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A Word from the Head...

When I first arrived at the University of Illinois, the departmental newsletter was an annual affair; it appeared like clockwork once a year, with interesting updates on activities of faculty, staff, and students, accompanied by photographs and feature stories. The clock stopped abruptly in 1984, however, and it wasn’t until 1996 that the newsletter returned. It was a high priority for me as department head to bring back the newsletter and I was happy to have succeeded in 1996. Resuming an annual production schedule, however, has proved a little more difficult than I originally anticipated. With the appearance of this 1999 newsletter, we’ve cut the time between issues down by 75%, for whatever that’s worth. It’s remarkable; with all of the innovations in desktop publishing, image digitization, word processing, e-mail, and the like, you’d think publishing an annual newsletter would be much easier these days. At times I wonder, though (as when I have to struggle interconverting Macintosh and PC formats and reconciling about four different versions of Microsoft Word), whether all of these innovations really do make life easier.

As seems to have been the case every year of my tenure as department head, most of the news since the last newsletter revolves around the plan of reorganization of the School of Life Sciences. When we last left off, two planning committees had been appointed by the Director of the School of Life Sciences, in consultation with executive officers of the six departments, and consisted of 8 or 9 faculty. These two groups met on numerous (innumerable?) occasions, both jointly and independently, throughout spring 1996 and delivered plans to the Dean for two new schools, with mission statements, curricula, strategic plans, and other sundries. A vote was supposed to have taken place May 21, 1996, but the Dean, fearing opposition from too many faculty, called it off, instead requesting refinement of the plans. Thus, the so-called Iris committee (not an acronym—just a nice, biological name for a committee, for a change) continued to meet throughout the summer, re-forming every time another member of the EEE faculty departed the campus. By early fall semester 1996 each produced a plan for a new unit—a School of Integrative Biology, structured vertically along taxonomic lines, and a School of Molecular & Cellular Biology. On September 27, 1996, ballots were distributed for a School-wide vote in which faculty were asked to endorse the plan to dissolve the School of Life Sciences and to adopt in its place the two new schools. Positive votes outnumbered negative votes by approximately a 2-to-1 margin and since that time the faculty have been acting to put these plans into effect.

As a final step in the planning process, the Dean called for an external review, in which the plan for each school was to be evaluated by a group of distinguished scholars with expertise in the subdisciplines of biology represented by each school. The recommendations of the external review team were to be used by the constituent faculty in the design of the new enterprise and by the Dean in part to determine future patterns of investment in life sciences. This external review was conducted by telephone on March 31, 1997; external reviewers included Ralph Quatrano of UNC-Chapel Hill, Peter Vitousek of Stanford, John Magnuson of University of Wisconsin, and John Hildebrand of University of Arizona. At one point, when the suggestion was made that, to fit the taxon-based structure of SIB, the Department of Entomology should become a Department of Invertebrate Zoology, John Hildebrand delivered an eloquent and passionate defense of the status quo. Fists were pumped silently around the table by entomology faculty as he spoke. News of this external review reached the outside world via a story in Science (March 14, 1997), which described in some detail our plan. A lot of people must read Science, by the way, since I’ve been contacted about our experience on several occasions by other entomology units across the country undergoing reorganization. Campus reorganizations of units containing entomology faculty prompted a Campus Forum on Entomology on March 19, at which heads of four units (Crop Sciences, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, Entomology, and Center for Economic Entomology) pledged to support the discipline.

The final report of the external review committee evidently reached the Dean some time in April; we heard nothing about it until a casual conversation I had in a parking lot in August with Associate Dean Jim Kirkpatrick caused him to realize he hadn’t heard about the final report either. Prompted to inquire, Associate Dean Kirkpatrick discovered that the final report had in fact been received and had been quite supportive of the plan for a School of Integrative Biology, with its taxon-based structure, and, most importantly for us, a Department of Entomology. With the imprimatur of external review, the Dean appointed Associate Directors for the nascent schools. We were fortunate indeed that our own Fred Delcomyn was named interim SIB director; he negotiated a guarantee of six lines over the next 3 years for SIB. The first three lines went to other units; our turn came in 1998, when we were given the opportunity to search for a molecular systematist. The only sad part of the process is that our need for a systematist arose due to the untimely death of Dr. Ellis MacLeod. He is much missed. There’s no way we can even think of replacing him—people with such encyclopedic knowledge about insects (and everything else) just don’t exist today. But the department remains dedicated to systematics and we have received applications from quite a number of outstanding individuals.

For the bulk of fall 1998, reorganization activities consisted largely of the incredibly tedious process of assembling documents for Senate and Illinois Board of Higher Education approval—new curriculum (with a new "integrative biology" major), new bylaws, and other miscellany. Although undeniably tedious, the process has become infinitely less traumatic.

In terms of personnel, as you recall from our last newsletter, we were all delighted to welcome Dr. Larry Hanks to campus on Oct. 24, 1996; his arrival was so eagerly anticipated by the community that he was the subject of television news stories and a p. 3 headline story in the CU News Gazette months before he arrived. Dr. Bettina Francis, formerly of the Institute of Environmental Studies, officially became a member of our department in January 1997. Although Bettina’s primary research focus involves effects of retinoids on vertebrate development, she has conducted a long and distinguished research program on pesticide toxicology. Along with Dr. Francis, the department acquired two courses, Pesticide Toxicology (ENT 333) and Toxic Substances in the Environment (ENT 331). The incorporation of these courses into our curriculum will certainly raise our campus profile with respect to environmental initiatives and should also expand our undergraduate base. Dr. Francis also joins Dr. Sternburg among the ranks of departmental orchid growers. Dr. Sam Beshers, formerly a USDA postdoctoral associate with Gene Robinson, has served as a lecturer in a number of capacities, teaching BIOL 346 (Animal Behavior) in fall 1996 and BIOL 120 in every subsequent semester. Dr. Beshers will also be teaching our first summer course in about 17 years—we received support from the College to offer ENT 301 (Introduction to Entomology) during summer session 1999. Other personnel changes include a promotion to full professor for both Gene Robinson (1997) and Hugh Robertson (all but certain in 1999). We’ve also been glad to add to our rank of affiliates, with Lee Solter and Ed Zaborski from the Center for Economic Entomology, and Jian-yong Li from Veterinary Pathobiology.

One other bit of personnel news goes back to 1997, when there was a review in the department, although not one involving a promotion. The campus requires that executive officers be evaluated and considered for renewal every 5 years. In that 1997 was my fifth year as head (although at times, in violation of the theory of special relativity, it seems like it’s my 25th), I was in fact reviewed. When the Dean called me in to report the results of the report, he prefaced his comments with, "If there were an ‘Incomplete List of Administrators Ranked Excellent by their Departments’ on this campus, you’d be on it." I can truthfully say that, while serving as head has not been an unremitting joy, it has been for the most part a pleasure, because of the outstanding faculty, students, and staff that make up this department. This can’t be entirely my doing; I agreed to serve as head because, after 12 years as a faculty member, I knew what a wonderful department it was. Happily, as head I haven’t done anything to change its character—it’s still a terrific outfit and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it. We send out this newsletter to keep you informed of our activities, in the hope that you, too, have pleasant memories of your time here and take pride in your connection with entomology at UIUC.

Entomology Integrative Biology University of Illinois

Updated 12/08/99