In the June 2008 issue of The Forestry Source, we ran an article titled "WSU to Eliminate Forestry Degree Program," which reported, "After more than a century of teaching foresters, Washington State University (WSU) announced in May that it would eliminate its undergraduate major in forestry. In that article, author Steve Wilent received comments from B. Bruce Bare, dean of the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources. Following its publication, Dean Bare submitted the following to The Forestry Source to, in his words, "add additional insight [and] complement" what the Source published.
When the University of Washington's (UW) College of Forest Resources modified its undergraduate bachelor's of science curriculum in 2003, it was faced with declining enrollments in its accredited forest management major. In addition, enrollment in six related curricula: wild land conservation, wildlife science, environmental horticulture, paper science engineering, forest engineering, and sustainable resource science also were declining. This enrollment trend is common at many other forest schools around the world. When enrollments decline and do not show signs of returning to more acceptable levels, university administrators begin to consider reallocation of university resources to "higher-demand" programs.
After much debate, our faculty elected to retain our paper science curriculum while consolidating the other six curricula into a new program-environmental science and resource management (ESRM). This is a diverse curriculum with degree options in landscape ecology and conservation, restoration ecology and environmental horticulture, wildlife conservation, and sustainable forest management. For a variety of reasons, the latter option could not be accredited under SAF's standards. However, a new professional master's degree in forest management was developed and accredited by SAF. This fifth-year degree is closely integrated with the sustainable forest management option of the ESRM bachelor's of science curriculum so, qualified students may receive both degrees in five years.
SAF accredits the first professional degree in forestry at either the bachelor's or master's level, although at some universities both degrees are accredited. Our faculty believes that offering the first professional degree at the master's level is the right option for our circumstances. We are a non-land grant research university in a large metropolitan area with a robust forest-products industry and a community with growing interests in natural resources. Coupled with the academic disciplines of our new faculty, worldwide changes in population growth, climate change, global trade, energy, and water, and the changing demands of society for sustainable forest practices, elevating the status of professional forestry education to the graduate level is in the best interests of the university, SAF, and the profession.
Forestry is not the only profession that accredits curricula at the master's level. Recently, the ABET Board approved accreditation of both bachelor's and master's programs for engineering curricula. Other professions such as law, business, and medicine have long required a master's degree (or higher) to practice their professions. Given the complexity of contemporary forestry issues, a master's degree may become the preferred future degree. At least that is the vision we are pursuing. Our more generalized bachelor's curriculum has proven attractive to a growing number of students and our accredited master's curriculum is preparing highly educated and skilled graduates who have been readily employed.
Complicating our curricular issues is the recent recommendation to eliminate the accredited bachelor's forestry program at Washington State University and the June 12 decision to form a new College of the Environment at the University of Washington. The new college was created without specifying its organizational structure or faculty composition. Thus, all existing UW degree programs, curricula, and organizational structures remain unchanged and, while discussion proceeds, the College of Forest Resources continues to function exactly as it did prior to the regents' decision.
Existing colleges and schools have the opportunity to participate with the new College of the Environment in two ways: as a core unit or as a collaborating unit. If forest resources participates as a core unit it would be converted to school-status, lose the leadership and status of a college led by a dean, and our influence on and off campus would be diminished. However, we fully expect that our graduate and undergraduate curricula and programs, our faculty and staff, and all other college resources would transfer into the new school and remain intact at least for the next few years. Our focus on forestry and natural resources would continue, but maintaining our reputation as a cutting-edge academic program would be continually challenged.
If we participate as a collaborating unit, which at the time is the preferred mode of participation by the majority of our faculty, we would remain as an independent college, build our relationships with the new college, fully participate with joint faculty appointments, and offer cross-listed classes and seminars, as well as full participation in the new environmental institute. We would also work with the new college to build new research opportunities, new initiatives that promote environmental literacy on campus, and continue to offer a full suite of natural resource curricula and programs.
Lastly, we believe that a strong partnership with the Washington State Community College System is another way to insure that the UW forestry program remains vibrant and strong. We encourage community colleges to work with us to prepare their students to enter our ESRM bachelor's of science curriculum as juniors, complete their degree requirements in two years, and complete their professional forestry education by enrolling in our SAF accredited master's degree programs in forest management or environmental horticulture.
B. Bruce Bare, Dean