Name of course

Sun Jul 15 16:06:21 EST 2001

Here at ECSU, I inherited a course called by my
predecessor "Biology of Vascular Plants" which was
the complement for his "Biology of Non-Vascular Plants".

Needing to scrunch the curriculum a bit, we dropped
the Non-Vascular course and I shortened the BVP name to
"Biology of Plants" and tried to cover what is in the standard
Botany text in one semester...which is a mistake.  I have
since thrown the fungi and most of the algae to the wind...
complaining to my department that we desperately need
someone new to cover two kingdoms (at least) of organisms
besides me. It is always interesting to me to look at the
kingdoms, then apply our faculty list to that taxonomy.  We
have so many on one kingdom...and one poor soul who
has to cover the rest of the biota single-handedly!

So now my "Biology of Plants" includes a brush with the
cyanobacteria (as chloroplast "shirt-tail relatives"), and
starts with Chlorophyta (the only eukaryotic algae that I
include any more), then on up through vascular plants.
I have expunged most of the plant physiology to try to 
avoid overlap with my "Plant Physiology" course.  I have
struggled with that decision because a significant number
of students take both...but a large number of students only
take one or the other.  So I do try to keep photosynthesis with
some coverage, but much of the rest of physiology is gone
from the botany course.

I am proud to be a botanist and a plant physiologist, as well
as a biologist studying plants.   So I have been fairly neutral
about the name changes...if not a little amused at the controversy
about "Plant Science" as being "too applied."  I am proud to be 
a scientist who studies plants...and if our science cannot be
applied then it isn't too useful.  So I'm pretty comfortable with
all the titles....much ado about nothing.

The upperclassman issue is a tender spot with me.  Being vastly
outnumbered by animal biologists in the department, I always
have to fight misconceptions, biases, and so on.  Because we
never did have a "requirement" for botany at any point, most
students avoid my courses until they hear about their quality and
importance. So I too get juniors and seniors almost exclusively...
just a few rare and exciting exceptions.  I wish our majors had
some contact with me in their underclass years, but alas, those
courses are all "off limits" for now.  In our program the freshmen 
and sophomore biology majors take a proscribed sequence that 
has VERY limited exposure to plants. Sometimes our fiefdoms 
are roadblocks to change, and we have to wait for retirements to
accomplish change.

My non-majors "Plants and Human Affairs" course is very popular, 
however.  It is a nice blend of plants, physiology, environmental 
physiology, genetics, and horticulture. However, I still get mostly 
seniors and juniors, because it closes out before the freshmen 
and sophomores get  a chance to register for it.  I suppose all this
upper-classmen service is the best use for limited botany faculty...
our wash-out rate is very high at ECSU.  We have programs to
improve "retention" that are getting a lot of attention...kind of irrelevant
to me as I only see folks on the way to commencement.


Ross Koning
Eastern CT State University
Willimantic, CT 06226

-----Original Message-----
From: drobinson at
To: plant-ed at
Sent: 7/15/01 3:21 PM
Subject: Name of course

I teach a freshman-level botany course for non-majors in a small liberal
arts college. Currently, the course is called "Botany".

Some of my colleagues think I could attract more students by calling it
something more interesting like: "Liberal Arts Botany", "Plants and
Humans", "Plant Biology", "The Plant World", etc. 

I have resisted this because I feel the quality of the course/teacher
should be what attracts students, and not the "sexiness" of the courses'
title. I am not embarrassed to be a botanist. (This is the same reason I
was also opposed to changing the name of the American Society of Plant
Physiologists...but aIas, I was in the minority there!) 

But I have to admit that most of the students currently enrolling are
upperclassmen, not freshman....I think that entering freshman might
actually be turned off by the title of the course (I have literally
heard them groan at the prospect of taking "Botany"), while
upperclassmen enroll because they hear from other upperclassmen that it
is a decent course. 

Have other Botany teachers changed the name of their non-major courses?
If so, did it improve enrollment of freshmen? What name did you adopt?

Dave Robinson 
Bellarmine University 
Louisville, KY 


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