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Karl Guenther Column: Legacy Challenged


There’s an occasion being observed right now, that’s on the front page of at least one newspaper, and it does involve politics and policy-making, but it has nothing to do with the Presidency of the United States.  As we consider “front page”, we think in terms of Michigan Farm News, and we scan the front page, “above the fold” photo and caption.  My late October Komment welcoming the new dean of MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), expressed the hope that the new directions of CANR, and particularly Cooperative Extension would meet with at least some approval within the agricultural community.  I reflected on the agitated voices I heard from the general delegation of the Michigan Farm Bureau in annual session a year ago.
Well, dean Fred Poston doesn’t take over until January, and the 2012 Farm Bureau annual  will have taken place by then and I ‘m betting Dean Poston will have all manner of briefing papers with which to entertain himself.
The caption under the aforementioned picture tells a good part of the story, in that it speaks to the concerns of those who believe the Pioneer Land Grant College in the nation, has lost sight of it mission, or at least part of it. The caption reads: “The End of a Legacy sale at MSU . . . . . .56 head of cattle  . . . Sold at auction . . . . . Shipped all over the U.S. And Canada.” The cattle - - MSU’s purebred Herefords, grossed $408,475.
“It was a sad day for MSU and the beef industry in general” according to Kevin Wernette, president of the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association.  That sadness,  by the way, extends to a couple of devoted and highly regarded (within the beef business) faculty people who have nowhere to go, that we know of.  The herefords are gone, and so are they.
Ernie Birchmeier of Michigan  Farm Bureau laments the loss of the knowledge and teaching capability of Ken Guens and Cody Sankey.  He goes on to say that to force out good people because of union rules baffles farmers, who know very well the union way is not the farmer way  Now to Janice Swanson, chairman of the MSU department of animal science.  Referring to the two laid off faculty people, she says “I can’t select managers based on their talents.This is a heavily unionized campus, and I can’t say whether one person is more valuable than another.  It has to do with years of service, which union they belong to, and other rules we have to follow”
Maybe Doug Buhler, interim dean at CANR, has encapsulated the whole thing.  He says, MSU’s legacy as a land grant institution of course means it must remain committed to agriculture.  But that doesn’t mean a university farm can be run like a farm.”  Well - maybe that says it.

Karl Guenther is a retired farm broadcaster at WKZO and can be reached atkhguenther@charter.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.