September 27, 2005

Migrant Program's Director Settles In

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Mary Jo Dudley MA ’96, who was chosen to head the Cornell Migrant Program (CMP) three weeks ago, is still settling into her new position.

Dudley has yet to decorate her sparcely furnished office in Warren Hall. With her computer still on-order, she checks her email infrequently and scribbles notes on a steno pad.

How many individuals comprise the CMP’s paid staff today? “One,” Dudley said. “Me.”

Dudley, like the program she heads, is transitioning. Last year, after an extensive internal review by an intercollegiate taskforce, administrators announced that the CMP should return to its first home, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The international search for a new director began in February.

Prof. Susan A. Henry, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, agreed with the taskforce’s recommendations, and followed them.

“CALS has programs in food science, development sociology, Applied Economics and Management, Animal Sciences, Horticulture, Integrated Pest Management, and Education that already serve farm workers, their communities, and their employers,” Henry told The Sun. “We expect to build on our strengths and collaborate further with colleagues in the College of Human Ecology, Industrial and Labor Relations, and Cornell Cooperative Extension.”

Several campus constituencies, including the Farmworkers Advocacy Coalition (FAC), opposed the taskforce’s suggestions and the administration’s decision to follow-through with them. They argued that the review was not conducted democratically, and took issue with the agriculture college’s ties to agribusiness. If the CMP had to relocate, the FAC argued, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations would be a more appropriate choice.

In March, the student-led group portended the CMP’s “death” in a mock funeral staged in Anabel Taylor Chapel.

Unfazed, Henry appointed a search committee, which Prof. William G. Camp, education, chaired.

With Camp’s encouragement and Henry’s approval, two student representatives from the FAC, Jordan S. Wells ’07 and Felipe Castillo ’07, joined faculty members from the agriculture, human ecology, and ILR colleges, and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The search committee then actively solicited applications from around the world.

“We took the position description that we came up with last year, and sent it out to everybody we could think of,” Camp said. “We really got the word out.”

Once the search committee decided on four candidates, Camp took their dossiers and applications to Henry for her endorsement. During their invited visits, the applicants sat down with faculty, farmers, farmworkers, and the committee’s membership. In addition, they gave public presentations.

“We went way out of our way to see that all the stakeholders were there, and we had good representation from all kinds of groups,” Camp said.

Afterward, each met with Henry, who promised her support.

“While they were on campus, I personally interviewed each candidate,” Henry wrote. “I assured them I supported the Cornell Migrant Program, and that the CMP was important to the College.” On Sept. 9, the University announced Dudley’s appointment. The search committee found its ideal candidate in its own backyard. Dudley, who has been in Ithaca for 15 years, grew up in upstate New York.

Camp believes that the search process went well.

“I was very pleased with the way the search went,” Camp said. “And I felt very good about the decision.”

Henry is also pleased with the how Camp’s committee functioned, and with its choice.

“I am confident that Mary Jo Dudley can provide the kind of leadership the Cornell Migrant Program needs to sponsor, conduct and disseminate research that contributes to the improvement of the living and working conditions of migrant, seasonal and year-round farmworkers and their families,” Henry wrote.

Dudley, who studied at Hartwick College as an undergraduate, came to Cornell in 1990 as the associate director of the Latin American Studies Program, a position she held until 2004. Before she moved to Ithaca, Dudley did extensive service work, some of it with farmworkers, domestically and abroad.

The committee determined early-on that the next CMP director should be fluent in Spanish. Dudley easily satisfied the requirement: she is a polyglot, fluent in both Spanish and Italian, and proficient in three other languages.

During her tenure at Cornell, Dudley has conducted graduate work in city and regional planning, and continues to work toward the department’s Ph.D. requirements.

In her first few weeks on the job, Dudley has been busy with meetings and planning. She is working on a farmworkers’ needs assessment and is recruiting members to several advisory councils.

Dudley and the FAC, with whom she has already met twice, are organizing a public forum on October 26, in 401 Warren Hall.

Maria Bruno ’07, co-president of the FAC, has been impressed with Dudley thus far.

“After speaking to her, [Dudley] seems very motivated to do a good job with the Cornell Migrant Program,” said Bruno. “She does have a very good background with migrant farmers.”

Cristina Hilo ’07, Bruno’s co-president, also appreciates Dudley’s qualifications and enthusiasm. She stresses that, in the wake of last spring’s restructuring, Dudley is the CMP.

“Right now she is alone, and her job is very time-consuming, because she has to start this program again practically from scratch,” Hilo said.

As such, Dudley is working diligently to build a coalition on campus and in the community.

“There is a lot to be done, but we need to figure out what are the highest priorities, and what the niche is for Cornell,” Dudley said.

Although many organizations support farmworkers domestically, few benefit from such a strong connection to an academic institution.

The CMP’s link to researchers and thinkers in Cornell’s many colleges, Dudley said, makes it stand out from its peers.

Although the human ecology college is no longer the CMP’s chief institutional steward, Dudley emphasizes that its continued involvement remains vital.

“The committee recommendation was to move the Cornell Migrant Program to CALS with joint leadership provided by Human Ecology and Cornell Cooperative Extension,” Dudley said. “The idea is to refocus the program and try to find a way to increase ties with faculty and students. We’re trying to build a broad base of support across Cornell’s campus.”

Dudley seems particularly happy with how many among the agriculture college’s faculty have embraced the CMP’s move.

“I think that the beauty of being in CALS is that there are different faculty doing related work who want to collaborate,” Dudley said.

For example, Profs. Elizabeth A. Bihn and Robert B. Gravani, food science, have studied sanitation problems among children who live on farms, and have created an activity book, which the two professors have packaged with crayons, a washcloth, and hand soap. Prof. Max J. Pfeffer, development sociology, and Pilar A. Parra, lecturer in the Latino Studies Program and research associate in nutritional science, are focusing on migrant farmworkers’ community interactions.

Founded as the Agricultural Manpower Project in 1971, the Cornell Migrant Program moved to the College of Human Ecology, and got its present name, in 1979.

Although its programming has adapted to farmworkers’ changing needs, the CMP’s overarching mission has remained relatively constant since it was founded: to improve migrant farmworkers’ living and working conditions through active dialogue with activists, advocates, agricultural interests, the greater Cornell community, and farmworkers themselves.

Dudley, who was on campus last spring, is aware of the debate that surrounded the CMP and her hiring, yet she remains optimistic. She stressed that the organization’s importance cannot be underestimated, and that it must stay true to its purpose.

“I think that, in terms of the controversy, what’s important is that we’re finding areas where we can come together,” Dudley said. “The real focus is fa

Bruno, Hilo, and the group they head, agree, and are also approaching the CMP’s move and reorganization as proactively as they can.

“We feel like the program has been compromised with the loss of staff and funding,” Hilo said. “The transition has hampered the continuity of the program.”

“But at this point, we don’t feel like it’s in the best interests of anybody to fight the Cornell Migrant Program” Bruno added. “What’s done is done, basically. [The CMP’s] going to be in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, so, we think it would be better to work with them. We’re not going to fight with Mary Jo. We’re going to work with her as best we can.”

Archived article by David Gura
Sun Senior Writer