Request for help

dh321 at excite.com dh321 at excite.com
Fri May 11 16:33:55 EST 2001


David Domozych wrote:

By way of introduction, I am a professor of Biology at Skidmore 
College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Skidmore is a private liberal arts
college and our Department of Biology has thirteen full time faculty, three
of which are botany/mycology-oriented. I am writing to this site requesting
for help on a future curriculum issue in our department and one that your
group has undoubtedly encountered before: the possible elimination of botany
from the core curriculum. Dr. David Kramer suggested that I post this e-mail
to see if I can get help from various sources. In our current core, students
are required to take four courses: a population biology/ecology course, a
plant biology course, a cell biology course and a vertebrate physiology
course (this course once alternated with a whole zoology course). Completion
of this core allows students to take advanced courses. 

Our plant biology course is a modern course that also includes the 
basics of traditional botany and mycology. For example, our students do a
lab where they do a immunolocalization of cytoskeletal proteins in algae at
the light and electron microscopy levels. Likewise, they do learn the life
cycles of key algal types. Students do a semester-long tissue culture
exercise-- from explant-to-callus-to hormonal control of plantlet
regeneration. And, they also learn "traditional" vascular anatomy. The
bottom-line is that the current course contains a modern approach but also
includes tradtional concepts as well. The labs are either hands-on
experimental or observational. This course gets good enrollments and our
upper level botany courses (for which this course is a lead-in course) are
near full enrollment. 

A suggestion or trend that is developing in our departmental discussions of
curriculum change is a move to a more-reductionist biology core where plant
biology will be removed. Some proponents of this move say that plant biology
courses are a thing of the past or that if we eliminate the plant biology
course, they will bring in examples of plants and fungi into their
"reductionist" courses of the core (cell biology, poulation biology). As you
might imagine, I am aghast at the possible elimination of plant biology from
the core of a Biology major at an undergraduate instititution. The three of
us botanical types have so far stalled the process and we are hoping to get
some help in an outside review of our department next year. 
My requests for help are simply these: 

1.) Has anybody out there had similar experiences and what was the outcome?
How can one successfully fight this? Strategies? We have argued, till blue
in the face, that plants are key components in our environment, important
research tools in molecular biology and genetics, the basis of our
economy,...,. But, our antagonists reply that they do indeed know this but
still, let's eliminate plant biology. It is frustrating. 

2.) What websites or publications can one recommend that might help in
educating other biologists about the importnce of plants and fungi? I thank
you in advance for any help that you might provide. 

Sincerley, 
David Domozych 
__________________ 
Professor of Biology 
Skidmore College 
Saratoga Springs, NY, 12866 
518-580-5075 
Fax:: 518-580-5071 


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It is troubling that your biologist colleagues deny the importance of plants
as an essential part of biology and human survival. Perhaps you can
challenge them to go a week without eating any foods or beverages that come
directly from plants. Any caffeine addicts among them would be having
withdrawals the first day without their daily "fix" from coffee, tea or
cola. Maybe a week of plain hamburgers with no lettuce, tomato, buns, or
French fries would convince them.

The Botanical Society of America has an essay on the importance of plants in
their "Why Botany?" page. As the essay says we depend utterly on plants so
that alone is a excellent reason to study them. Plants are the dominant
organisms in our environment, they are fascinating organisms worthy of
study, and there are many model plants that offer excellent systems for
research. 

It is ironic that biology graduates are so often unable to even identify the
largest living things on campus, the trees they have seen almost every day
of their college careers. It is pathetic when a person with a BS in biology
cannot provide guidance to their own child who is doing a school project on
plants because they never learned much about plants in their college biology
courses. 

I can see why you are concerned because if the plant biology course is
eliminated from the core curriculum, students will not be prepared or
motivated to take your advanced botany courses, which are now well enrolled.
That means you either have to waste time in the advanced courses to bring
students up to speed or require them to take an introductory plant biology
course as a prerequisite. I had a similar experience in a Horticulture
Department, which basically had to start teaching its own introductory
botany class when the botany dept. stopped teaching intro botany courses
because of a similar move to a plantless core curriculum in biology. If your
core curriculum is gutted of plants then maybe you will need to still teach
an introductory plant biology course as a prerequisite and "advertisement"
for your advanced courses. The problem with that is students may object to
taking an extra course. Maybe you can modify the course to serve both majors
and nonmajors to keep enrollments high. 

References

Why Botany?
http://www.botany.org/bsa/millen/mil-int1.html

Economic Importance of Plants
http://www.plantsciences.iastate.edu/importance.html



David R. Hershey
dh321 at excite.com





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