Nieuws - 1 januari 1970

Unwise shift

Unwise shift

Unwise shift

I am writing as a colleague and fellow administrator in the global network of agricultural and natural resource-oriented universities. I am writing because I understand that WAU is considering phasing out its programs in environmental studies in general and the social sciences of the environment in particular. I would like to provide my views about why such a shift could be unwise. I would stress four key factors in this regard

First, it is quite clear from the U.S. situation that it is not very plausible in the late twentieth century - and it would clearly be even more problematic in the next century - that a college of agriculture - particularly an agricultural university - can survive as a production-agriculture-oriented institution alone

There are several fundamental reasons why this is the case. As the number of people involved in production agriculture declines, the size of the student clientele for agricultural universities in the classical mode declines. A good example is our own University of Wisconsin College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in which only a small minority of our undergrads - approximately 150 out of a total undergraduate enrollment of nearly 2,000 undergraduate students - is enrolled in the traditional agricultural production sciences. The bulk of the students in our College are now enrolled in natural resources, and the basic sciences (biochemistry, microbiology, genetics, and so on). This pattern seems to be occurring across the entire industrial world

Second, we as faculty of Colleges of Agriculture owe it to society in general to devote increased attention to what is, for the average citizen in our countries, issue number one relating to agriculture: whether and how it will meet its environmental responsibilities. If the Netherlands is anything like the U.S., for the average citizen - the persons who provide the tax revenues which support our programs - the environmental performance of production is far more important than the quantity or cost of production

All of our agricultural research institutions in the industrial countries need to recognize this reality. And it is nearly inevitable that the environmental dimensions of production will become increasingly significant in the developing world as well. If the world economy as a whole is to be sustainable in the next century, the changes in technology and policy relating to the environment in the South will be particularly critical

This is why it is also essential for a leading institution such as WAU to recognize that the future will lie in undertaking serious research on environment and development. In addition to the obvious role that new technology must play in the area of environment and development, it seems apparent that the environment and development question is essentially a social and policy matter and that the social sciences, in an increasingly multidisciplinary university environment, are crucial to making progress in this area

Third, even undergraduate and postgraduate students in the traditional agricultural production sciences need training in the social and environmental sciences. Dismantling the strong programs you already have in these areas does not seem to be consistent with this imperative

Fourth, the WAU environmental sociologists are a resource of international renown. As will probably become clear if you receive additional letters from concerned colleagues, WAU environmental sociologists have achieved global acclaim for their work in this field. I have written a number of recent papers that testify to the highly influential role that the Wageningen environmental sociologists have played in environmental-sociological theory and in developing new insights into environment and development issues. I might note that one version of these remarks on the innovative role being played by Wageningen environmental sociologists was a presentation I gave at the 50th anniversary of the Wageningen sociology department a year and a half ago

In sum, I believe that it is in the institutional self-interest of WAU to enhance, rather than even consider subtracting from or eliminating, the truly excellent work that the WAU environmental scientists and environmental sociologists are doing. The environmental sociology unit, in particular, is now one of the most respected of WAU's academic programs across the world

But in addition to academic respect, what is most critical is that it cannot be in WAU's self-interest to turn its back on the two core realities of rural-oriented universities in the world today: environmental protection is critical, and the social sciences are critical to designing and evaluating policies and programs for environmental protection

As a former President of the Rural Sociological Society and a person who has been extensively involved in global efforts to promote rural sociology across the world, I think it is essential for the Netherlands and the world community as a whole that WAU take the global lead in applying social science expertise to environmental problem-solving