UM panel bows to change in agriculture operations

May 31, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

William E. Kirwan, president of the University of Maryland at College Park, argued yesterday that a name change for agricultural units closely identified with his campus spelled virtual ruin for the university's College of Agriculture.

Donald N. Langenberg, the chancellor of the state university system, said the name change would only set the stage to solve years-old problems in agricultural research and education.

After listening to their testimony in a trial-like atmosphere yesterday, the governing board of the 11-campus state university system sided with the chancellor. A committee of University of Maryland regents agreed 11-4 to rename two agricultural research and service units, including one made up of mostly College Park professors, in order to create a new institute and to elevate its director to a president. Final approval is expected next month.

How the battle over agriculture in Maryland will end is unclear. For now, expect more debate.

In a host of statements and letters, College Park faculty expressed fear that the name change is but the first step in implementing a new report that, along with other proposals in the wings, would draw hundreds of faculty and millions of dollars away from the College Park campus to the institute.

But Chancellor Langenberg insisted he has an open mind and is considering a plan other than the one College Park fears.

"We have embarked on a discussion that is terribly important to the future of agriculture in the state," the chancellor said.

As a result of the action, the Agriculture Experiment Service and the Cooperative Extension Service will now be called the Maryland Institute for Agricultural and Natural Resources.

AES is a research unit of mostly College Park faculty that tries to solve agricultural and related business and environmental problems. CES uses faculty research to dispense advice to consumers. Both have been under the university system's central administration since 1978 when they were separated from College Park. Now central administrators want to hire staff at other campuses and shift research money their way, a move College Park says would devastate its undergraduate programs in the life sciences and agriculture.

The name change stems from a report by Raymond Miller, vice chancellor for agriculture, that gives the new institute significant control over College Park faculty and their research. Dr. Miller would be its president.

According to Richard E. Just, a top agricultural economist at College Park, only one other state has severed the agriculture research unit from a land-grant university such as College Park.

Dr. Kirwan told regents that the Miller report doesn't solve the primary defect in agriculture now -- separate officials in charge of teaching, research and service, which leads to paralysis in decision-making. Reports commissioned by the campus since 1984 recommend a single, campus-based official to settle conflicts over the use of faculty time and grant money.

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