadi and other towns in Anbar province.

Abu Ghraib Prison

Abu Ghraib Prison

We drove by the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, which had a terrible reputation during Saddam’s time, and which has become infamous now because of what a few of our soldiers did to some Iraqi prisoners – as we drove by I could visualize images of the prisoners being tortured, a shameful act by a few that damaged our efforts.  Cesar, our Iraqi driver – whose real name is Ahmed – informed us that Abu Ghraib has been shut down.

Fallujah

Fallujah

Further down the road we bypassed Fallujah – a place where there was ferocious fighting, and which now is relatively quiet.

PowerLines

Powerlines

Along the highway there are signs of the carnage perpetrated by the insurgents, including the destruction of powerlines.

University of Anbar

University of Anbar

Our convoy arrived at the University of Anbar campus in Ramadi, about an hour to 90 minutes behind schedule.

Euphrates

Euphrates

Ramadi sits on the Euphrates River – I was surprised how clean the water looked as it rushed out of the sluices of a dam in the middle of town.  We had to wait for the campus security to confirm that indeed we were to be allowed to go in – that’s another thing one sees around campuses in Iraq: a lot of security and gun-toting guards.

University of Anbar Students

University of Anbar Students

After what appeared to be an interminable wait – during which time we got to see campus life ebb and flow, with the movement of students in their uniform black and white clothes going back and forth between classes or whatever else they were doing, we were allowed to go to the administration building.  We met with the president and deans of medicine, physical education, and science.  We had an excellent conversation with the group – yet again the issues brought up were the need to provide training to their existing faculty and graduate education.  The president informed us that Anbar University will provide scholarships for students to study in US universities and stipends for faculty to spend short term and sabbatical leaves.  This of course was music to our ears, and all of us, after giving an overview of our programs, offered to partner with Anbar University on offering educational/training opportunities to students and faculty.  I believe there is a pent up demand for the same – the last almost three decades have wreaked havoc on the educational infrastructure and capacity, and the Iraqis are looking to regain their capabilities.  We also discussed creating MOUs as a framework for offering the same.

We wrapped up our meeting with the president and deans and decided to go to see the College of Agriculture campus and dean and department heads.  Well, we butted right up into Taylor who insisted we could not go to the agriculture campus as that was not on the original itinerary approved with the help of the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force).  Dr. Araji insisted that we had to go to the agriculture campus – after all we were there to meet with the agriculture folks.  It took nearly an hour to get the approval from the MEF.  There was a sort of standoff between Taylor and Dr. Araji, with Ahmed becoming irritated and Taylor wanting to be protective, but luckily we got the approval.  Overlaid on this standoff was the situation in Baghdad – where we discovered there had been several coordinated bombings, including at a university campus and some ministries.  Legitimately, Taylor and the PPOs thought of this, but were completely comfortable knowing they could protect our safety.

It took us nearly 30 minutes to get to the agriculture campus, and which left only 30 minutes for us to meet with the agriculture dean and department heads – because the PSD likes to return to the IZ in Baghdad before dark, and it was already 2:30 pm, and it would be about a two-hour drive back.  In the winter darkness settles in at 5:00ish.

We settled in to a conference room with nearly two-dozen individuals from the college and ourselves. It was a packed room, and we reminded everyone that we only had 30 minutes to spend with them.  The dean gave a short welcome and appreciated our visit and described issues that he would like our help on – capacity and infrastructure building, education and training, etc.  Each one of our party did an elevator speech on our respective institutions, strengths, English language institutes, majors, etc.

Anbar Lunch

Anbar Lunch

In the middle, the dean asked if we could eat lunch – and when reminded that we only had a few minutes, he said no problem and that lunch could be delivered to the conference room.  Wouldn’t you know it – lunch arrived – platters of wonderful bread, flavorful grilled meat, relish, and salads, and no plates and cutlery.  As the conversation continued, we dug in to the platters – I grabbed a piece of the bread, rolled some lamb shish kabob, hot relish and onions, and started eating.  It was delicious.  Traditional Iraqi food eaten in the traditional Iraqi family style!  We literally broke bread with our Iraqi cohorts.

I have discovered Iraqis to be incredibly hospitable, loving, and genuinely concerned about their institutions and the young people.  Of course the reverie of eating this wonderful food didn’t last long, because Paul, one of the PPOs walked in to remind us it was time to leave.  It was amazing – almost in mid-sentence and mid-mouthful, we got up to leave.  In some ways it was embarrassing to our hosts and to us.  But I could see that Paul was very concerned that we needed to be out of there so we could return to the IZ before dark.   We bid goodbyes and left.

Bullet Holes

Bullet Holes

On our trip out of Ramadi we could see many buildings pockmarked with bullet holes; bridges destroyed; buildings destroyed.  Yet, there is this incredible amount of reconstruction as well – we drove through some neighborhoods of beautiful mansions and bungalows.  On a previous occasion in Baghdad we had seen a statue of a human figure with wings poised to fly – I had commented that that might be the Phoenix rising.

T-Walls1As we were driving through Ramadi and seeing all of the new construction, I was reminded of that statue – I think if the security issues are dealt with, Iraq has a great future ahead, and I can see the Phoenix rising out of the ashes of Saddam’s and the insurgents’ tyranny.

The return trip was contemplative, and also full of conversations about the colleges we had visited, the need for development efforts in education, food, agriculture, and economic and community development; the need for coordination between the different Iraqi entities and the different US entities; the strengths US landgrants could bring to help; and the bombings in Baghdad and if that would dampen development efforts.

The evening – our last evening together, as we are scheduled to leave to head back to the States tomorrow as some of our visits were canceled due – was spent at dinner with Dr. Araji, Bob Love, a former US Marine Colonel and now a member of the task force hosting us, Lee, Hope, and Danielle.  We ate a wonderful meal of traditional Iraqi food – rice, bread, grilled chicken, lamb, hummus, salads, mashed eggplant, stuffed (with a spicy rice) pepper, stuffed onions, stuffed eggplant, olives, etc., etc., and the most wonderful baklava!  The conversation during dinner was on development versus just giving aid and walking away.  On the things we saw and heard. On the politics of relationships and networks.  On the impact of the bombings and continued insurgency.  Needless to say we are all on the same page, i.e., it is not just enough to give aid and walk away, and that despite the insurgency, there needs to be efforts to help build capacity and infrastructure, not only in Iraq but also in other countries.  I pointed out to Bob how US investment in development aid had dropped from 18% of all aid in the early 1980s to less than 2%, and that needed to be reversed, if we are going to be able to turn the tide of poverty, terrorism, population growth, disease, and environmental degradation in developing countries.  I think we have an opportunity to be involved in these efforts in Iraq and other places in a deep and meaningful way – Dr. Araji and his cohorts are committed to helping make this happen within Iraq.

Until tomorrow.

Ciao,

Sonny

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