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Taking the Ag out of the Ag School?

Corresponding with the dedication of Weill Hall, the building for the advanced life sciences, the Daily Sun is running a great investigative article on how CALS is shutting down a couple of extremely popular classes in metal fabrication and wood construction techniques.

Prof. Thomas Cook, BEE, has taught BEE 1130: Introduction to Metal Fabrication Techniques, BEE 1140: Introduction to Wood Construction and BEE 1150: Advanced Metal Fabrication Techniques, for almost 24 years. The three classes enroll about 100 students per year from CALS and across the University.

According to Cook, “These courses have been on rocky ground for a long while; because they are not required by any one major on campus [anymore], they are called accessory classes. We got support for a long time from the dean’s office.”

The money quotes:

“There is not a real way to quantify the value in manual labor and engineering skills that can be brought about in a course like this, but offering them is one way that Cornell can remain the best Ivy institution, grounded in real life practical applications of things we as students and practitioners study in theory or policy every day,” wrote Sarah Bellos ’04 on the petition’s website.

Jordan Cole ’09 echoed Bellos’s sentiment in the petition.

“The summer after I took BEE 110, my father and I were harvesting hay on my farm when we suffered a major machinery failure in which $20,000 worth of harvesting equipment was damaged …The hay had to be harvested that day or else we would’ve lost everything and suffered thousands of dollars in lost profits. Using the knowledge I acquired in BEE 110, I successfully repaired the broken parts on the harvester in three hours.”

It would be like taking Intro to Wines away from the Hotelies, only metal fabrication seems to be, you know, useful for building things and getting food to people and things like that. As the credit crisis unfolds into a devastating recession (or what I have called, the Great Devastation) one would think that courses that focus on actually constructing, building, and repairing tangible goods would be a worthwhile endeavor for a University to pursue.

Of course, however, the credit crisis is to blame for the cutback:

“We have other majors that require resources; we are doing new things and we don’t have unlimited resources. Our college is having a substantial budget deficit and we are anticipating it for the next few years,” said Prof. Barbara Knuth, natural resources, senior associate dean of CALS.

That said, students still interested in such worthwhile endeavors can find similar instruction elsewhere in Tompkins County:

In order to address the fact that CALS will no longer offer metal or woodworking classes, the administration suggests looking into similar classes offered at Tompkins, Seneca, Tioga, Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services or at Tompkins Courtland Community College. BOCES offers adult level classes in welding and construction trades; TCC offers a class in materials science, but the college’s 20-minute drive from North Campus may make it difficult for students to manage the trip.

At the very least, Cornell should honor credit for these classes.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on October 17, 2008 (#)

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