The School Of Agriculture
Report Of The Dean Of Agriculture
To the President of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute:
The purpose of the Agricultural Division is to promote better farming, better business and better living on the part of the rural people of Virginia. This it attempts to accomplish through thorough research, and through sound resident and extension teaching. Most of the subject-matter departments of this division are organized to give these three phases of service.
Since separate reports have regularly been made by the directors of the Experiment Station and Extension Division, these phases of our work will not be emphasized in this report. However, in considering the needs for additions to the staff and for equipment, research and extension work cannot be separated from resident teaching. Although there is room for unlimited expansion, the research work of this division is on a sound basis. The work is making a healthy growth. An outstanding feature for the present year is the establishment of a field laboratory in plant pathology and entomology at Charlottesville. Several men of the research and teaching staff have recently pursued advanced studies at other institutions and have now returned to their respective departments. A number of new men with thorough training have been added to the agricultural staff. These changes should result in more effective research and better teaching.
The addition of the soil survey work as one phase of our public service should greatly strengthen the work of the agronomy department. Other departments that have been notably strengthened during the year by changes or additions to their staffs are botany and plant pathology, agricultural economics, dairy husbandry, and zoology and animal pathology. It is hoped that the many minor changes that have been made in personnel and in curricula during the year will lead to more effective teaching.
There has been a healthy growth in attendance during the last five years, and for the last year there is to be noted an increased interest in graduate study on the part of agricultural students. While the increase in enrolment has not been spectacular, it has been steady. This is true in spite of the fact that the general farming situation has not been favorable to large enrolments of agricultural students. Some of our best western institutions have suffered tremendous decreases in agricultural enrolments, while other types of students have greatly increased. The fact that we have been able to hold our own during the agricultural depression argues well for the future development of agricultural education in Virginia. In my opinion, every effort should be made to improve our graduate instruction and to secure graduate fellowships for those who desire to prepare themselves for research and teaching.
The distribution of students by curricula is encouraging. Such distribution will never be an even one, but no curriculum has been entirely neglected. There are sufficient students in each line of work to justify the curriculum. In the near future we will probably be met by a student demand for additional curricula. It is recommended that as soon as feasible a separate curriculum be established in rural sociology. This will not necessitate a change in our present organization of the department of agricultural economics and rural sociology. For administrative reasons I think this department should continue as a single unit. The two lines of work have much in common and their proper coordination can be secured better by a single head than by two heads.
It is also recommended that we carefully consider the demand for men trained especially for veterinary work, for service in the field of entomology, and agricultural chemistry. At least optional courses should be provided for students who desire to specialize in these fields.
There seems to be a rather definite demand on the part of women students for instruction in landscape gardening and floriculture. We should probably not attempt to offer a professional course in landscape gardening, but it should be possible for the horticultural students to secure sufficient instruction along these lines to qualify themselves as garden managers of large estates.
There is to be noted a gradual but distinct improvement in the quality of our staff. Most of the men are affiliated with and take an active part in the work of one or more national societies and the biological workers are well represented in the Virginia Academy of Science. The younger men are thinking seriously of more thorough preparation for their work. In the teaching of agriculture, a distinct effort has been made to secure more thorough supervision of the teaching work by heads of departments. I am of the opinion that in the teaching of applied subjects our work compares favorably with that of other institutions, but in spite of the progress that has been made there is room for further improvement in the teaching of fundamentals. I do not refer here to quality of the work, but to the fact that fundamental subjects are neglected in our agricultural curricula. I feel that all our course advisers should consider the need for more thorough courses in the fundamental sciences underlying their work. Electives should be provided in botany, zoology, entomology, mathematics and the chemistry of agriculture that will better prepare the student who desires to pursue advanced work elsewhere.
Good teaching is made difficult in applied agriculture because of the fact that most of the teaching staff divide their time with either research or extension work. Such a plan has its advantages and disadvantages. A division of effort is not always conducive to the best methodology in teaching. The pressure on the instructor for time may often render it impossible for him to give the necessary thought and continuous attention to his classes to secure best results in his teaching. On the other hand, the advantage of direct contact with the agricultural industry is of immense value to the teacher. It enables him to bring first-hand knowledge and experience in agricultural practice into the classroom and thus vitalizes the subject matter for the student. On the whole, I believe the advantages of our present system outweigh the disadvantages, but the disadvantages are sufficient to make it imperative that we insist on the most approved methods in teaching the fundamental subjects that underlie applied agriculture, and that we give to these subjects the time their importance demands. The student should have a thorough grounding in chemistry, botany and zoology if he is to become an effective agricultural worker.
Practically all the departments in this division need increased laboratory space and teaching equipment. In most cases, these needs are very pressing. The dairy department will need special equipment for its new building and the horticultural department is badly in need of a special fund for teaching equipment. The space gained by the horticultural department through the removal of the dairy department to the new building will be almost useless without additional equipment.
There is need on the part of the departments of agricultural chemistry, botany and plant pathology, and zoology and animal pathology for the development of optional courses that will permit our students to train themselves better for research and teaching. These needs naturally call for additional instructors. Provision should be made for more research in agricultural engineering, animal husbandry, and horticulture. The work in landscape gardening and floriculture demands additional instructors and an extension specialist should be provided in agricultural engineering.
Every effort should be made to develop our graduate program to the end that our students will be fitted to meet the demands for thoroughly technical men in agriculture. There is also need to develop short unit courses in the various branches of agriculture.
An adequate fund for traveling expenses that will permit our staff to attend scientific meetings and take part in their discussion is very desirable.
The agricultural library is greatly in need of additional space. The layout in the Agricultural Building is such that this problem is a difficult one to solve. It is planned to provide for the library when the Experiment Station wing is erected, but some temporary solution must be found in the meantime. There is a very increasing demand on the part of our departments for technical journals and books. These are necessary if our research workers and teachers are to do their best work.
H. L. Price, Dean of Agriculture.