Agriculture. Clemson University. My children. I have great passion and love for all three of these things and all three crossed paths in 2009 when our firstborn struck off to begin her college career at Clemson, enrolling in the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences, better known as CAFLS. She was soon followed by her two brothers who also enrolled in CAFLS, with all three choosing different majors to pursue, including Ag Education, Ag Economics, and Ag Mechanization. They all have selected a good dose of Animal Science courses, as well. Our family has deep roots at Clemson, beginning 4 generations ago, and including four graduates from our immediate family in CAFLS in the 1980’s. In the 80’s Clemson probably had less total Agricultural students enrolled than they do today, yet the College of Ag had a huge presence on campus – I would venture to say along with the College of Engineering, Agriculture was at the top of the pecking order.
When you graduate from college, you can become pretty busy with work, business, family and you don’t dedicate much time to keeping up with what’s going on in the halls you once wandered. That is, until the next generation enrolls, and then it becomes a priority. As with anything, you want the very best for your children, and at the cost of attending college, who wouldn’t want to make sure the price tag fits the offering. While I won’t go so far as to say the train had completely run off the tracks over a roughly twenty year period since we graduated, it sure was heading in that direction. We had heard rumblings of budget cuts, faculty shortages, re-organization, majors being merged or discontinued, and the like at many meetings we attended in the past twenty years. All of us that were actively involved in Ag heard it at some point and we were deeply concerned at what was happening at our land grant university.
I don’t know where the blame should be placed, and it really doesn’t matter (finger pointing accomplishes nothing), but I truly felt that Clemson was no longer proud to be THE school of agriculture in a state where that industry is ranked at the top of the class, even above tourism. How could this be when Clemson was charged to serve as the Land Grant University for our state, and where there was no other option for students of agriculture to be trained without going out of state? It wasn’t an enrollment issue – there were plenty of prospective students, but not enough enthusiastic, passionate faculty to teach them. Seriously people, we all eat, wear clothes, and use agricultural products every day- what’s not to love about being part of the industry that feeds and clothes the world, along with so many other contributions. Agriculture today is certainly not the same creature that it once was, even ten years ago – precision farming, genomics, financial management, international opportunities, e-marketing are commonplace in the agricultural scene today. Career opportunities abound for agricultural graduates – from biotechnology, to production, to marketing, to financial institutions, to the forestry industry, the possibilities are far too many to list.
Now comes the good news. Maybe even GREAT news. This week we attended the first ever Dean’s Summit for Agriculture at Clemson University, hosted by Dean Tom Scott. Serving a the Dean for the past four years, we have seen him hit some major road bumps, take heat from students and his constituents, and be pressured by the “higher-ups” to implement some things that most likely were not his idea - yet he has evolved in his leadership role and had become a real champion for CAFLS and for students. His summit wasn’t about politics, getting brownie points, or pay raises, or pats on the back. Simply put, it was an attempt to hear from the people who love Clemson and make a living in the field of agriculture in our state. Clemson administrators were there to ask what we need and what they should be doing to help the industry that we all love. Now I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but this is a huge step in the right direction and to the best of my knowledge, the first time in a long time that the administration has reached out to involve alumni and agricultural industry in planning for the future and evaluating what is in place. The highlight of the day was the official announcement that since approval by the Board of Trustees, Clemson will finally offer a major in Agribusiness, available in the Fall of 2013. This department will encompass a number of essential areas that will benefit not only the students enrolled in that specific major, but all students in CAFLS. This is indeed great news as just a few months ago the currently enrolled Ag Economics students and faculty were still reeling over being shuffled over to the School of Business in a failed attempt to quietly watch that major fade away. Fortunately, the agriculture students, a few Clemson administrators, and the Ag industry in this state rallied and pleaded that Clemson get back to its roots, and give agriculture the respect it deserves. New faculty hires are being made throughout CAFLS in many departments and there seems to be a shift to recognizing that the undergraduate students are indeed what keeps the university in business, and that they need some bang for their buck..
Hats off to the Dean and to the administrators who took their day to listen. It’s a great time to be in agriculture and it looks like Clemson is aware of this. We’ll see in a year at the second annual Dean’s Summit for Ag (it was announced that it would be an annual event) just how much progress has been made. At least, for now, it appears that Thomas Green Clemson can stop turning over in his grave and rest easy that his will to help Agriculture and the ordinary people of SC, is once again alive and well.