The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) of UC Davis consists of approximately 400 faculty members located in 22 departments. Between 1991 and 1998, the college reduced the size of its faculty by about 7 percent in response to budget cuts while increasing the number of majors 16 percent and student credit hours by 29 percent. During this period the college improved its already excellent record of extramural grant support and it remains internationally recognized for the excellence of its programs, generally being ranked as the best in the world in food and agricultural sciences and among the best in environmental sciences. Maintaining such high levels of distinction during a period of increasing workload and decreasing resources has been a challenge for our faculty. Similar problems are shared widely on the UC Davis campus and, as with other colleges, we expect to participate in accommodating the increasing numbers of students that must be absorbed in the coming decade. To improve the quality of our programs while absorbing new students will require the college to carefully plan and judiciously invest its resources.
The academic plan presented here was developed by a faculty committee charged with identifying initiatives to guide the college in building programs of high quality. Many of the difficult decisions regarding resource allocation could not be handled through the faculty committee process that was used to develop this academic plan and thus the plan does not fully address these issues. The college is not likely to have sufficient resources in the near to intermediate future to carry out all of the areas of investment identified in the academic plan. Thus, additional prioritizing is required. The college also needs to address how to redirect resources among existing programs to better achieve our goals. Throughout our planning it has been the expectation that a follow-on process will be initiated to make these difficult decisions. This Executive Summary serves to abstract and annotate the attached academic plan as interpreted by the college's leadership team and to identify priority areas for immediate investment.
The plan that is presented stresses that the core programs within our college must be maintained since they form the foundation upon which our initiatives will develop. These foundation programs are identified as:
- agricultural systems
- environmental sustainability and ecosystem function
- human health and development
The committee recommends that 85 percent of the faculty resources that become available through vacancies over the next five years be used to sustain these foundation programs. This reinvestment of approximately 85 percent of our FTE resources into the core programs of the college is not meant to imply that positions will be refilled as currently described. We will make significant changes in our core programs during this planning window to reflect changes in research, educational and outreach extension needs. We specifically intend to advance the environmental sciences programs of our college, in conjunction with those of the campus in general, so that they will be indisputably the premier programs in the country. This must be done with the recognition that for our food, nutrition, and agricultural sciences programs to retrain their top rankings, they cannot remain static, but must also continue to improve in quality.
The college faces a challenge regarding its business, social science, and design programs. We must jointly plan with other parts of the campus to assure that our programs complement and support the overall campus vision in these areas. These programs are struggling from the large number of students in their majors and courses and feel that the college has not sufficiently invested resources in them. A priority for our college will be to develop a plan for managing the educational needs of students in these programs while focusing on improving the quality of associated research areas. Our plans must be coordinated with those of similar programs on campus, just as the planning and implementation of our environmental and agricultural science programs are being coordinated with the other life and physical science programs on campus.
The opportunities for programmatic investment identified in the academic plan provide a blueprint for the development of programs that span our traditional disciplinary areas within the college. These five programs are:
- agricultural and environmental genomics
- water and watersheds
- agriculture, the environment, and human health
- agricultural and environmental sensing and informatics
- science, the public and governmental policy
Most of these programs are broad, with multiple areas identified under each that could benefit from investment of new and redirected FTEs. This blueprint for future development will guide our investment of the 15 percent of retirement FTEs and requests for new growth. The college does not have adequate resources available to simultaneously begin development of each of the five initiatives identified in our academic plan. The plan will need to be implemented in stages and details of the implementation will need to be provided beyond that provided in the academic plan which primarily discusses planning assumptions and principles. The following is an outline of our plan for the immediate implementation of some of the initiatives of the academic plan developed by the faculty committee.
Priorities Among the Five Initiatives Identified in the Attached Academic Plan
Environment and Water
We place our highest priority on the strengthening of our environmental sciences core programs and the development of the initiative on water and watersheds identified in the academic plan. We will encourage and support an enhanced role for the John Muir Institute of the Environment as the focus for coordination of all campus environmental science research, graduate education, and outreach programs. To strengthen our core programs in the environmental sciences, we will encourage a restructuring of the college's dispersed programs related to environmental effects on plants. We will encourage the formation of a college-based center for plant/environment interaction research and education that will include faculty of the Divisions of Environmental Sciences and Agricultural Sciences as well as scientists of the USDA Forest Service. Close associations with the Section of Evolution and Ecology in DBS will be encouraged. To lead our Division of Environmental Sciences a new associate dean is being sought through a national search. We will commit 2-3 positions to help this associate dean to build or strengthen an area of this division.
The water and watersheds initiative of the college will be developed through an interface with the campus-wide Integrated Watershed Science Initiative. The implementation of our college initiative is described in the academic plan and, as noted, relies heavily upon a coordinated campus program. There is considerable campus strength in this area and significant problems within the state, nation and world that justify research investment and strengthening of teaching programs. We strongly support a campus-wide coordination of programs through the committee of department chairs with water programs. We consider further development of this area through cluster hires to be a high priority.
One aspect of the water initiative that needs further clarification and planning prior to investment of resources is that involving policy and economics. As noted in the academic plan, two of the three priority water positions are policy related. The college initiative identified as Science, the Public and Government Policy is also heavily directed toward environmental science policy issues. There are additional economic and policy programs within the environmental science and policy and agricultural and resource economics departments. The academic plan does not indicate how these programs are interrelated and coordinated. The strength of our environmental policy and resource economic programs provides the impetus for the college to carefully evaluate our existing expertise in these areas prior to proceeding with their further development to assure coordination of our existing programs with the proposed new investments in policy/economic oriented positions.
Agricultural and Environmental Genomics
Our second priority will be to build on our current strength in agricultural genetics through the college agricultural genomics initiative. The rapidly increasing availability of gene sequences and genomic organizational information is revolutionizing the life sciences and agricultural research. We must aggressively build on our current strengths in this area to assure the long-term quality of our life sciences-related agricultural research programs. Our scientists have been successful in capturing significant amounts of NSF and USDA funding for plant genomics research. The investment of a few more positions in this area will assure our national pre-eminence in plant genomics research. Two previously authorized positions in plant genomics have been released for a cluster hire to add to our strength. As with the water positions, we will seek to build programs by clustering our areas of strength. This search is being coordinated with simultaneous searches for a director of the new campus genomics initiative and associated leadership positions. We also consider the building of strength in animal genomics to be a priority. We do not currently have the depth of strength in animal genomics within the college as we do in plant genomics, so it will take longer and require a greater investment to meet our goal of building a dominant program in animal genomics.
The methods for developing, understanding, and using sequence data are not unique to any taxonomic groups of organisms, so organization of the genomics efforts of the CA&ES will be across disciplines. We will initiate the organization of a center for agricultural genomics research that will be the focus of our investments in infrastructure to support the genomics efforts within the college. These investments will be coordinated with those made for the campus genomics initiative to assure that there is no unnecessary duplication.
Areas of opportunity listed under the Agriculture, Environment and Human Health initiative of the college address issues that compliment our priority areas. One of these is the interface between diet and human health. There are opportunities to combine our strengths in plant and animal genomics with those of human health and nutrition. This research area will be encouraged as an interface between these two strengths of the college. Another important issue addressed by this initiative is food safety. We will take advantage of information that is coming from studies of microbial genomics to develop better strategies for ensuring the safety of our food supply. We will participate with the School of Veterinary Medicine in their initiative on food safety. Together with this group, DBS, and the Medical School there are unrealized opportunities to build significant strength in food safety and other areas of microbiology and food science. Food safety is an area of significant concern to our college and we will enhance our abilities to address this important food issue.
The initiative entitled Agricultural and Environmental Sensing and Informatics in the academic plan has components that need to be developed to strengthen the environmental sciences and genomics programs within the college. The parts of this initiative that support strengthening of these programs will be a priority for investment of FTEs as they complement strategies to build our strength in these areas.
Building these two initiatives and parts of the other three will impact our teaching programs in innovative ways. As we implement these initiatives, we will search for ways to redirect some of our students and to assist in enrollment management in some areas.
Although our academic plan identifies five initiatives that need to be pursued for the long-term health of our college, we recognize that our resources are insufficient to initiate all simultaneously. Consequently, we have identified two initiatives for immediate investment of our resources along with portions of other initiatives that can be built in association with these two primary initiatives. We also have outlined our strategy for developing cross-disciplinary approaches within our college for the development of infrastructure supporting priority areas. We will develop a unified plan to strengthen the area of policy/economics in the college and we will identify how our plan meshes with comparable campus programs. We have identified a strategy to strengthen our core programs in the environmental sciences division to facilitate the potential of our campus being recognized as having the strongest environmental sciences program in the country. Finally, we have identified the business/economics, social sciences, and design portions of our college as needing additional planning. Such planning should coordinate with similar programs of other colleges and schools and identify programs that have potential for significant improvements in quality with additional investment.
Measurement of the success of our proposed initiatives will be through monitoring departmental and program rankings. A large proportion of our departments are already ranked among the best in the country. Those programs that are not formally ranked have few enough peers that informal assessments provide credible information regarding their relative ranking. Formal analyses such as those conducted by the ISI and Ecological Society of America that rank our agricultural and ecology programs (campus-wide) as the best in the country will naturally be followed with interest.
Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Funds
The bulk of the resources available to the CA&ES are to support the specific research and outreach objectives of the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) and Cooperative Extension (CE). In the past these resources have been so heavily invested in faculty positions that too few resources are available to maintain and build the necessary infrastructure for modern research and outreach. The greatest limitation to the success of our core programs and the initiatives that have been proposed is the quality and quantity of our research and extension facilities. Our college was the first on campus and a large number of our facilities remain essentially unchanged from when they were originally built. We cannot retain our position as the premier college of our disciplines in the country without significant investment in our infrastructure during the next decade. In our planning we anticipate that the AES and CE funds available to us will not keep up with inflation and certainly will not grow in proportion to the I&R resources coming to campus and our college. This combination of lack of growth of AES and CE funds coupled with our need to extract flexible funds from FTEs for investment in campus infrastructure and initiatives will place a significant strain on our college in the next decade. We anticipate that an excess of I&R investment over our rate of AES fund withdrawal from faculty positions will be needed to meet the needs of the anticipated increasing number of students in our college. The concomitant benefit to the campus will be an increase in flexible resources that can be invested into infrastructure and programs of our college and other parts of campus that support the AES and CE missions.
Once the academic plan is submitted, the college will initiate a planning process for future facility needs that will have as a priority the co-location of similar programs. This co-location is important to reduce the costs of investment in the expensive and short-lived equipment necessary to conduct modern research. The current dispersal of similar programs is requiring our investment in islands of similar facilities. The majority of our laboratory facilities are cramped and in old buildings. Our scientists are among the most productive on campus, but their productivity is being hampered by the condition of their facilities and their inadequate space. We will use the priorities listed in the academic plan to guide the prioritization of our investments in, and requests for, new facilities. A particular need of our college is the renewal of many of our animal and plant production research and teaching facilities. These facilities are key to the excellence of our agricultural programs yet they lag significantly in quality behind those of other major universities in the country. If we are to maintain our position as the premier agricultural college, we must address these problems soon. We will make major efforts to solve many of our facility problems through partnerships, internal resources, and development campaigns, but we also will need significant help from campus resources to address our facility needs.