When the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences first began planning courses for Sustainable Agriculture, the burgeoning field seemed timely and appropriate for UC Davis.
Now, six years later, the prospective major still faces significant obstacles in gaining approval from the university. And as other majors see their resources dwindling, it’s hard for administrators to imagine this – or any – prospective major succeeding.
“Approving the major would have been okay five years ago, but we’re in a tighter financial climate now,” said Jeffrey Williams, chair of the executive committee in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences – the committee that gives prospective majors approval to become a major.
The executive committee also had the final say in cutting the textiles and clothing major last year, which Williams said makes him ambivalent toward introducing another major to the campus.
At its current stage, Sustainable Agriculture – which already offers five courses taught with the aim of becoming part of the major – has been sent back to the drawing board by the Academic Senate. The plan was not approved due to several discrepancies.
Most of these discrepancies are complicated by the fact that eight different departments are interested in teaching courses in the major. This wide range of disciplines is both a strength and hindrance to creating the major,” said Mark Van Horn, director of the Student Farm and co-lecturer of Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture – a requirement for the prospective major.
“This is such a broadly interdisciplinary major,” he said. “This is why it has taken so long to get approval. There are some schools that are creating sustainable agriculture majors that only look at ecological production. We want to teach students everything related to food production. All the way to consumption, and even beyond that.”
One concern raised by the Academic Senate questions which of the eight departments Sustainable Agriculture falls under would have advising abilities. The college has recently decided that the Community and Regional Development department will advise students.
The counsel is also wary of adding a major that will require Biology 2A and 2B – a sequence of courses that is already difficult for many students to get into.
Yet for as long and intensive as the process of creating Sustainable Agriculture is, all those involved believe that the academic interest and faculty participation is in place for students to graduate with enough knowledge of the subject. Gaining approval of the major will simply make their degrees more accurate, Van Horn said.
“It’s really important for students to be in a major that exists and make progress toward graduating with that degree,” Van Horn said.
As far as timeliness, Van Horn does not believe that sustainability is a fad, and that Sustainable Agriculture will no longer be relevant when it finally becomes a major. Rather, he hopes that taking the time to efficiently create the broad major will be worth the wait. In addition, most students interested have already begun taking classes for it and are interning for programs in food systems.
“We all hope that this major comes into being because there’s a lot to be gained from a program of study,” said Joanna Normoyle, undergraduate liaison and internship coordinator at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute. “But I would say that you can still find a way to be involved and active in the field without the official support.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.