Request for help

Jon Monroe monroejd at
Mon May 14 07:50:51 EST 2001

Hi all,

We are also in the process of a curriculum change (I've mentioned this
here before) and we too are "eliminating" a Botany course from the core.
 We're also eliminating Zoology!  Rather than referring to their
replacements as "reductionist" courses, we talk about them as "process
oriented" courses.  All organisms are faced with similar challenges in
life (getting and processing energy, reproducing...) and there are quite
a lot of similarities in how diverse taxa solve these problems.  We too
insist that plants and microbes get adequate coverage in these courses,
especially in labs.  The bottom line is that too many of our students
get really turned off to plants in our very traditional Botany course. 
A radical change was seen as more likely to work than trying to fix the
individual courses.  

The underlying theme is to cut back on the amount of facts we dispense
(we were way too heavy on this end) and teach more of the process of
science.  Once the students are turned on, perhaps they will want to
learn more facts.  I'm sure this approach isn't novel... Can anyone out
there who has gone this route comment on how it is working for you,
especially with regard to plants in the intro courses?


dh321 at wrote:
> 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
> ------
> 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?
> Economic Importance of Plants
> David R. Hershey
> dh321 at
> _______________________________________________________
> Send a cool gift with your E-Card
> ---


Jonathan D. Monroe, Associate Professor
Department of Biology, MSC 7801  
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807 
office: 540-568-6649
fax: 540-568-3333
email: monroejd at


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