Understaffed faculty causes major change

Photo by Morgan Pint

Photo by Morgan Pint

A few years ago, UMD administration considered cutting funding from UMD’s Land Lab, also known as the SAP farm. Due to student petitions the land lab was saved. However, as of two weeks ago, the continuation of the land lab is once again up in the air.

When administration agreed to keep the SAP farm, there was still funding that needed to be cut. The decision made by administration was to cut the pay of the man who started the farm.

Professor Randel Hanson, created the SAP farm back in 2009. Hanson’s position on the farm, which consisted of 500-600 hours a year, turned into a voluntary position. The work he put into the farm went unpaid and was juggled between the seven courses he then was required to teach.

“I was faced with a difficult decision,” said Hanson. “When I got my contract, it said nothing about the farm. It said only that I need to teach the maximum load, which in my case as a non-tenured track person is seven courses.”

When Hanson went to administration requesting a release of courses in order to lessen his load, he was told he should feel lucky to have a job.

“The solution was to basically take away total support for my work with the farm and that if I believed the farm should continue, I should do it on a voluntary basis,” Hanson said.

Without the farm many students would lose out on the opportunity to work and learn how to create and cultivate tools and practices for sustainable living.

“I work with literally hundreds of students throughout the year,”Hanson said. “I supervise 10-12 of them directly, as well as supervise the farm manager, and the farm can’t survive without that because I am sort of the glue.”

After his position’s pay was cut, Hanson said he was in violation of his union contract by working in an uncompensated and unsupported position.

Hanson decided his best course of action was to resign in order to support himself, his work, and his coworkers.

Hanson’s resignation has upset several students and many colleagues. They believe that Hanson was treated unfairly and was being taken advantage of.

Photo by Morgan Pint

Photo by Morgan Pint

Freshman Alaina Lawrence is a student of Hanson’s who found out about his resignation on Monday Oct. 15.

“I personally feel disrespected for Dr. Hanson,” Lawrence said.  “I don’t know anybody who is that involved on campus and then for him to just be ignored. It’s frustrating.”

Another student of Hanson’s, freshman Abby Drehmel had a similar reaction to Hanson’s resignation.

“I’m actually very saddened because I love Mr. Hanson,” Drehmel said. “He easily is one of my favorite professors. I’m frustrated because you can see his passion and you can see how much effort he has put into his students and his job and the farm.”

A second factor in Hanson’s resignation comes from the changing of major requirements and teachings for the Environmental and Sustainability courses.

Changing the Environment and Sustainability major has been under consideration for the past few years, and just this year it has been approved to move the major towards having a bigger emphasis on geography than previously required.

“There were fewer and fewer students choosing geography as a major,” Hanson said. “The program in Environment and Sustainability was very popular in CLA with 90 plus majors or something, but we only had one tenured track faculty and geographers had six. So, they out voted and decided to eliminate this major.”

This change came as a surprise to many Environment and Sustainability students. Several students complained about being lied to and feeling as if the truth of their major had been kept a secret from them.

Freshman Chloe Kruger is another student of Hanson’s who is disappointed by the change in program and the loss of Hanson as a possible future instructor.

“When I learned about it on Friday from another student who worked at the farm, I immediately felt betrayed and like I had been lied to coming to this school,” Kruger said.

Kruger explained how she was most concerned with the fact that she chose UMD for the Environment and Sustainability program and the fact that you could get right into it as a freshman.

“I found out about this and I felt like I had been lied to since I got here in August and I felt like I was still being lied to,” Kruger said.  “I’m worried about future students coming to Duluth with this idea that they’re going to be given this education on something that is valid and important and timely in this political climate, in this actual climate, in the way we need to live our live.”

Kruger said that the loss of Hanson is extremely disappointing and upsetting, but the loss of the program is even more so.

“I was extremely saddened by what had been said to us and what is being done to us without our own knowledge,” Kruger said.

Adam Pine, the associate department head of Geography and Philosophy as well as an associate professor of Geography, spoke about changing the ES major to take more of a geography stance.

“Our department has traditionally offered three degrees: a degree in geography, a degree in urban and regional studies, and a degree in environmental sustainability,” Pine said. “The dean came to us a couple years ago and said ‘you’re a small department, you’re offering three degrees, you need to consolidate those down into a smaller number of degrees.’”

According to Pine, the ES majors, the UR majors and the geography majors were all taking similar courses, but weren’t often in the same courses.

Photo by Morgan Pint

Photo by Morgan Pint

“Some of those classes were interdisciplinary and so the idea was, bring all the students into your department, that’s going to let those students interact more,” Pine said. “It was also a question of theory. In an age of climate change, let’s try to make all of our programs focus on sustainability and focus on the need for our students to understand what is going on in the environment.”

Along with changing the ES major to Environment, Sustainability and Geography (ESG), there will be new requirements to obtaining this degree, including needing a minor.

“The other part of that is that this degree would require a minor,” Pine said. “So then we would say to students, there’s a big political battle to fight, you could be a poly-Si [political science] minor, there’s a lot of communication that needs to go on about climate change, you can be a communications minor or journalism or you could go over to Swenson and be a minor in environmental science and then you can have a harder science background.”

Pine said with the major change, they hope it will give students the flexibility to decide what their focus area would be on. Pine also said that this major change is smaller than the previous degree, which will make it easier for students to graduate within four years.

According to Pine, the ES department wasn’t able to share information on the possible major change before it was approved by the board, but they were able to talk students throughout the process over the last couple of years.

“The problem was that it wasn’t approved by the board of regents until just before that incoming freshman came in so we couldn’t promote a new program before it had been approved by the regent. We were following their timeline,” Pine said.

Pine does want to assure students who came on to the original ES program that they would be supported throughout graduation and that classes for their specific major would still be offered to them.

As for the SAP farm, Pine said that he and the rest of the department know what a valued resource it is for instructors and students. They are currently working with administration on figuring out how to keep it going.

“There’s a full time farmer out there, and he’s employed through dining services, he’s continued on and the student workers out there have continued on,” Pine said.  “Randy’s [Randel Hanson] here through the end of the semester which is through the end of the growing season so we’re supporting it through the end of the growing season and we need to figure out the model for next year.”

The Bark reached out to two different union reps as well as the director of marketing and public relations Lynne Williams and received no comment.

NewsAddie Marzinske