THE CHALLENGE TO BOTANISTS
Sydney S. Greenfield
Chairman, Committee on Education, The Botanical Society of America
American education is continually beset with problems resulting from its transitional
nature, and from conflict in the aims and methods adopted to meet contemporary
needs. The extensive and accelerated changes of the past several decades have
raised many critical problems that are now subject to widespread public and
professional discussion. Although we are vitally concerned with the overall
problems, the development of botanical science in the service of American education
is of particular concern to us, and is urgently in need of our attention. In
a considerable number of institutions, botany has grown with the expansion of
the science, and of education, and is now vigorously and extensively serving
the needs of undergraduate and graduate instruction, but this development has
not been general. On the whole, botany has not kept pace with the expansion
of the other sciences, and in some cases there has been a decline if not an
elimination of botany from the curriculum. A summary of certain critical aspects
of this situation was presented in the "Report of The Committee To Study
the Role of Botany in American Colleges and Universities" at the meetings
of The Botanical Society of America at Ithaca in 1952. A limited number of copies
of this report is still available for distribution to members.
The Committee on Education of The Botanical Society of America has been studying
means whereby it might effectively promote greater appreciation and proper development
of plant science in the colleges, as well as the education of the general public
as to the importance of plants and their study to man. This will require nationwide
discussion among botanists of educational and other problems, with a view towards
development and formulation of professional policies, and plans for coordinated
Until now, a major obstacle to cooperative analysis and attempts to solve our
common problems has been the lack of an appropriate medium for intra-professional
discussions, and in this regard, the establishment of Plant Science Bulletin may well presage a new era for professional botany in this country. As scientists
we are coordinated by the A. A. A. S., and as biologists by the A. I. B. S.,
but on the next level there is urgent need for communication among plant scientists.
Under the sponsorship of The Botanical Society of America, and with proper support
and utilization, this new publication might develop into an effective coordinating
medium for all the plant sciences.
As part of the many potential uses of this bulletin, we plan to discuss various
aspects of the educational problems facing us, and at present we would like
to review the overall situation as it appears to the Committee on Education.
The problems with which we are confronted seem to fall into three general areas,
namely, education of the general public, education of the botanical profession,
and education of college and university administrators and faculties in general.
With regard to the general public, we need to stimulate and conduct presentations
of interesting news items and stories that will lead to widespread understanding
of the significance of plants and plant studies. This work should be carried
on by individuals, committees, universities, and other agencies, and should
make use of the popular press, films, radio and television. Some universities
and botanical gardens are already engaged in this, and their work should be
reported and discussed in this bulletin in order to stimulate greatly expanded
activity in this field.
Within the botanical profession we need to have widespread discussion of objectives
and of improving methods in botany and biology teaching, and in this Plant Science
Bulletin will be very valuable. Conferences and symposia on biology teaching
should be held in the Teaching Section, and at various local meetings. We need
to exchange information on what we are doing in the various colleges, and together
formulate standards and goals for plant science in various curricula. Certain
universities could act as centers for work with colleges, teachers colleges,
and high schools in their respective localities. Botanists should be stimulated
to study aims, objectives, and methods, and to contribute articles to various
educational journals to improve and expand the services of plant science in
biology and general education programs.
Much work needs to be done with regard to educational administrators and college
faculties. After thoroughly discussing the problems among ourselves, we need
to evolve and publish criteria for evaluating biological and botanical programs
with regard to content, method, and professional preparation of personnel. Fundamentally,
we need to work out standards and goals to provide information that will be
useful to the regional accrediting associations in evaluating colleges of various
kinds, and in encouraging them to improve. We might also set forth conditions
which we regard as unsatisfactory to aid them in looking for faults in need
of correction. However, our standards should not be in terms of minimum conditions
required for accreditation, but rather in terms of ideal goals towards which
colleges should be encouraged to develop. The emphasis in the accrediting agencies
is definitely on gradual, encouraging, positive and constructive action, rather
than merely on police action. We need to work out standards for botany (Continued
on page three)
Plant Science Bulletin, which is to be a quarterly publication of the Botanical
Society of America, is getting off to a late start, an unfortunate condition
which results from pressures of many sorts upon its Editor: an extraordinarily
heavy teaching load, his function as Treasurer of the Botanical Society of America,
his inexperience in editorial work, and the concomitant necessity of his education
in matters journalistic, and heavy participation in the activities of academic
bureaucracy--committee work, doctoral examinations, etc. For the delay in smashing
the champagne bottle upon the prow of Plant Science Bulletin, the editor is
appropriately apologetic; he promises that no further delays will beset Plant
Science Bulletin during his editorship.
As a prelude to his charting the course of Plant Science Bulletin, the Editor
invited comments and suggestions from members of the Society concerning the
editorial and publication policies of our new organ. Suggestions received from
about one-fifth of our total membership of approximately 1850 indicated the
following convictions of the respondents:
1. Although Plant Science Bulletin may duplicate in part the functions of the AIBS Bulletin, it can nevertheless perform a unifying function among plant scientists
and thus is deserving of an adequate trial period.
2. The Bulletin should carry no commercial advertising, although it might appropriately
carry paid personal advertisements of a brief nature concerning job vacancies,
botanists available for jobs, books and journals for sale by members of the
Botanical Society of America, etc.
3. Each number of the Bulletin should include one feature article of general
interest to plant scientists on some plant science subject. Such articles should
not be reports of research but should rather bear upon the importance of botany
and related plant sciences in education, in industry, in governmental agencies,
and in the national defense, with emphasis upon the derivative nature of applied
science in relation to pure science.
4. The Bulletin should include a section devoted to personalia: retirements,
deaths, promotions, honors, etc.
5. The Bulletin should carry occasional articles
of a "recent advances" and summarizing type in various fields of Botany
and related sciences.
6. The Bulletin should publish occasional articles on non-academic careers and
positions available to professional botanists.
7. The Bulletin should function in part as a clearing house for research requests
and aids--specimens and materials wanted and available, information about who
is doing what, etc.
8. The Bulletin might make an important contribution to the teaching of botany
by including papers on course organizations, visual aids, examinations, demonstration
10. The Bulletin should include notices concerning special fellowships and assistantships
(other than the usual graduate school fellowships and assistantships offered
by colleges and universities) , exchange teaching and research appointments,
and related matters.
In addition to these often mentioned suggestions, the Editor received many
other suggestions for topics suitable for Plant Science Bulletin. Among these
are: botany in relation to food technology, anniversaries of special events
in botanical history, biographies of noted botanists, foreign botanical activities,
notes on plant curiosities, news of conservation activities, information concerning
expeditions, academic freedom of scientists, tenure and salaries of botanists,
information on greenhouse construction and operation, exposure of superstition
and quackery about plants, availability of special lecturers on botanical subjects,
The Editorial Board, after consideration of the responses to the Editor's appeal
for suggestions, has decided that Plant Science Bulletin should emphasize those
topics in the numbered list above, since these were mentioned most often by
our members who sent their opinions to the Editor. This does not imply, of course,
that the editorial topics of Plant Science Bulletin will be limited to these
subjects. Members should feel free at any time to suggest to the Editor or to
any member of the Editorial Board additional items for possible publication
in Plant Science Bulletin.
In accordance with this general policy statement of the Editorial Board, the
Board and the Editor invite members of the Society to submit manuscripts, news
items, and other materials to the Editor for possible publication in Plant Science
Bulletin. The Board has agreed further that all manuscripts submitted to the
Editor should be read and approved by the Editor and two members of the Editorial
Board as a prerequisite to publication of such manuscripts. The Editor will
receive for publication personal advertisements concerning job vacancies, job
availability, and botanical books, journals, and specimens for sale by members
of the Society at a cost of $1.00 for three lines, with an added charge of $0.50
per line for additional lines, the total number of lines not to exceed ten.
The Editor further will accept institutional subscriptions and subscriptions
from nonmembers of the Society at $2.00 per year per subscription.
All manuscripts, news items, personal advertisements, and other items submitted
to Plant Science Bulletin should be addressed to Harry J. Fuller, Editor, Plant
Science Bulletin, 203 Natural History Bldg., University of Illinois, Urbana,
(Continued from page one)
as a plant science group, but in regard to general biology we shall need to
work cooperatively with the zoologists. Many of the problems we face reflect
in part the urgent need to improve American education in general, but the situation
with regard to botany is somewhat worse than that which obtains in comparable
subjects. There are several factors that contribute to this special retardation,
among which are:
1. The manner in which general biology has developed. The development of general
biology as plant and animal science, cooperatively planned and taught by botanists
and zoologists is proper and fitting in view of the composite nature of the
course, and it has resulted in a number of excellent situations, but unfortunately
this has not occurred in the majority of institutions. In many places, general
biology is mostly zoology, taught mainly by zoologists. This has had widespread
repercussions in the failure to hire botanists where needed, and in the neglect
of plants in biology courses, with a consequent decline in the election of botany
courses by those who might have majored in the field as well as by prospective
teachers. Thus the detrimental effects of the neglect of plant science in biology
courses and programs are multiplied and extended to graduate schools, to other
colleges and junior colleges, to the teachers colleges, and thereby to the lower
schools. This would seem to be our basic problem in the colleges. An administrator
who does not know the different kinds of biologists or why both botanists and
zoologists need to be equally involved in biology courses will think nothing
wrong of hiring "biologists" to teach "biology" even though
these are all zoologists. It is our responsibility to clarify the issues here
and to define biology, especially for those who think it is a synonym for zoology.
Where a biology department exists instead of separate botany and zoology departments,
there may be some decline in enrollment and therefore a smaller staff. That
in some cases the decrease should be entirely at the expense of botany with
the practical result of having only a zoology department under the misleading
title of biology is a development we cannot afford to ignore. We need to see
to it that we have adequate botanical representation in all "biological"
organizations. In the colleges, we must insist on equal partnership between
botanists and zoologists in the planning and teaching of general biology courses.
This does not mean that a college must have equal numbers of plant and animal
scientists, for the requirements of the elective courses will vary. With regard
to the botany electives, their number and the institutional support they receive
will depend on local factors as well as on the quality of the teaching and the
nature of the botany courses: The responsibility for improving the courses and
the teaching rests with us.
2. Apathy or even antagonism on the part of some botanists to enter into general
biology or general education programs has resulted in inadequate treatment of
plant science in these courses. We must aim to see that plant science plays
its proper role in all pertinent curricula and that we do our share of the planning,
teaching, and textbook writing.
3. The acceptance of mediocre students by some graduate schools and our neglect
in encouraging enough dynamic and energetic young men to enter the profession
has resulted in some shortage of teachers who are able to maintain and advance
plant science education. This is probably true in other fields as well, but
a number of botanists have expressed a desire for widespread study of this problem
with a view towards improving standards and encouraging more able young people
to become botany teachers.
4. Until recently, there has been a serious lack of sharing knowledge of how
to cope with changing conditions and educational problems. Plant Science Bulletin should be very valuable in providing the means for a nationwide exchange of
The progress of botany and botanists in every biology and botany department
would seem to be of interest to all of us, and it is clearly our professional
responsibility to try to improve conditions wherever we can. In a number of
cases, botanists as individuals or in groups have helped botany departments
or individuals in difficult situations. Probably most of such work should be
done this way, without publicity, but it will require a wider understanding
among botanists as to their responsibilities and the proper procedures.
If botany declines because of poor teaching, we need to improve the teaching.
If good teachers have difficulties, we need to help them with information, guidance,
or even visitation where desirable. If a botany department deteriorates, we
should try to help it recover. If botanists are not employed in fair representation
in general biology, we need to see that those responsible understand the composite
nature of the field of biology, and what is sound academic procedure, but we
will also have to be able to recommend good teachers for jobs. If poor or unsatisfactory
conditions exist due to a lack of understanding of proper procedures, then by
considered and tactful educational campaigns we should be able to stimulate
improvement in many places.
The problems with which we are confronted in plant science education are exceedingly
complex and difficult. It is easy to rebel against difficult situations and
to act in anger, but this helps very little, and may cause harm. It is also
easy to submit to difficult predicaments, but this inevitably leads to despair
and worsening conditions. Faced with the seemingly impossible, some botanists
have been outspoken for each of these approaches, with some confused rationalization
by both the belligerent and the "ostrich-minded." The wisdom of experience
dictates neither the anger of rebellion nor the despair of submission, but rather
a calm and realistic acceptance of any situation, however bad, with dedicated
resolution to work towards solving the problems and improving conditions.
We are faced with tremendous problems in improving plant science education
and American education in general, and whether as botanists or university professors
we can meet the challenge is questionable. But as we
realize how vital the improvement of education is to our civilization, let
us resolve that botanists shall take a leading part in this work.
The Botanical Society of America has lost the following members through death
since January 1, 1954:
Allan, Charles E., University of Wisconsin; Bailey,
Liberty Hyde, Cornell University; Blakeslee, Albert F.,
Smith College; Brown, Forest H. H., Honolulu, Hawaii; Campbell,
D. H., Stanford University; Coker, William C., University
of North Carolina; Domin, Karel, Prague, Czechoslovakia (corresponding
member); Fassett, Norman C., University of Wisconsin; Fritsch,
F. E., Cambridge, England (corresponding member); Poindexter,
John, Occidental College; Rosenberg, Otto, Stockholm,
Sweden (corresponding member); Shull, George H., Princeton
University; Spoehr, Herman A., Carnegie Institute of Washington,
Stanford, Calif.; Sponsler, O. C., 15053 Sutton, Sherman Oaks,
Calif.; Stadler, Lewis J., U. S. D. A., University of Missouri; Stares, Karlis, 5870 Sunset Lane, Indianapolis, Ind.; Tucker,
C. M., University of Missouri.
John R. Laughnan, Professor of Farm Crops, University of Missouri,
has been appointed chairman of the Department of Botany, University of Illinois,
to succeed Oswald Tippo, present chairman of the Department
of Botany and Dean of the Graduate College, University of Illinois, who has
resigned to become chairman of the Department of Botany, Yale, University, on
September 1, 1955.
Dr. William C. Steere, Editor of the American Journal of Botany,
Professor of Botany at Stanford University, and Program Director for Systematic
Biology of the National Science Foundation for 1954-1955, has been appointed
Dean of the Graduate Division of Stanford University, effective September 1,
1955. Before winding up affairs of his NSF post, Dr. Steere is going to Chile
for two months, to do what he has not divulged. We fear that this may mean the
selection of a new editor for the American Journal of Botany, although we hope
that we are wrong in this assumption. Dr. Steere left the chairmanship of the
Department of Botany at the University of Michigan in 1950 to join the Stanford
faculty. Congratulations, Dean!
Sociological note: a nationally circulated magazine has recently quoted Dean Edmund W. Sinnott of Yale University to the effect that the
time and energy wasted on bridge playing might be put to use if they were diverted
to amateur scientific pursuits such as bird-banding, tree-ring analysis, and
exchanging specimens of Coleoptera or records of meteorite showers. What the
The work of the Treasurer's office would be greatly reduced if members of the
Society would: 1. Pay their annual dues before February 1st of each calendar
year (the list of delinquent members for 1955, to be sent to the Business Manager
of the American Journal of Botany on April 1st, contains the names of 191 members,
11 % of our total membership). 2. Be certain that their checks are made out
in the correct sum; between December 1, 1954, and March 15, 1955, the Treasurer
has received 41 checks made out in the wrong sum; each of these necessitates
a letter from the Treasurer to the guilty member and an exchange of checks).
3. Send their address changes promptly to the Treasurer, who will then immediately
notify the Business Manager and Editor of the American Journal of Botany, the
Secretary, and the AIBS mailing office in Washington of these changes. 4. Notify
the Business Manager of the Journal of irregularities in the receipt of numbers
of the American Journal of Botany.
Active members of the Society who are about to retire from their positions
should write to the Treasurer concerning retired membership status and its privileges.
Members who wish to aid in gaining new members of the Society may write to
the Treasurer or to the Secretary, who will be glad to send application forms
in any desired quantity.
DARBAKER PRIZE IN PHYCOLOGY
Dr. Leasure K. Darbaker, a physician of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, who was
for many years a member of the Botanical Society of America and who died in
1952, bequeathed funds to the Society to provide an annual sum (to be known
as the Darbaker Prize) for a "grant or grants in Microscopical Algae."
The sum available to the Society annually will approximate $150.00. The award
or awards will be made annually by a committee of the Society; the present Committee
on The Darbaker Prize consists of William Randolph Taylor, chairman, Harold
C. Bold, John D. Dodd, Ruth Patrick, and Gilbert M. Smith. The Committee will
base its judgement primarily on papers published by candidates during the last
two full calendar years previous to the closing date for nominations. Nominations
for the 1955 award accompanied by a statement of the merits of the case and
by reprints supporting the candidacy should be sent to Professor William Randolph
Taylor, Department of Botany, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, not
later than April 15, 1955. Announcements of the 1955 winner (or winners) of
the Darbaker Prize will be made at the annual meeting of the Society at Michigan
State College, East Lansing, in September, 1955.