UC Davis Department of Nematology

Rev:  01/01/2020



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A Brief Soliloquy on Nematodes and Nematology

(A Rationale for Departmental and Disciplinary Sovereignty)


Howard Ferris, February 23, 1998


Some Considerations:

Department and Discipline:

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Recent History

The 1983 USDA-CSRS Review

A very significant event occurred in 1983. That was a USDA-CSRS review of nematology statewide in California. The request for a review was initiated by the administration at UC Davis as a basis for deciding the future of the program on that campus. However, Van Gundy and others at UC Riverside suggested that the future of nematology at Davis should be reviewed in the context of the statewide program and priorities.

The review team consisted of:

Extensive data on personnel, history and programs were assembled on both the Davis and Riverside departments. The team traveled to key locations in the state and interviewed administrators, representatives of the agricultural industry, and faculty at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Riverside, and the Kearney Agricultural Center. On the last day of the review, the team provided an oral summary report in a meeting at UC Riverside. That meeting was attended by Dean Charles E. Hess Executive Associate Dean Calvin Qualset from the Davis campus, and most of the faculty from both departments.

The review team recommended that a strong presence in Nematology was necessary at UC Davis to support research, extension and teaching needs in the state.

The Regrowth and Redirection Years: 1985-1990

Dean Hess acted on the recommendations of the CSRS Review Panel and conducted an international search for a new chair of the Division. Howard Ferris who transferred from UC Riverside in May, 1995 filled that position.

Ferris accepted the position upon assurance by the dean that the positions vacated by retirement of Lear (Plant Pathology) and Lownsbery would be returned to the unit and that at least on new position would created, that some additional space would be allocated, and reorganization of the unit as a department would be supported. Dean Hess proved true to his commitments and Drs. Bruce Jaffee and Becky Westerdahl were hired in 1986.

One of the program priorities of the department was to establish a program in molecular biology. That was seen as a vehicle to address application of the emerging technology in understanding the host-parasite interaction, engineering host-plant resistance, and capitalizing on the dramatic advances being made with Caenorhabditis elegans. While the Dean accepted the rationale for the program he was only willing to commit half the funding for a position. He indicated that the department should find the balance of the funds from within its current budget. Ferris considered that such redirection would have a negative impact on existing programs and would adversely affect morale in the unit, so no immediate moves were made.

Space additions to the department consisted of two laboratories formerly occupied by the Department of Avian Sciences at the east end of the 4th floor of Hutchison Hall, and the small laboratory formerly occupied by Bert Lear in Plant Pathology. The department was also able to acquire three offices in the bridge between Storer and Hutchison halls that were occupied by the Statewide Pesticide Coordinator and staff. The College provided funds for remodeling of laboratory space for Dr. Jaffee.

By 1987 Nematology separated from Entomology and was granted departmental status as the Department of Nematology as it remains to date.

Not everything was positive of the space front, however. By 1987 there had been considerable growth in the biochemistry and molecular biology components of the Plant Pathology program, primarily located on the 5th floor of Hutchison Hall. Plant Pathology successfully argued, in the interests of program consolidation, for the transfer of the laboratory occupied by Dr. Viglierchio on that floor. The only space of equivalent size that could be identified was headhouse 632 at Orchard Park. That space was being used essentially for storage by the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. Dean Hess provided funding for remodeling and upgrade of the space to accommodate Viglierchio's program.

The forced move of Dr. Viglierchio to the Orchard Park headhouse resulted in physical fragmentation of the unit. Ferris successfully made the case with Dean Hess that the negative impression regarding the administration's support of Nematology could be offset by provision of the balance of funding needed for the molecular biology position. Those funds were provided and Dr. Valerie Williamson joined the department in 1987. The hiring required extensive remodeling of the laboratory space formerly occupied by Dr. Raski.

Following the resignation of Dr. Alma Elliott in 1986, Dean Hess continued his support on the program by returning the vacated position. That position was filled by Dr. Ed Caswell-Chen in 1989. The Department was able to recruit another faculty member in the area of taxonomy and systematics when Dr. Armand Maggenti retired. That position was filled by Dr. Scott Gardner in 1990. Dr. Viglierchio retired that same year. When Gardner was recruited away by an offer from the University of Nebraska in 1994, the position was returned to the department and Dr. Steven Nadler was hired in1996.

In part to highlight the new directions and new personnel, but also to contribute to the evolution of the discipline, the department hosted several significant events, including:

The Budget Depression Years: 1990-1993

The State of California entered a period of fiscal crisis in 1990. That was resulted in a substantial decrease in the budget allocations to the University of California. Recognizing that there were substantial funds available in its retirement programs, the university initiated an early-retirement program in order to relieve salary demands on the annual budget. Those accepting the early retirement offer were credited with several years of service, which increased their retirement income. Dr. Armand Maggenti and two long-term staff members, Gaylen Paxman and Ella Mae Noffsinger accepted the early retirement package.

In response to the budget cuts and to perceived differences in allocations among departments within the College, a faculty committee chaired by Dr. George Breuning was assembled to review the allocation practices. That committee devised a Resource Allocation plan (RAC) which was adopted by the college administration. Essentially, the RAC formula distributes funds to departments based on numbers of faculty, magnitude of the teaching program, travel and support for the extension program, and any special facility needs.

The result of application of the RAC formula was that the budget allocation to Nematology decrease by about 30%. That dictated further cost-saving measures. The department no longer had sufficient resources to support full time technicians (Staff Research Associates) assigned to faculty research programs. An attempt was made to share technical support staff among programs, but that resulted in a loss of efficiency and there were problems associated with lack of program-specific technical skills. Finally, some layoffs were necessary. Tom Burlando who had provided technical support for both Ben Lownsbery and Harry Kaya, and Frances (Kuo) Wu, technical support for David Vigllierchio and later Ed Caswell-Chen and Valerie Williamson, left the department.

Further budgetary savings were achieved by combining the department's administrative office with that of Plant Pathology. While that merger of services sometimes conveys the impression of merger of program, the department remained programmatically intact and unique. One advantage of the merger was that the administrative unit is large enough to allow trained specialists in various areas of administration.

Another initiative to attempt to reduce administrative overhead was the effort capture advances in computer technology and to develop the electronic office. The notion was that all faculty offices and laboratories would be linked as an intranet which would provide electronic processing of orders, timesheets and access to budgetary information. Development of that project proved costly and not entirely compatible with university procedures at levels above the department. However, the system has developed quite well within the administrative office and for immediate access to records and information.

Ferris stepped down as chair of the department in 1994 and the role was assumed by Dr. Harry Kaya.

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Reunion of UC Davis Faculty and Graduate Students

Annual Meeting of the Society of Nematologists, Riverside CA, 1974

From Left:  R. Kinloch, H. Jensen,?,?, F. Dao, S.A. Sher, Bonnie Allen (wife of Merlin Allen), W.H. Hart, A.R. Maggenti, E.M. Nofsinger, W.R. Nickle, D.J. Raski.

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