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Advisory Board continues deliberations on Food Research Institute

STANFORD -- The controversial proposal to close the Food Research Institute will receive a second hearing by the Advisory Board of the Academic Council on Dec. 1.

The Advisory Board, which will make a recommendation to President Gerhard Casper, met for the first time Nov. 17 to discuss the proposal - the first recommendation in a decade to close a degree-granting department of the university.

Meanwhile, students of the institute organized a 24- hour hunger strike, two White Plaza rallies and a petition drive in hope of saving the institute in its current, degree-granting form. Their petition, containing 1,200 signatures, including many from alumni and other leaders in international development agencies and businesses, was sent to Casper.

The faculty's Advisory Board will need at least one more meeting to deliberate before it can send its advice on the complex matter to Casper, said psychology Professor Amos Tversky, chair of the seven-member board.

Board members "feel this issue is sufficiently complicated that they wish to consider it further," said Scott Pearson, chairman of the institute, after he met briefly with the board on Nov. 17. "They hope to have a decision on Dec. 1 but they are not even guaranteeing it for that."

John Shoven, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, has recommended that the 74-year-old institute, which began granting degrees in the early 1950s, be replaced with an interdisciplinary research center that does not grant degrees itself but involves professors and students from other departments in research on food production and development problems of the Third World. A review of the institute, the dean said, led him to the conclusion that "the quality of student and faculty research would be higher in traditional disciplinary departments."

Under the proposal, nine tenured faculty still would be employed by Stanford, but four junior faculty could remain only through two more academic years unless they were offered a position in another Stanford department. Thirty-one doctoral students would be allowed to finish their degrees under the proposal, and consideration would be given to merging the master's program into another master's program in international policy studies.

Under university procedures, the decision to close a department is considered by the provost and the Advisory Board before the president weighs all arguments and reports to the Board of Trustees. Provost Condoleezza Rice already has met with faculty of the institute who oppose the dean's recommendation.

The last degree-granting department to close was the Occupational and Physical Therapy Department of the School of Medicine in 1985. The School of Nursing was closed in 1974. The speech section of the former Speech and Drama Department was eliminated in 1971, and the Department of Geography was dissolved in 1963, with some geography courses transferred to the Food Research Institute.

At a Nov. 16 rally at White Plaza, some faculty members and students criticized the review of the Food Research Institute made by Shoven with assistance from a three-member faculty advisory committee. Rolling out sleeping bags in the plaza and chanting "Save FRI" in seven languages, about 15 students began a 24-hour fast and vigil to protest the recommendation. The rally drew about 75 people.

"What we are asking for is a proper review of the department," said Professor Carl Gotsch. "We feel the procedure was poorly thought out or not thought out at all. The major issues were prejudged." Others said that it was unfair that Shoven had not identified the people who had criticized the institute during the review.

Asked later to respond, Shoven said that the institute's faculty were given a written summary of "the views expressed by roughly 20 outside experts without attribution. That level of confidentiality is always insisted upon," he said.

"The hunger strike is really to bring out people's consciousness of our work and the difference we can potentially make for eliminating poverty and hunger," said Beatriz Avalos, an institute doctoral student from Mexico, whose research on wheat fertilization practices there was interrupted when she was hired by Mexico's government to help negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and later the final stages of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. "This is an example to show how valuable what we learn here is for real-life situations that really change the destinies of countries," Avalos told those attending the rally.

The following day, a noon rally in White Plaza drew a larger crowd, with some participants carrying posters, such as one that said "No Ph.D.s = no applicants = no leadership = no brainer!"

Claude Brinegar, a retired chief executive officer of UNOCAL who earned a doctoral degree from the institute in 1954, told the crowd that his education there "taught me about economic principles, about good research, about how to succeed and it also helped greatly in my business career. It's a wonderful degree and it should not be killed." Shoven's statement about the institute not meeting Stanford's academic standards, Brinegar said, "is unfounded, is unproven, it's an insult to those of us who have been students and to those of you on the faculty."

Ben Crow, a visiting professor in Stanford's interdisciplinary program in human biology, questioned the motives for the recommendation and said the dean should "give more clear indications of what is actually proposed" as a replacement center for the Food Research Institute. Stanford's social science departments, he said, reflect the intellectual division of labor that was established in the 19th century before international development and associated environmental change were major concerns. "I want to ask, can the university assure us that the closure of FRI is not a move to reinforce the power of these old departments to police 19th-century academic boundaries?"

Scott Rozelle, an assistant professor of food research, sounded a more optimistic note. The program is not likely to be eliminated, he said he believed, because of its important mission, the quality of its graduates and young faculty, and its contribution of a financial surplus to the university.

"The Stanford community is going to rise up and say FRI has been a part of Stanford's unique mission for the past 75 years and that it will remain so in the future," Rozelle said.

Shoven said later that the recommendation is not a move back to the 19th century in his view but an attempt to look forward to the 21st. "I personally think a multidisciplinary research center is the forward- looking move," he said, adding that the future structure "needs to be flexible. I've never claimed that the transition plan is fully formed and [that] we have all the answers. I think that, as painful as it is for individuals, it is healthy for the institution to rethink structure."

Marisa Cigarroa contributed to this report.



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