[MUSIC - CORNELL UNIVERSITY, "ALMA MATER"] SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: Welcome to the podcast of Mann Library's Chats in Stack's Book Talk series. In today's talk, originally given at Mann on Thursday, March 31, 2011, Cornell Professor of Education Scott Peters discusses his book, Democracy and Higher Education, Traditions and Stories of Civic Engagement. Professor Peters presents oral history profiles of a dozen Cornell faculty members and their public engagement work, illuminating and defending an under-appreciated tradition of civic professionalism in higher education.
SCOTT PETERS: Hello, this is going to be a little bit interesting and fun, because some of the people who are profiled in this book are sitting in the audience. So hi, Marvin. Hi, Tom. And there's a few other ones who were interviewed for the research we did. Before I start, I want to acknowledge and thank Neil Schwartzback. Where is Neil? Neil was my partner in doing this project and was a tremendously good, gifted interviewer and thinker. And we had a tension between us between the dark and cynical piece of our thinking about the world and the hopeful, and positive, and optimistic. And I think that tension played out quite well. I think it's represented in the book. So thank you, Neil. I wanted to acknowledge your work.
What I want to do today, I created this book with Neil and others. And I also know that I saw Alison here, somewhere. Alison Jack did one of the interviews for the book. She actually interviewed Anu, who is in the book. This got more than a little bit of awkwardness to it-- this whole thing. You should be speaking to me about things. And I wanted to say that I created this book as a resource to provoke and stimulate conversation, as much as anything else. So I'm really torn between me standing up here talking to you for very long.
So the approach I want to take today is to read some excerpts from some of what's in this book, to say a few things before I do that and a few things after I do that. But hopefully, I'll restrain myself enough to leave time for you to jump in and start talking about what you see going on in these little stories that you're hearing from some of the people who are in this room. So that's my good intention. We'll see what happens here with how I get going on this.
I want to say, first, that this book emerged out of international interest and conversation in higher education's public commission and public purposes. In the United States, there have been periods of interest in this theme, starting in the mid 19th century, when people were agitating about the need for higher education to be more connected to ordinary folks. And as most of you, I think, know, that led to the passage of the Moral Act in 1862 and the creation of the land grant system. But there have been other periods through American history when people have become very interested in higher education's role in the world and its contributions to the world. And they've been talking about how we should understand that and how we should pursue that.
We're in another one of those periods, now. And it's a little difficult marking off the beginning and ends of these periods, but I would mark the beginning of the period we're in now in the 1980s, when there began to be some agitation and interest around people's sense that maybe higher education wasn't doing such a great job with teaching, particularly for undergraduates. And maybe it wasn't doing such a great job contributing to the well-being of the country and people in communities.
Service learning emerged out of that. There was a strong student-led volunteer movement of folks. They created something called COOL, the Campus Outreach Opportunity League. Campus Compact in many ways emerged out of that, which is now still in existence and thriving. Another national organization that Cornell is a member of is Imagining America, which is devoted to helping scholars in the humanities and arts to become more engaged and contributing to the world-- a number of books, a number of many conferences all across many fields.
So we're in another one of these places where people are talking about this. This book emerged out of my interest in that topic, my engagement and conversations in that topic. And actually, one of the points it emerged from was a little epiphany moment I had when I heard our former president, Hunter Rawlings, give the state of the university address in 2001. And in that address, he said that Cornell was a great private university with a public mission. And I underlined that in the copy I printed and downloaded from Cornell's website.
And I kept coming back to that. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that sentence didn't really speak for itself, in terms of helping us understand we have a public mission. But what is it? And as I thought more about it, the fact that wasn't self-evident, and the president did not go on to define what it was, I also realized that we talk about things like this, oftentimes, in terms of our views and opinions about what something should be. Or our cynical criticisms-- I don't want to pigeon Neil as the only cynic in the room. I'm cynical a lot, as well. I'm sure most of you are-- the cynics who want to criticize institutions for not living up to their public mission.
So there's a whole line of conversation that comes from that. But the more I thought about it, the more interested I was in not hearing and understanding people's views and opinions about this, but trying to learn what it looks like when somebody is actually pursuing it. How is the public mission of Cornell or any other university actually pursued in practice? What are people doing when they're doing the public mission? That kind of question led me to see that if we're going to figure out how to answer it, we're going to have to find folks who are actually doing it. And we're going to have to draw stories out of them. Have them tell us what are you doing. Tell us a story of how you're engaged, somehow. There's a whole field of narrative inquiry and process of doing interviews that are called narrative interviews, and this is where I situate a lot of my work. And this project, given that question that I came to, really fits that quite well.
So I got some funding from the Kettering Foundation after writing a grant. Then I hired Neil, and we did a big survey and ended up deciding to look just at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences here, at Cornell. We were about to celebrate our centennial. It seemed to be an opportune moment to be raising this question. I don't know how many names we got, first. 150 some names of people who were nominated by department chairs and others as exemplars of public engagement in this college, which is a remarkable thing to show how many people turned up on somebody's list as these are folks who are really engaged out there in the world. And we were looking for that, specifically.
We whittled that down and ended up doing 44 interviews. And then we were faced with the thousands of pages of transcripts. And with my mentor and friend, John Forester's, guidance, we edited a number of these into profiles. And all of these, by the way, were being done by both students and Neil and I. So this was a very collaborative process, producing all of this. So looking at this mountain of stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it and what we could learn from it, this is what came out of that.
And I have quite an enormous sense of what's missing from this, in terms of how much I learned from this project and from the profiles that are in this book-- how much more there is to learn from it. But as I mentioned earlier, I created this in part as a resource, so other folks could read them and ask themselves, what do we see happening here? What do we learn from these profiles? So you can see, obviously, I can go on for a long time about all this stuff, and I don't want to do that.
So let me now transition, here. So the development of this book led me to believe that all of these profiles but a number of them were important and powerful enough for what they showed us and what they could teach us that we needed to put them out in the world and publish them so that other people could read them. So this book began with the idea that we'd find about a dozen of those 44 interviews that we could edit into profiles and put as the heart of a book. I then did a lot of interpretation, and framing, and analysis, and all of that on the front and the back end of the book.
But the heart of this book are the stories that the folks tell, who we interviewed. And when we did these interviews, we did them as approximately 90 minute interviews, a third of which was the answer to the question of how did you end up Tom, as a senior extension associate here, in Cornell, in the Department of-- what is it called now? Applied Management and Economics.
AUDIENCE: The Dyson School.
SCOTT PETERS: That's right. It's called the Dyson School. So the first third of the interview was the answer to the question of how did you end up here. And I can tell you for Tom, the longest answer to that question is Tom's, actually. A great storyteller. He is a great storyteller and very interesting description of his life journey and how he ended up in that position at Cornell. So almost a full third of these profiles are life stories.
The middle third was a response to tell me a story about a piece of work you're doing that's important. And there was a lot of pre-work done to get that arranged before we did these interviews. And the last third was the response to the question of what do we learn from the story you just told us. What's the lesson, here? What does that add up to? This is the person's own interpretation of their own stories we were inviting in these profiles. So when you see these profiles, that was what went behind them. That was the process that went into them.
So what I want to do now is read a few excerpts from some of these profiles, because everything I've said so far is abstract. And so now, what do these look like? What's in these profiles? Let me read a few of these, so you can see that.
The first one is from Molly John, and she was a professor in the Department of Plant Breeding. And she's no longer here at Cornell. She went to the University of Wisconsin. And in telling me her life story, there's some wonderful moments we get in these stories. Her great grandfather was a plant breeder, and she didn't discover this until she was in a great moment of crisis about her life and career. It's a wonderful story. But she was at MIT and had an NSF grant to do graduate work. A student who was doing really well. I know there's somebody in her department who's here.
I've got to say this, too. I'm going to prevent some of this, but there are backstories to every story in this book. The people you meet in these profiles, you're only meeting one side of them from their perspective. There are many other sides. So we're introduced to them in ways that show us a part of them, but not all of them. So there's complexity to every person in this collection.
Anyway, Molly was at MIT, and had gotten very disillusioned, and was beginning to tell the story of how she ended up here, at Cornell. "So I worked with MIT for two years without losing my NSF funding. I had a really wonderful experience. I discovered that I liked running the lab but that I was going to need to do something else. I did all these fun things like winter botany classes and this and that. And I thought, there's more to what I want to do with my life than this. This is probably as good as it gets in this category of job."
She had a technician job after she had decided to drop out of a PhD program at MIT, which was a really big deal because it was the top program in the country at the time. "So I thought about plants and everything else. And I thought, what am I going to do? And I decided that I wanted to work on disease resistance, because that would address issues of pesticides and human health, as well as environmental safety. So I looked around for departments of plant breeding, and there's exactly one in the US. And this one here, at Cornell, is it.
So I applied, and I think they had no idea what to do with my application. But I had my own funding, so I came. This was back in 1983. Plant breeders didn't really have labs as a standard thing, then. I was stupefied at the challenge I faced learning the genetics vocabulary plant breeders use. I really couldn't understand what people were saying here for several months. Fortunately, one of my fellow students translated for me for several weeks until I began to understand the language. The cultures were profoundly different.
But despite the fact that I was a woman in science, which had been a huge issue at MIT, I was welcomed by these very traditional people absolutely, without a backward glance. One guy in particular, Henry Munger, who had just turned 88 this spring, let me follow him around, holding his note cards and writing down what he said for weeks, that fall. He'd look at plants and say clearly, this is going on. And I'd look, and the plants looked all the same, or they looked all different. I couldn't see anything clearly at all, but I followed him around.
And at one point, he said, would you like to try to make some evaluations over there without me? Oh, my goodness. It took me a full Saturday, but I was outside, and I was working on crop plants. And I felt I'd arrived. In this department, application was not a dirty word. In fact, clearly, this was a department that had a long history of service and engagement both in the US and in the developing world. There was a breadth of focus but an integration, also, that I found very attractive. I found that it was not an elite, snobby environment. I know many people feel it's that way, but considering where I was coming from, MIT, Cornell was so down to earth. I was in heaven. I really was."
I really want to say a lot about this, but I'm not going to. Here's a little story that shows you what I mean by down to earth. "We breed food plants in this department. When I started as a faculty member here, we never bred pumpkins, because pumpkins aren't food. Pumpkins are decoration. Well, it turns out, if you look at the way farmers work locally, pumpkins could be the largest cash crop. And they could grow in some years, because for whatever reason, people pay insane prices for pumpkins, especially if what the farmer does is open up his field and let them cart pumpkins out of the field for $15 a piece.
In the last 15 years, we've had a lot of people who have saved their farming operations because of this special holiday kind of thing with pumpkins. So we started looking at pumpkins. There's a disease that's very prevalent in pumpkins called powdery mildew. Well, my predecessor had spent 30 years bringing resistance to powdery mildew from this wild gourd in Florida. He had all sorts of things in the right species, wrong shape, like acorn squash, that had this resistance.
And then we happened, by accident, to hear an extension person telling us about how they make aerial applications of this horrible fungicide to control this disease. We had no idea people were out applying carcinogens, aerially, to control it. And we thought, why don't we put powdery mildew resistance in pumpkins? So we did it, and the variety we bred is now in seed catalogs. Some say Cornell and some don't, because a lot of that germplasm went out before we had that identity.
This issue came to our attention because we talked to people, especially farmers. When I talk to people and see where they can make the most money, then I'd better pay attention to that. As a plant breeder serving New York, that's probably relevant information. I live out in a little town called Lansing. I never aimed at an academic background, so my peer group is not the people who have the same job as me. The people that I run into-- my neighbors, people I go to church with, and a guy that sells vegetables up at the top of the hill-- they are people who tell me things like gal, darn it. These pumpkins have rotten handles.
If there's a major disease problem that accounts for 60% of production costs and I have the solution sitting on my shelf, well, that's not a very hard one to figure out, is it?" So that's a little glimpse into a story from a plant breeder. And there are many other stories from plant breeders that we got, because we interviewed other plant breeders here.
Let me go on now to Paula Horrigan, professor in landscape architecture. So when we interviewed her-- one of my students, Leah Mayor, interviewed her-- she was telling a story. She, of course, told her life story and how she ended up here. But she was telling a story about a project she was engaging her students in doing on the north side of Binghamton. I live in the Binghamton area. My wife is a member of the New York State legislature who represents the Binghamton area. It's a very economically stressed area. It's very gritty, to use a word that's, I think, pretty representative of what it's like, especially on the north side.
So Paula organized this relationship with a community group called, I think, The Communities of Shalom, which is a faith based organization that was trying to do participatory planning. And she engaged the students over the course of a semester in working with the community members to help develop a plan for the North Side. And she was doing this in an effort to help students not only learn the skills of planning, but also to learn the ethics and commitments of community-based participatory planning, which Paula is committed to teaching.
So this is a passage from her talking about that. "The way I think of myself has shifted a lot. I'm not professing. I'm mentoring students and community members. That's the other part of this that's messy. All of these relationships are built. I met with a Shalom group a lot this past summer. Some of them are local leaders from churches. Others are members of the community or members of the churches. Because of the nature of this whole project, because they are committed to their communities, they are much more a part of that place.
It was interesting, recently, because we were at city hall. Phil Stanton shows up. He's very active in this community. He doesn't have a car. He had a stroke. He doesn't have any front teeth, and he shows up to our meeting at City Hall. And it's like you can hear people thinking he doesn't belong here. But Phil Stanton is willing to step into that scene, because he wants to make sure that they're going to get what they need for the North Side. He's extremely bright and extremely committed, and he's a very important part of the community.
He presents himself as who he is. He cannot afford to get his teeth fixed. He's not that old. He's probably in his late 50s. He's been married twice. He apparently was very athletic, and he was a Vietnam vet. And he had a stroke at a pretty young age. He's probably had a pretty hard life. The stroke left him with one arm that is numb, and he can't use it, and with a limp. He can move around, and he has somewhat slurred speech. He has to wear a sling all the time, and he walks strangely because he had a stroke.
So this guy shows up, and he's like a representation of the community, just physically. He's a local person, and he represents all that the North Side is-- people who have been around for a while, and who don't have a lot of economic flexibility, and don't have a lot of mobility either. They don't have cars. This is a big issue, there. They don't even have a supermarket. The closest place that people can walk to is Kmart. A lot of people are getting their food, their nutrition at Kmart. They're not getting fresh vegetables and things like that.
Then you get to know Phil Stanton, and he's an incredibly committed, social person with this incredible consciousness. He's very involved with his Methodist Church, because they're very liberal and accept gays and lesbians. His best friend is Sheila, who is a gay woman who is very much engaged with the community, too. He's got an incredible open mind. He's very critical of city government. He's going to peace marches in Washington, now. He's got a very definite social agenda. He's very bright. He was very involved with our meetings to make sure that there was local representation there.
After one of the first meetings, when he realized that there wasn't anyone from the Muslim community there-- and there are a lot of Muslims on the North Side-- he went out of his way to get a couple of people to come to the meeting. He called me and told me about a young woman who he thought we should invite. Basically, he made sure that she got there. He asked me to call her too and invite her. And then he made sure that she got picked up and driven home, so that she could participate. He also wanted to make sure that there were young people there representing high school kids in the community. So he's very much engaged.
He just wrote me an email the other day. It said something like the Burger King has closed. The bowling lane is gone. Help! Everyone is leaving the community, economically. So he's really very engaged with what's going on there, and he has no fear. That's what is amazing to me. He's not afraid of how he looks or who he is. He's ready to step up to the plate and do what it takes. He came to Albany last week and comes to all the meetings. He's very sensitive to who's involved, and how to involve them.
That's why I'm interested in doing these projects, for people like Phil Stanton and Sheila. There is another character, Bob. I'm always surprised that he's still around. He must be about 70, and he's still trying to finish his high school education. He had a learning disability when he was young. No one understood it. He never got to finish high school. He has an incredible memory, but apparently, he's had a hard time with reading and writing. But he's very committed to finishing this.
Physically, he's kind of a wreck, too. He comes to all the meetings. It is hard to work with people like Bob, but it's important that they are there and that the students experience them. It's one thing to find out that there's a neighborhood of people who don't have a grocery store and don't have cars. It's another thing to be in the same room with them." So that's Paula Horrigan.
I want to read one from Marvin's profile. I hope you don't mind, Marvin. This is just a paragraph, but I think there's a lot of richness in this paragraph, and it's something I thought a lot about. And it has been a touchstone in my own learning and understanding about what is involved and required for people from universities like this to be engaged in the community. So Marvin is a specialist in berry crops and chair of the Department of Horticulture here, at Cornell.
And I have to just throw in that one of the stories Marvin told in the profile was that he was forced to pick berries when he was growing up and really didn't like that.
I think that's kind of ironic that he is now a berry specialist. Small crops and berry specialist. So here's Marvin. "You asked me about my relationship with growers. The growers have known me for years. They trust me. Probably the most important thing in developing that trust is listening. That's the key to everything. Really listen to what they're saying. Often, growers don't have to hear a particular response from us. That's something that's hard for us. We think we need to do something and react. But I've got more growers thanking me for listening than anything I've ever done, in terms of research."
You might want to take that sentence back, but I like that sentence. "But I've got more growers thanking me for listening than anything I've ever done, in terms of research. For example, there was a fellow who had a hailstorm this spring, and his berries got ripped to shreds. He called me practically in tears. I listened to him for a long time. He said, what can I do? What can I do? There's not much you can do once hail rips your plants, but we talked about a few things.
He called me up again and again. I think the fourth time, near the end of the year, he said things are looking better than they were. I have to tell you, you're a great listener. It was really wonderful you took the time and listened to me. It was the best thing you could have done for me, because I was ready to cash in. I was ready to quit farming on the spot, he said. To know someone who's at Cornell, just willing to listen, that's really important to me.
I felt good, because I'd been feeling inadequate. We want to solve problems. And what do you do when hail rips you out? You can't spray for it. You can't change the cultural practices, and you're just the victim of circumstance. Listening was a good thing, in this case." I've marked a lot more to read than what I am going to be able to read, and I'm trying to restrain myself by skipping over ones that I really want to read.
So let me figure out how I'm going to be able to do this. I have to say, too, four of these profiles are from faculty members in horticulture-- 4 of the 12. And I feel like reading something from all of those, because they're really rich. All of them are rich. Let me just move on, here. I have to read this one.
This is from Frank Rossi in horticulture, and Neil did this interview. And Frank is really a character. He's a great guy, but he's a character, in the best sense of the term character. He's not here, today. He told me was out doing democracy, somewhere in the state. So Frank's character really comes out in this profile. He's a feisty guy, born in New York City, very Italian-American, and he's got really funny stories of how he ended up here, at Cornell.
But even though Frank tells us in his opening paragraph that his job is disseminating information, everything in the profile is basically about him inserting himself between warring parties that are yelling at each other and throwing bombs, and trying to negotiate and mediate between these actors. And for Frank, who works on turf, a lot with the golf course industry, as he puts it, the groups are the environmentalists who are concerned about pesticides use, and legislators and policy makers, and the agricultural companies, and chemical companies, and the golf course industry. So all these groups have different interests, and Frank is not just disseminating information to them. I can tell you that.
And that's one of the joys of doing this project is that these stories just blew open our narrow understandings of what people like Frank-- we might think somebody who's working on grass is actually doing out there, in the world. So here's a little snippet from his profile. "If you want a good illustration of how I do my work, I'll talk about the project I'm working on at a golf course at Bethpage State Park with Jennifer Grant, who is a senior extension associate with Cornell Cooperative Extension Integrated Pest Management program.
We've basically taken all the putting greens on Bethpage Green Course, and we're doing this large scale project to see what happens when you stop spraying chemicals to control weeds and pests. We're in the end of the fourth year, now. Laws are being passed to ban pesticides use, and there's very little understanding in the legislature, and the industry, or among advocacy groups about what would be the real impacts on the ground of not being able to use pesticides.
So Jennifer and I wrote a grant proposal to the United States Golf Association. And we said we've got this big problem in New York, and we think you should provide some funding to help us with it. We proposed doing it on our research plots here, at Cornell. And they said you probably ought to do that on a golf course. And we're thinking, who the hell is going to give us a golf course and let us not spray, when we know the grass is going to die?
I approached my friends at Bethpage. I trained a lot of them, too. This is on Long Island, Bethpage Golf Course. I trained a lot of them through short courses. And I said to the park superintendent, Dave Catellano, would you let me do this? Dave is such a visionary that he gave me this speech about how important it was for Bethpage to do this. I was literally choked up by it that he felt so strongly that it was something that he needed to do.
So anyway, the industry funds it. The state park system is in on it, and we've got these colleagues at the golf course that are working with us. So there are two sides. You've got the golf industry, broader scale, and you've got environmental advocates. Day to day, we're trying to get this thing going to set up our experiment on an 18 hole golf course five hours from Cornell, in the heart of golf world.
The project starts the year before the US Open is coming to Bethpage Black Course, so all eyes are on Bethpage. This is the first time a public course has hosted the Open. And then September 11th happens. And then it's all about New York. And every day, I'm getting these phone calls about this project. What's going on? What are you going to do? Phone calls from the press, phone calls from members of the golf industry, phone calls from Canada, phone calls from Europe. How is this going to happen? And we're having these problems with pesticides and da-da-da.
Then the bombs start flying. We're about three months into the project. Golf course superintendents were calling me and taking me aside at meetings when I would talk to them about what we're doing. And they'd say, Frank, I hope those greens die, so we can prove that we need pesticides. I really didn't have a response to that. I'd just say, well, I'm sorry you feel that way. And the environmental advocates were saying you're probably going to let the greens die, so you can keep using pesticides. And I said, well, I don't see what the benefit of that would be. I can appreciate why you think that, but that's not what we're doing.
We took bullets from both sides. The industry was saying you're giving chemicals a bad name. The environmental advocates were saying you're not really doing the organic approach, and that's why the greens died, because you didn't go far enough. But we had very set criteria, which we had a really solid, scientific approach to doing it. My dad once said to me, if they're shooting at you, it's because you're doing something right. Four years later, we're still taking bullets.
When we began to release the results of the project that were really credible, legislators across the state started to look and say, we have to visit this golf course. They went, and they saw that the six screens that we didn't spray died-- drop dead. I have the pictures. They're very dead from very simple problems that pesticides would have solved. It wasn't unexpected. We tried to keep them alive by doing a number of other practices, including using products that had been shown to work, experimentally. But what might have worked in research plots didn't work in the real world.
You've got 55,000 golfers a year over that golf course. It is a totally different environment than a research plot, even when you might be simulating golf traffic. Six greens died the first year, and it created a lot of problems. Revenue went down for the golf course. And Dave, our park superintendent, who said we could use the golf course, said you know what? You can't do that a third year. We have to do some mitigation, here. So we did some rescue treatments.
Now, we're in our fourth year, and we've come off non-chemical approaches. Now, we're trying to do it based on an environmental impact model. In other words, if we use pesticides, we're using the softest ones available-- the benign ones to the environment. And we've ranked them. Now, that's something that got us into another whole area of hot water." I'll stop it there. The story goes on with other dimensions.
You see how much is going on in these stories? Do you see the layers of complexity and questions that I want to ask Frank and all of these folks? Let me read just a couple more, here. I want to read one from Tom Maloney, who I introduced a moment ago. And Tom also works a lot with golf courses. He does a great deal of education work with managers in agriculture and horticulture businesses. And this is towards the very end of Tom's profile.
"More and more people up and down this hallway sit around here, and we ask ourselves, what's the direction of agriculture in New York? Like the folks in New York State Department of Ag and Markets, we're constantly looking at this entity as an industry. And we're looking at where the industry as a whole is going. So when you start to think about it in that regard, you have to think about economic development in the state of New York, rural economic development, and the well-being of communities.
And it's not until the community loses half the dairy farms or half the apple farms that people start to say, are we losing something more than the $20 million in apple income? Are people moving away? Is the land vacant? Is productivity of the resources in the community less than it was before? I think there are societal and community benefits that are spillovers.
People are asking why we need people like me, professionals who are funded by their tax dollars, to address agricultural management and business issues. They think these issues can be addressed better or cheaper by private consultants. Well, some of them can be. But the standard response to that is that we're impartial. There are people out there who challenge our impartiality from time to time, but we're not selling a product, per se. And a lot of the consultants, especially on farms and in landscaping businesses, are selling a product. And some of these consulting services come along with the product. So there was a bias there. We're not selling a product. We're not associated with a profit motive.
I live in Cortland, and I live outside of town. There is a dairy farm across the road from me." I don't know if it's still there or not. "There's a dairy farm across the road from me. There are field crops all around my property. My family and I like that community, and we want to see farmers survive in it. We want to see the landscape businesses do well. We don't have any fruit farms where I live, but I think New Yorkers would like to say they want to see the apple industry recover from a very difficult financial time and still be able to drive on Route 104 near Lake Ontario and drive through orchards.
I, personally, don't want the landscapes of New York all to be Blockbuster Video stores and Applebee's restaurants and Comfort Inns. That open space is something that's really valuable. As our 7,000 dairy farms in the state diminish, we need to replace them with something that is equally acceptable to us. And so to the extent I can, I want to help people keep in business, doing what they're good at, doing what they like to do. Not all of them will make it, and maybe that's not such a bad thing. But to evolve to a state that is still producing food and has landscapes that are valuable and attractive to all of us is what keeps me going."
One last one, and then I want to stop. And this is from my friend Anu, In the front row. And her profile is a two part profile. I did the first part, and Allison Jack did the second part. So Anu told the story in the first part of the profile about her work in developing the Cornell Organic Advisory Council. So I want to read this story. I hope it's OK, Anu. I feel really kind of awkward with this, but I think the story needs to be heard.
"In 1997, Cornell hosted a meeting of organic farmers in New York to come talk about organic agriculture. I attended it, and what struck me was that it was obvious that this had happened before. And it was completely meaningless to the farmers. They felt like, once again, they're coming to Cornell to say, pay attention to us. And Cornell would say thanks for coming and never respond. It bothered me, because these people have a philosophy they choose to live by, and they're trying to make a living. There were fewer of them, and they don't have large amounts of acreage, but they deserved attention, I thought.
What's the point of this? We can come up with all these lists of things that people have done at Cornell and they think are relevant organic farms, but the fact is they're not. So the year after that meeting, I created the Cornell Organic Advisory Council. I invited key farmers and faculty members on campus across all departments who had some interest in organic agriculture to meet together and to design a research and extension agenda. This group provided a way to reflect on an idea and to focus its objectives. It generated mass amounts of support from growers, which has resulted in letters of support for project proposals.
I wanted the Organic Advisory Council to have a mission. It wasn't going to be that once a year meeting where people got together and bitched about what wasn't happening. We had a first meeting in December of '97, and we've had it every December since then. The first year, we put together objectives. The second year, we designed a research and extension list and tried to identify support grants. At the advisory council meetings, I was both the facilitator and organizer. I did it all. I wanted a strategic way to spread information to people in the community, as well as to share things about Cornell with those communities.
At the initial stage, we invited people from several regions of the state, based upon how the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, NOFA, set up its regional districts. Our goal was to have a couple of representatives from each of those areas participate and then go back and share with the regional groups. Brian Caldwell, an extension agent, and Steve Gilman, a farmer, were co-chairs. They helped facilitate the meetings.
Steve could say things to farmers that I could never say, like shut up. You're going off topic. Any of them could say things to each other or their peers that I couldn't, based upon trust and the negative view of Cornell as being disconnected from their community. Early meetings had a lot of back and forth. It was disheartening, because there were some growers who were angrily saying, why do you want me here? You never pay attention to me. It took a while to diffuse that by talking, by being consistent, by coming back to them and saying, we still want to hear what you're thinking. Because you don't agree with us doesn't mean we don't need to hear it.
We developed relationships with others in the community who actually could talk to particular people and help to diffuse the tension. We'll never get past Cornell, the institution, with some people. One of my objectives is that it should be about Cornell, the individuals."
I could go on for a great deal longer reading passages like those, which until we asked for these stories, we had no clue. We couldn't imagine or see. If this book has a value, it's because of the 12 profiles and the stories that people like Anu, and Tom, and Marvin, and others told us. I could go on about how I interpreted them in relationship to higher education's contributions to democracy. And you can read about that in the book, if you want to.
But I'm curious, having heard some of these snippets, to know what it might have provoked for you.
[MUSIC - CORNELL UNIVERSITY, "ALMA MATER"]
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at Cornell.edu.
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Of all the issues in need of attention at this moment in the history of American higher education, few are as important as the status and future of its public mission, purposes and work.
Scott Peters takes this issue up in his newest book,
Democracy and Higher Education, discussed in a Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library on March 31, 2011.
Through the presentation and analysis of oral history profiles of the public engagement work of a dozen Cornell faculty members, he illuminates and defends an under-appreciated tradition of civic professionalism in higher education that includes and interweaves expert, social critic, responsive service, and proactive leadership roles.