October 20, 2004

Migrant Program May Switch to Ag College

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The proposed move of the Cornell Migrant Program from the College of Human Ecology to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has recently come under attack by student groups such as the Cornell Migrant Farmworker Advocacy Coalition (FAC). This controversial change is one of many made by Susan Henry, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS, as a result of the recommendations of the CMP review committee.

The University typically reviews programs such as CMP every couple of years. CMP was assigned a review committee during the 2002-2003 academic year. In its final report in June 2003, the committee recommended that the program be moved elsewhere, though there was no specification as to a better location.

Speaking for the FAC, Tony Marks-Block ’07 argued that the agriculture school is an “extension of farm and agricultural interests” and that there exists an “inherent conflict of interest” for CMP to be housed within it. Marks-Block suggested that the program would fare better somewhere other than CALS, such as in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

However, according to Prof. Max Pfeffer, development sociology and leader of the transition team for CMP, “The deans of Human Ecology, ILR and Agriculture schools all feel that CALS is a good home [for CMP].”

Pfeffer also pointed out that with the relocation to CALS, CMP can be more “balanced … [we’re] not advocating for one side or the other, we’re working together to affect [the farmworkers’] working and living conditions; I believe that the Farmworker Advocacy Coalition shares that goal as well.”

One of the other significant recommendations made by the CMP review committee included placing more emphasis on research and education for farmworkers. The 2003 report also emphasized a change in the program’s focus, saying that “in order to target farmworkers, the revised program must involve, support and recognize the important roles of farm employers…”

In reference to the committee’s recommendations, Pfeffer suggested that the program would be able to more fully address and improve the relationship farmworkers have with their employers and the community if it were housed in CALS. It would also be able to work toward its recommended purposes of “outreach, education and research.” Pfeffer added that in CALS, the program would reach across colleges and create stronger links between communities in the agricultural industry throughout the state.

“We feel the decision [to make these changes] did not take into account the best interests of farmworkers,” said Marks-Block. “It was a very biased decision.”

Marks-Block argued that the review committee interviewed growers and farmers — people who were “generally against the [program’s] work.” He said that the review committee also did not interview “influential people in migrant labor studies, many of whom are supportive of the program.”

Marks-Block added that the committee did not interview the program’s main funder, the New York State Department of Education, which has provided approximately two-thirds of CMP’s annual funding over the past few years.

When it received the news of these proposed changes to CMP, however, the NYS Department of Education immediately pulled its annual $600,000 grant out of the program.

Marks-Block pointed out that CMP had tried to get farmers and employers involved with its programs, but CMP’s funders explicitly gave money to the program for educational purposes, and thus the program did not focus on working with growers and farmers.

The CMP staff’s response to the review committee’s final report states that “the review team failed utterly to recognize that fully 95 percent of the effort of the CMP is education.”

Pfeffer explained that the transition team will be engaged in a national search for a director who will “establish a broader funding base” for CMP and will be finalizing the program’s vision in the coming weeks and months. Lisa Staiano-Coico, Ph.D. ’81, Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology, will help in guiding the team, which also answers to Henry.

“I can state confidently that Cornell has the commitment to the continuation of the Cornell Migrant Program — that commitment is shared by the university and by the deans of CALS, ILR and HE,” Pfeffer said. “They are committed to finding and hiring a new director and helping that new director with program funds … We are broadening the [program’s] scope.”

Throughout this controversy, Marks-Block insisted that “the fact that their decision wasn’t done democratically when the program was founded by the student voice … is really outrageous. The fact that there is an inherent conflict of interest if the program is placed in the agriculture school, would prevent the program to function successfully. That’s why we believe it should be placed in a different department — so that it can focus on the right things.”

Last week, the S.A. endorsed student involvement in the CMP restructuring process and agreed that CMP should be placed in a school other than CALS at Cornell. Marks-Block also pointed out that this is an important issue because 90 percent of the farmworkers are Latino and many of them are also illegal immigrants. The FAC is working with Toby Lewis ’06, minority liaison of the S.A., to set up meetings with the appropriate deans in order to resolve the issue.

Henry was unavailable for comment.

Archived article by Julie Geng
Sun Staff Writer