What’s in a name? Our department has been officially called the Department of Botany and Microbiology since January 1961 — more than 50 years — but, if all goes as planned, we’re about to become the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology. Although we have a few new faculty and staff, we still have the same core of people as last year, and our goals remain the same: to promote research and scholarly endeavors in two important and rapidly changing areas of science; to communicate research progress and accumulated knowledge in an exciting and challenging manner to our graduate and undergraduate students; to develop future scientists and a scientifically knowledgeable public; and to serve as the intellectual resource for the leadership and expertise needed for responsible decision-making by governmental agencies, the business community and private citizens. So…..why change now?
Every seven years, the university requires departments to complete an Academic Program Review, a comprehensive self-study report that is evaluated by an on-campus committee, external reviewers and the university’s administrative officers. In regard to our name, one external reviewer noted that the term “botany” is antiquated. Scientific organizations such as the National Research Council provide an important window into national perspectives on nomenclature and organizational structure, and for many people in these organizations, “botany” is perceived as old-fashioned. The term “microbiology,” however, still enjoys widespread use. “Plant Biology” is a name that other units across the country have adopted and that organizations and students recognize, including students who are choosing a school for undergraduate or graduate studies and who may not recognize “botany.” This will not be the first time we have changed our name. In 1907, OU had both a Department of Botany and a Department of Pathology and Bacteriology. In 1938, these two units merged into the Department of Botany and Bacteriology. In 1942, we became the Department of Plant Sciences, which remained in place until 1961.
In terms of the overall APR, our unit seems to have passed with flying colors — we are widely recognized by our peers for excellence in teaching, research and service to our disciplines and the university. That’s not to say that we can’t improve. For instance, reviewers noted complaints from our students that laboratory equipment is often outdated or broken (we are still using microscopes from the 1960s in botany labs). Reviewers, however, also admired the fact that we have not eliminated labs, as have many science departments around the country, due to their expense. For us, it is not an option to drop the experience where students can work with and investigate living organisms. While we have great needs for our laboratories, we will not give up what we think helps distinguish our courses and department from those of other institutions. If you would like to help us retain our laboratories, please consider contributing to our Centennial Endowment fund!
Our faculty are investigating important questions related to: environmental and ecosystem function and biodiversity; food plants that can grow sustainably in changing environments; applications of biotechnological developments, biofuels and energy-related research; and individual and public health concerns - all issues important to the future of our country’s people and economy. Our faculty also are deeply involved in the education of an expanding and mobile population, recognizing the need for a technically literate citizenry and for well-trained plant and microbial biologists. Our faculty are at the cutting edge of research in microbiology, plant biology and biology education, in many cases driving the direction of research. Thus, to reflect the contemporary nature of our academic unit in terms of teaching and research, we will soon be changing our stationery, our business cards and our email valedictions. Don’t be surprised when you receive a message from the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology, but rest assured, we will be doing business as usual.
— Gordon Uno