We have all experienced being trapped inside the political minefield that is our educational institution. One of my many stories involve playing for a varsity athletics team whose annual budget ranked 30 out of 30 in the nation, indicating the simple fact that athletics mean relatively little here. We played while enduring whispers that the program was to be shut down in order to save precious dollars.
Regardless, we took the field, and the program persists.
The Corporation now has the Faculty of Forestry in its crosshairs and is looking to bring an end to the second oldest Forestry faculty in North America. This is a faculty that after having its professional undergraduate program (B.Sc.F.) eliminated in 1993 by the provost for budgetary concerns, remains near, or at the top, of all U of T faculties in terms of highest publication rate per faculty member and lowest student-to-faculty ratio.
So it’s not a problem of quality or production.
And contrary to many misconceptions, although named Forestry, the faculty isn’t a group of plaid-laden, tree-hugging lumberjacks.They have very little, if any, interest in timber extraction and management. They are comprised of skilled scientists who are connected to the forest in fields including ecological functions, resource production and processing (biomaterial sciences including biofuels), and policies governing the social and economic impacts of forest communities.
So it’s not an issue of relevance, or a case of this group performing work that is growing obsolete. Their science is highly essential.
As you can guess, it comes down to the almighty dollar. U of T’s annual budget shows that the Faculty of Forestry is supported by 76 per cent from other faculties, a rate approximately twice that of other professional faculties, which is clearly problematic. And so the provost is looking to convert the faculty into a department within another faculty such-as UTSC or Arts and Science-continuing its current downward trajectory.
It is such an uncreative and simplistic approach to the problem: No money, shut down! How long did it take them to come up with that?
At an institution where intellectual pursuits should trump profit margins, the provost should be working with the faculty to generate more revenue via increasing undergraduate enrollment within the faculty. Of course, this would go against the political undertows of larger faculties like Arts and Science, who would likely welcome the demotion of the faculty because those students passing on Forestry and entering Arts and Science would drive their overall revenues up.
Instead, the provost should give the Faculty of Forestry time to seek out and execute strategies for increasing enrollment. Here’s a start, re-brand yourselves from “Forestry”, which sounded brilliant in 1907, to the “Faculty of Environmental Science and Conservation”, and immediately become more relevant and attractive to those passionate about the environment. Initiate your own undergraduate programs to prevent the poaching of undergrads from Arts and Science courses. Finally, keep fighting the good fight.