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Casper supports plans to close FRI and merge two engineering programs

STANFORD -- When President Gerhard Casper on Jan. 11 announced his support for plans to shut down the Food Research Institute and merge two small departments in the School of Engineering, he reiterated a theme he raised in his first State of the University address.

"As I said . . . in 1993, 'This effort [to re-configure or terminate academic activities when appropriate] will not be undertaken as a crash initiative, but by means of a steady re-examination of everything we are doing,'" he said.

Casper's statement, and his announcement regarding measures to close the Food Research Institute - the first closing of an academic department in about 20 years - and merge Operations Research with Engineering-Economic Systems, coincided with the underlying tenor of a new report that was delivered to the Faculty Senate on the same day.

The report, authored by a faculty planning committee, contains 15 recommendations for keeping the university innovative in an era of budgetary constraints and no faculty growth. The first recommendation on the list calls for periodic departmental reviews by visiting committees that could lead to "the termination or merging of the department, as well as expansion."

At the same time, the report says recent experiences with departmental mergers and closures indicate a need to develop guidelines on mergers and closures "that provide both for the flexibility of the administration to modify organizational structures and for the protection of the rights of faculty, staff and students."

Despite protests from students and alumni of the Food Research Institute, the Advisory Board of the Academic Council last month accepted a recommendation by Dean of Humanities and Sciences John Shoven to close the institute as a degree-granting department and to transfer some of the institute's programs to a new center within the Institute for International Studies.

"Re-examination of this sort, of course, sometimes leads to difficult choices, choices that understandably make some unhappy," Casper said at the senate. "Nevertheless, Stanford must respond to changing conditions and future challenges for the good of the university as a whole."

The fate of the 75-year old institute - one of the few in the country that studies agricultural and economic issues in Third World countries - now rests with the university's Board of Trustees, who will meet next month. The trustees also will make the final decision on the merger of Operations Research with Engineering-Economic Systems, which has received full backing from faculty in both departments.

FRI's departmental review was triggered in part because several faculty members were nearing retirement age. Casper, in a statement read to the Faculty Senate (See For the Record), concurred with Shoven's conclusion that revitalizing the institute would be costly and that its work could be better carried out by the new center.

Institute director Scott Pearson and other FRI supporters opposed this view. They claimed that the closure will cost the university at least $600,000 annually, primarily from the loss of tuition from master's students. The institute currently has nine tenured faculty, four junior faculty, 31 doctoral students and 48 master's students. It has an endowment of $12 million plus four endowed faculty chairs.

FRI supporters also disputed statements questioning the institute's academic quality. They pointed out that in recent years, graduates have received prestigious grants, faculty hires have been in the top of their fields and many alumni of the institute command leadership positions in international development agencies and businesses.

Pearson, who led the effort to retain the institute, all but conceded that the institute's closure was a done deal when he learned of the advisory board's decision last month to accept Shoven's proposal. He is in Indonesia on a research project and could not be reached for comment on the president's recommendation.

While the recommendation still requires final approval from the Board of Trustees, Dean of Graduate Policy George Dekker and food research Associate Professor Jeffrey Williams began meeting with doctoral students to plan their transition.

Of the six first-year doctoral students that were enrolled at FRI, Williams said, two have transferred to the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California-Berkeley, two have moved to Stanford's economics department, one has moved to the engineering-economic systems department here and another has entered Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Of the 10 second-year doctoral students, he said, three have moved to the economics department and seven have chosen to continue their work at FRI until it closes. The remaining, more advanced students, also have chosen to continue their studies of FRI, Williams said.

"It's not an ideal circumstance for second-years, but they have concluded that there really isn't much flexibility for them to go elsewhere. Their viability depends on getting good dissertation support and that depends on the faculty," he said.

Tenured faculty basically have three options, Williams said. They can move to another department, move to the Institute for International Studies or assume an independently managed professorship.

"As far as I know," he said, "no one has yet settled on where at Stanford they will be. Junior faculty, by the nature of things, must be leaving sooner than later," although they can stay, if they wish, through 1997-98.



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