February 8, 2005

Migrant Program Seeks Director

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A search committee, led by Prof. William Camp, education, is looking to hire a director for the Cornell Migrant Program (CMP). The decision was made last spring by the deans of CHE and CALS to terminate the existing CMP in the College of Human Ecology and create a new one housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This move has been met with mixed responses of both approval and resistance from groups on and off campus.

The search committee is accepting applications from candidates through February. The new director must be fluent in Spanish and will be expected to determine the needs of migrant, seasonal and year-round workers.

Other responsibilities will include the formation an advisory board composed of farm workers, farmers and other stake holders, collaboration with faculty and programs in other colleges as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the development of funding and information sources for farm workers as well as outreach and extension programs.

“We are basically giving this [new director] a chance to build a whole new program in response to the new issues facing migrant farm workers,” Camp said.

He would like to have a new director chosen by the end of the school year. He said that students are involved by providing input for the search process.

Prof. Max Pfeffer, development sociology, has led a transition team to develop the vision statement and job description for the director of the Cornell Migrant Program. This vision for the new program is to do research to help farm workers, their employers and their communities.

According to Pfeffer, the new program will have more of a research focus, while expanding the program to address the needs of farm workers, employers and communities, rather than solely farm workers.

He said, “Cornell can play an important role in providing a common ground for different groups to come together to deal with issues of farm workers.”

Linda McCandless, CALS director of communications, said CALS is one of the best places for CMP because the college already has programs in place that are equipped to address the needs of farm workers, such as sociology, worker and food safety, education and farm management.

One of the populations the program needs to serve is the employers, who need to improve skills in managing farm labor.

“We’re very excited that Cornell is moving forward to finding a new director,” said Peter Gregg, spokesman for New York Farm Bureau.

“There are a lot of farmers going to local community colleges to learn Spanish. We’re hoping that CMP could provide training to help farmers and farm workers communicate and work better together,” Gregg said.

Gregg also talked about the former CMP, saying that “We’ve always seen [CMP] as an important program, but we didn’t agree that a tax-payer subsidized program should be lobbying.”

According to Herb Engman, senior extension associate of human development and the former director of the Cornell Migrant Program for 30 years, the new director will face some opportunities and challenges.

One opportunity is that the University is putting more money into the program as well as more emphasis on getting people from other colleges and programs involved. A major challenge is that many of the main farm worker advocacy organizations will not continue to work with CMP, which could be a problem for doing research. He said that these organizations have been vital in the past for doing good research because they are able to gain the trust of farm workers. In the past, we helped a lot of research on migrant farm workers get done at Cornell, one way was by helping researchers get access to farm workers, which we did through farm worker agencies.

Cornell’s Farm Worker Advocacy Coalition has been in contact with farm worker advocacy groups and the administration.

“The new director will have a lot of responsibility and is going to be up against a lot when none of the advocacy groups want to deal with the program.” said Tony Marks-Block ’07, president of Farm Worker Advocacy Coalition. “I feel like our voices have been marginalized, they let us know what they’re doing, but we’re not part of the decision making process and don’t have voting power on the hiring committee,” said Marks-Block. He also said, “We don’t feel that in the past CALS has had healthy relationship with migrant workers.”

Though the deans of College of Human Ecology and CALS decided to move the Cornell Migrant Program to CALS last spring, there are still questions about the move. Jordan Wells ’07, a member of the Cornell group Farm Worker Advocacy Coalition, said, “The new program has utterly lost the trust of the farm worker advocacy community.” He said that the timing gives it away, that it was only after the move was announced that the New York State Department of Education pulled more than $600,000 of grants from the program.

Richard Witt, executive director of farm worker advocacy organization Rural Migrant Ministry, said “I think that Rural Migrant Ministry, as well as all of the other farm worker advocacy agencies, are very much against this whole search. We think it’s outrageous that the old program was shut down and that the administration caved in to agribusiness.”

He added, “We do not support this effort or new program as long as it is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. A program in a college with such close ties to agribusiness can in no way serve and protect farm workers and their needs, it’s like having the fox guard the henhouse.” He said, “There was no justification for ending the old program; it was working, meeting its mandate and serving farm workers.”

Archived article by By VANESSA HOFFMAN
Sun Staff Writer