merging Botany and Zoology Departments (fwd)

Una Smith una.smith at YALE.EDU
Wed Apr 22 10:41:16 CDT 1998


On Tue, 21 Apr 1998, Richard Zander wrote:

>Long ago, botanists at Duke University split their Biol. Sci. dept into
>Zoology and Botany Depts.

I wasn't aware that they were ever a joint department.  How long ago did
the split happen?  Both Duke departments are strong, but I'm not sure
they are strong because they are separate.

>The problem nowadays with integrating Zoology and Botany is not that
>Botany is squelched (so much) but that both become test tube oriented.

Biological science department mergers are certainly correlated with
increasing focus on levels of organization (molecules, cells, organisms,
communities) rather than taxonomic groups (plants, animals) in American
universities.  But I think the changing focus is the cause and mergers
are the result, not the other way around.

Apparently, Yale was among the first universities to merge botany and
zoology into an integrated biology department.  For at least a decade
after that, organismal biology was strong at Yale.  But gradually the
focus shifted, to the point where the organismal biologists had little
in common with the rest of the department.  The other faculty, though
working on a broad variety of problems and systems, share a lot of the
same technology and methodology, and have similar types of laboratory
groups, with many people all working on small parts of a very specific
large problem.  They are utterly dependent on the continued receipt of
big research grants or collaborations with industry.  In contrast, the
organismal biologists tend to have far smaller research groups, little
coordinated research within groups, and can function with little or no
money.  Another difference:  perhaps 10% of the graduate students had
sufficient training in organismal biology to be teaching assistants in
organismal courses, but these courses represented 50% of the demand for
graduate TAs.  All of these factors, and others, caused enough stress
within the department in the past decade or so that the department has
(this year!) split into Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology;
and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

By the way, Berkeley has departments of Integrative Biology and Plant
Biology.  They are in separate colleges.

As far as undergraduate degrees are concerned, I think what you learn is
far more important than the name of your major.

                                NEW ADDRESS as of February 1998:
        Una Smith               Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
                                Yale University
        una.smith at yale.edu      New Haven, CT  06520-8106




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