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Group protests WSU department cut

Rural sociology on chopping block

An association of social scientists from throughout the nation has purchased advertisements in today’s editions of The Spokesman-Review and Moscow-Pullman Daily News to protest the proposed elimination of the department of community and rural sociology at Washington State University.

“Abolishing this nationally esteemed program is not a constructive answer to your budget problems,” states the Rural Sociological Society’s open letter to the administration and faculty of WSU.

The letter is signed by 21 current and former presidents of the society.

“Surely, a more creative solution can be found that achieves administrative efficiencies while preserving the valued research and outreach programs pursued by community and rural sociology,” the letter states.

On May 1, WSU President Elson Floyd announced a plan that also would cut 370 jobs in an effort to trim the university’s budget 10.4 percent over the next two years. Also targeted for elimination were the department of theatre and dance, the sports management program and the German major.

If the department of community and rural sociology is eliminated, seven of its eight professors stand to lose their positions at the university, said department chairman Raymond Jussaume. The department is engaged in research to address “the human dimension of community and agricultural development in the state,” he said. It has worked closely with WSU extension, which also is targeted for sharp cuts under Floyd’s plan.

“We all recognize this is being driven by the budgetary situation,” Jussaume said. “Nothing personal is going on here.”

David L. Brown, a past president and spokesman for the Rural Sociological Society, said the group decided to make its concerns public after contacting Floyd.

“I think it is important that he understand the stakes are quite high,” said Brown, a sociology professor and co-director of the Community and Rural Development Institute at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Brown said that when a university targets units like community and rural sociology, it also indirectly targets the vulnerable rural people and communities served by the department.

“If this unit’s work is not consistent with the meaning of land grant university, it’s hard to know what would be,” Brown said. He called vertical cuts of the department’s distinguished tenured and tenure-track professors “unprecedented.”

Dan Bernardo, dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said Thursday that he had seen the advertisement in advance of its publication today.

“I don’t think the ad correctly characterizes the decision” to eliminate rural sociology, Bernardo said. “It seems to suggest it was a short-run, flippant reaction to the budget situation. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Bernardo said he was charged with coming up with $6.34 million in reductions, which cannot be accomplished by merely trimming a few positions.

He said the decision to eliminate rural sociology was based on a yearlong prioritization process reviewed by a committee of faculty – “certainly something we don’t take lightly.”

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