University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Department of Entomology Periodic Review - Final Report

Review Process


Consistent with the University of Kentucky’s Administrative Regulations, on December 22, 2009, Dean M. Scott Smith appointed and charged a Periodic Review Committee to conduct an evaluation of the Department of Entomology. Members of the review committee were: Dr. Scott A. Shearer, Chair (Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering), Dr. Reddy Palli (Entomology), Dr. Ric Bessin (Entomology), Dr. Lynne Rieske‐Kinney (Entomology), Dr. Teri Lear (Veterinary Science), Dr. Mark Williams (Horticulture), and Mr. Blake Newton (Entomology).

 

The committee was supplied with documents from the Department of Entomology including Self‐Study Report, Department of Entomology, Dec. 22, 2009; Current Entomology Faculty Vitae; and 2008 Feedback on Entomology Specialists by County Agents.


Non‐departmental committee members only were present for all meetings to ensure an open dialog. The committee met and interviewed all faculty, staff and graduate students using the following process: Faculty members were interviewed on an individual basis by groupings: 1) insect molecular biology, physiology, and genetics; 2) insect behavior, ecology, evolution, and systematics; and 3) pest management and applied ecology (30 min. each). Technical, clerical and professional staff members were interviewed in small groups: 1) office and IT, 2) technicians, 3) postdoctoral scholars and 4) specialists (1 hr. each). Graduate students and undergraduate students enrolled in individualized studies programs were invited for a group interview (1 hr.). And to conclude the interview process the members of the Review Committee met with the program Chair (1 hr.) The committee also surveyed the Directors of Undergraduate Studies from undergraduate programs in the College who rely on Entomology course offerings to meet degree requirements. Representative of various clientele groups were surveyed to assess the quality of outreach services provided by the Department. Surveys for both groups are appended to this report.


The Periodic Review Committee presents our findings in the following report with summary bullet recommendations highlighting areas in need of immediate attention. The Committee would be pleased to meet with the Dean and his Administrative Staff should additional information be required.

 

General Comments

In general the Department of Entomology is characterized as “very productive and continuing to move in the right direction.” On the positive side there were three very talented faculty hires during the past two years. The Department continues to meet clientele needs with the current range and mix of faculty talents. Most faculty, staff and students characterize the work atmosphere as very positive, collegial and supportive. The new faculty members feel comfortable and well supported. More established faculty members are willing to share resources for the overall benefit of the program.

 

Tremendous value is realized from the balance between teaching, research and extension efforts. The department is progressing well in molecular and genomics research areas which represent a new direction for the program with regard to technical expertise. The applied research programs continue to address important areas of concern to the state and constituent base. However, some faculty members question whether the land grant mission is rigorously understood by all faculty members. The ability of the department to meet clientele needs might be skewed with a continued transition to basic research to the exclusion of the more applied research components of the program.


It was recognized that several existing faculty members are nearing completion of extremely successful careers. Concerns were voiced regarding the potential hiring freezes under the current budget constraints and the resulting inability to replace faculty members as they retire. The department has made good progress with regard to diversity although this remains a future concern. New leadership has created new opportunities to resolve longstanding conflicts although some faculty meetings can be rancorous. For the most part disagreements are professional, not personal. These differences are focused on programmatic direction which is a healthy discussion for any academic unit. Several individuals are very passionate about their positions. A recurring theme in faculty discussions remains the balance between basic and applied research programs.

 

The remainder of this report provides a summary of concerns brought to light as a result of a review of the documents supplied, interviews within and outside of Entomology and a survey of external clientele. In some cases the information conveyed represents minority views. In other instances the issues are more widely recognized. At the conclusion of this report a section entitled “Review Committee Recommendations” was provided in an attempt to distinguish between minority and widely held concerns.

 

Leadership

 

Esprit décor is now higher at the Department of Entomology than for similar programs at peer institutions. Dr. Obrycki continually promotes interaction within the Department and is always positive and upbeat about opportunities to move the program forward. There is good faculty/graduate student interaction and seminar attendance is excellent. Dr. Obrycki has developed an Advisory Committee consisting of four senior faculty members serving in rotation. The Advisory Committee provides input to the faculty annual performance reviews, a process that seems to be working well. All of the staff agreed that Dr. Obrycki is accessible, genuine and further that he acknowledges and responds to concerns in a timely manner. Dr. Obrycki is held in high regard for his continual focus and attention to pointing out the accomplishments of faculty, staff and students. Faculty meetings are productive with focus on moving things forward.

 

Faculty

 

Given past hiring practices and the current budget concerns, the program has reached a point where faculty staffing includes 14 full professors and three new assistant professors. The current distribution of faculty is a result of a significant influx of faculty members in 1978 and 1979. To the credit of the program, many of these faculty members have chosen to remain at the University of Kentucky. Several retirements are anticipated within the next five to seven years, and many of the retirements will come from applied areas. The distribution of basic versus applied researchers has been a primary strength of the Department and is perceived by many to be a good balance. Existing strife between biology and molecular faculty members appears to have diminished. More face-to-face meetings may prove useful for enhancing interactions. Diverse faculty skills sets will help foster collaboration, and the applied component will remain important to fulfilling the land grant mission of the College.

 

Some concern was voiced by two faculty members regarding Wethington Awards, suggesting the current structure is creating a two-tier faculty. It was felt that faculty with equally productive programs should receive similar compensation. Some faculty feel there has not been enough discussion and communication between the administration and faculty on the future of programs with this type of reward structure.

 

The entomology faculty is well positioned to take advantage of the expertise of several adjuncts. Given the existing appointments, faculty members are urged to more actively engage adjuncts in their graduate education and research programs. With the recent shift in focus at Kentucky State University (KSU), there may be new opportunities for engagement with these adjuncts. KSU faculty members are continually invited to campus to present seminars. Opportunities may also exist to partner with a faculty member at Eastern Kentucky University who works with honey bees.

 

Support and Technical Staff

 

With the recent shift by upper administration to push an increasing number of accountability and business procedures to the departmental level, insufficient office staff are available to accomplish all necessary functions. A disconnect exists between the faculty and staff in terms of responsibilities. Faculty need to better understand and adhere to university policies and guidelines regarding travel and ProCard use. Perhaps these concerns are receiving elevated attention because of the upcoming audit of Departmental finances. Office staff must resolve employment related problems for student workers hired by laboratory technicians without the timely initiation of the requisite paperwork. Most of these problems can be easily resolved by simply improving the lines of communication between faculty and staff.

 

With regard to interaction between the academic unit and other parts of the university, the administrative staff is confronted with Cost Accounting Standard (CAS) items, cost share problems, poorly defined budget transfers, and the lack of appropriate training to handle these problems. This situation can be improved through enhanced communication between Sponsored Projects Accounting (SPA), the College Business Office, and the academic unit. For example, budget transfers at the College level should include detailed explanations. SPA should engage more with faculty to help them understand post award budget management. For example, when PIs are unable to meet cost share obligations, or if cost accounting standards are violated, these items are charged against departmental counts. A suggestion for changes to academic unit business practices includes cross-training to accommodate specific business practices at peak times or during vacation and other leave periods. Staff noted the many in-service and training opportunities for professional advancement. A business process manual has been developed and the staff is provided with equipment upgrades as the budget allows.

 

The work atmosphere is characterized by laboratory staff as open, friendly, and relaxed with many noting the latitude to go about their activities without direct supervision. Most staff members are professional and take initiative. Off-campus employees state there is good communication with main campus and they do not feel left out. Faculty members seem appreciative of staff efforts and this satisfaction is reflected in annual performance reviews. Many faculty members go out of their way to express appreciation. College wide, staff salaries are perceived as the lowest common denominator and salary levels for technicians seem out of line. It is increasingly difficult to attract and retain quality technicians.

 

Dr. Obrycki serves as the state entomologist and as such his relationship with the regulatory staff is essential to meeting the state mandate. He has created an atmosphere within the regulatory branch of the program that integrates well with other departmental functions. The regulatory staff members feel appreciated. Opportunities for career advancement are somewhat limited although the recent creation of new positions offers some opportunities.

 

Most technical staff members indicate the attention to worker safety, training, and routine laboratory safety procedures are appropriate. Areas of concern voiced staff members include: 1) worker safety for those who set insect traps along roadsides – this issue is being addressed through training and via the addition of several devices to warn motorists and improve visibility; and 2) safety of those employees who share office suites – outer suite doors should remain closed and locked outside of normal business hours to protect those working after hours. Occupational and Safety and Health inspections keep the focus on safety. Aside from some of the paperwork requirements being delayed, little in the way of safety infractions were noted during inspections. Staff members recognize that some laboratories are more dangerous than others. Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) is good and safety training is available and encouraged. Training for shipping of hazardous materials could be improved. Hazardous materials are delivered directly to shippers to avoid internal policies.

 

Research Programs

 

Future research directions in Entomology may be affected by recent changes in national competitive grants programs with the reduction in fundamental research opportunities. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) shift to larger programs with multi-team investigators will require entomologists to find new areas of opportunity. This shift may require faculty to look at funding mechanisms from less traditional sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Entomology differs from other agricultural disciplines when defining and responding to clientele needs. Research in this discipline often focuses on controlling insect infestations or the spread of insect borne diseases. Much of the historical work has been motivated by problems brought to light through extension. Now, faculty members are attempting to convince the NIH that the bed bug epidemic must be addressed since many chemical controls are ineffective. Alternative chemicals are slow acting requiring weeks to affect control. Management of this pest presents a growing concern and challenge for the profession.

 

Recent UK initiatives that hold promise for entomology researchers may include: 1) the environmental and sustainability initiative, and 2) domestic and international medical problems. An institutional interface between the Colleges of Medicine and Agriculture may prove to be advantageous for generating solutions for managing emerging global diseases. Some faculty members recognize most interdisciplinary initiatives are self-initiating. However, it might prove useful if future initiatives are driven by the administration.

 

Extension and Regulatory Programs

 

Extension faculty continue to be responsive to clientele needs and are willing to work with cooperating units on solutions to contemporary problems. For example, the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome

 

(MRLS) problem was identified and faculty members were able to initiate a research program that generated results quickly. Similarly, three new stink bug pests have attacked kudzu and soybeans, and the globalization of trade is increasing this problem. While these are two examples of the ability of the program to identify problems and marshal resources to affect changes, these problems seem to occur with greater frequency.

 

Extension programming space is tight and the need for additional storage and work areas appears well justified. Off-site training requires significant quantities of materials to be packed and transported. Peak training periods present problems with current staffing levels. Dr. Obrycki continues to provide additional support staff to help with the situation.

 

The Clientele Survey was e-mailed to representative groups including commodity organizations, private applicators and government agencies. Response to the survey was extremely positive and complimentary of the Entomology program and their outreach efforts. Several of the respondents considered UK’s program to be one of the best in the nation. All of the respondents noted the professionalism of faculty and staff along with the prompt manner in which they responded to requests. One of the respondents noted how the talents of specific faculty members were brought to bear on problems of importance to Kentucky residents, such as the evolving bed bug problem. One of the commodity groups suggested that interaction might be enhanced by adding information links between the respective web sites. One of the respondents was unaware of the periodic newsletter (Kentucky Pest News) and how to access extension publications. The Department may want to consider how to better publicize, distribute and/or improve the accessibility of these materials.

 

Educational Programs

 

A critical mass of graduate students appears to be a significant factor contributing to the vibrant and dynamic learning environment reported by many research assistants. They value the challenging academic environment and the opportunity to work side by side with talented and highly regarded faculty members. Advanced degree recipients appear to be landing good jobs. Unfortunately, resources to support graduate education continue to decline. The decline in resources coincides with increasing tuition costs thereby compounding the problem. In an effort to improve productivity to meet the demands of grants and contracts, many faculty prefer to employ postdoctoral scholars. This practice comes at the expense of reduced graduate student numbers.

 

Entomology course instructors have high, but reasonable, expectations of graduate student performance. However, some faculty remark that “graduate students are being trained in a program that was developed 30 years ago.” Questions that came to light during the review included the following: 1) How can the program achieve a balance between breadth and depth? 2) Should there be a common core of courses? 3) What is the appropriate balance between applied and molecular coursework? In some cases faculty were critical of peers who put too much of their own flavor and background into a course. Some faculty felt the graduate program would benefit from strengthening of applied course offerings. Yet others felt strongly about the need to reorganize existing offerings. A faculty dialog is beginning to evolve concerning the reorganization of core courses. Some faculty members argue that some graduate students appear to sacrifice program breadth as they focus on coursework specific to their thesis topic. This focus occurs to the exclusion of acquiring more applied entomology skills from multiple courses. A possible solution may be the development of a board survey course at the graduate level.

 

When discussing the curriculum with the graduate students, Ph.D. students indicated course offerings were somewhat limited. Others commented on residency requirements that discourage additional coursework after the qualifying exam. Many Ph.D. students commented on the “Preparing Future Faculty” program and the difficulty they have working the required 12 credits into their programs of study. In the more applied areas the normal programs of study require completion of a M.S. degree before entry in to the Ph.D. program. Direct admission into the Ph.D. program after completion of a B.S. degree is becoming more prevalent. Unfortunately, the students noted there was no mechanism or system for screening candidates prior to direct admission.

 

Graduate students are presented with numerous opportunities to engage in resident instruction and extension activities. Ample opportunities exist to teach laboratories and sections of various courses. Many students desire greater classroom responsibilities. Some faculty members commented on the need to revise the Student Evaluations of Teaching and to insure this feedback is provided to graduate teaching assistants. It was also noted that many students are utilized to deliver extension programming and to teach short courses.

 

At the undergraduate level some faculty members note considerable overlap in course content. The 300 level (and below) courses provide survey style information and are well received by students. Most faculty members have an undergraduate course they prefer to teach. Course demand should drive offerings and comments regarding the need for a critical evaluation and optimization of course offerings may be necessary in the near future. Several faculty members point to opportunities and challenges presented by the new General Education requirements. The Sustainable Agriculture program is driving an increase in demand for particular courses and the Agricultural Biotechnology program is seeing increased faculty involvement to foster the undergraduate research experience.

 

Response to the survey instrument given to the DUSs of Animal and Food Sciences, Biotechnology, Equine Sciences, Forestry, Horticulture, Natural Resources and Environmental Science, Plant and Soil Sciences, and the Sustainable Agriculture program were extremely complimentary of the both the variety of Entomology course offerings and the quality of instruction. All DUSs reported students were challenged by the undergraduate course offerings and held the Entomology faculty in high regard. Two suggestions were advanced regarding the format and frequency of course offerings. One DUS suggested ENT 340 be expanded to a 3 credit-hour course thereby allowing students to meet the Specialty Support requirement of their program, but further noting this was a minor concern. Another DUS noted that by offering ENT 530 during alternate years, some students were placed at a disadvantage. This DUS also recognized that low course enrollment may make annual offerings impractical.

 

Facilities and Equipment

 

Faculty members remain concerned about the division created by housing the program in two locations. Perhaps those most affected are graduate students housed in Animal Pathology as they are somewhat isolated from faculty and graduate students in Agricultural Science Center – North. Research space remains marginally acceptable when compared with programmatic needs. In general the quantity of space is adequate although the quality falls short of minimal requirements in several cases. Labs are getting older and there is little in the way of options and resources for renovating these spaces. Quality laboratory space in the Animal Pathology building remains a major concern, as these laboratories are damp, dirty and not well organized. Faculty members are struggling with base electrical load limitations. Leaking sinks have been reported to Physical Plant Division (PPD) on multiple occasions with little or no response.

 

Recent faculty hires were left with the impression that renovations would be well underway before arrival on campus. Renovation difficulties were identified at the PPD level. Several fume hoods in key laboratories are either inoperable or have insufficient draw for safe operation. Dr. Obrycki and COA Administration have indicated their willingness to pay for the HVAC system upgrades. The College and PPD appear to be at a stalemate. This issue is now beginning to impact faculty progress and the ability to meet granting agency contractual obligations. It is recommended that HVAC system ductwork be cleaned to eliminate particulate contaminates released into laboratory space. Climate control in these spaces affects the scope and accuracy of work. Poor ambient temperature control in the laboratory forces the use of growth chambers thereby limiting the number of colonies that can be maintained.

 

For the condition of other facilities the following points are noted: 1) while the greenhouses have been upgraded and are in good shape, a priority area of concern is continuity of greenhouse operation and management with the retirement of Mr. Tommy Sutton ; 2) there is a need to maintain North Farm plots as these capabilities remain essential to the future of the program; two tractors were purchased to meet these needs while reducing dependence on the North Farm crew; 3) several faculty members recognize a need for additional graduate student housing at the Princeton Research and Education Center; housing to accommodate up to five entomology students during the summer months should be sufficient; and 4) the Insect Museum has grown to a collection that includes over 700,000 specimens requiring significant faculty and staff time commitment as undergraduates use the museum for learning; no budgeted staff are directly assigned to manage this collection; and 5) access to reliable internet connectivity is a problem for many (faculty, staff and graduate students) housed in the Animal Pathology Building.

 

Review Committee Recommendations

 

It is the consensus of the Review Committee that the Department of Entomology is making excellent progress towards meeting its defined mission. The general atmosphere in the Department is positive and the leadership is characterized as excellent. There is good interaction between faculty and students and the faculty place high values on the contributions of the technical and administrative staff. Research productivity is excellent and prospects for continued progress are good. The Review Committee provides the following recommendations to further strengthen the program as well as resolve existing concerns voiced by faculty, staff and students.

 

Program Recommendations

 

  • 1. The Department should continue the development of a faculty staffing and hiring plan that takes into account approaching retirements, the ability of the program to meet the needs of its students and constituents, and the evolution of the department to ever changing research needs of the clientele of the future.
  • 2. The Department should consider a review of criteria for direct admission into the Ph.D. program for students holding B.S. degrees only. To the extent it is warranted, more formalized guidelines would be helpful for establishing some minimal level of student performance as opposed to leaving this entirely to the discretion of individual faculty members.
  • 3. The Department should redouble their efforts to review and revise the core curriculum for graduate students. The protracted discussion may be limiting options and opportunities for some graduate students.

 

Facility Recommendations

  • 1. College and Departmental administrations must move immediately to review the safety of all laboratory fume hoods and repair or replace those that are not functioning at safe levels. Further, it is recognized that some of the hood problem may be tied to HVAC systems design and operation practices. The status quo of continual reporting of hood related problems and lack of attention by PPD must be investigated and resolved.
  • 2. Internet connectivity concerns voiced by faculty and graduate students housed in the Animal Pathology Building should be investigated immediately. Warranted corrective actions should be implemented as soon as possible.
  • 3. College and Departmental administrations should meet with PPD to resolve differences over HVAC maintenance issues (e.g. ductwork cleanliness and ambient temperature control in laboratories) compromising the ability of Entomology faculty, staff and students to fulfill research grant and contractual obligations.
  • 4. College and Department administrations should review the policy of locking exterior, office and laboratory doors to ensure the security of employees and students working after hours (evenings and weekends) and to reduce the incidences of theft at all times. Other means of limiting access to these areas (i.e., control keypad, card readers, etc.) should be investigated as a long term solution.

 

Appendix A - Survey Instrument for Clientele Base

 

Dear UK Entomology Clientele: The performance of each Department at the University of Kentucky is reviewed every six years. Currently, the Department of Entomology is undergoing periodic review. The purpose of this review is to assess the accomplishments of the Department and to improve the quality and effectiveness of the unit and its programs.

 

As a representative of a clientele group who receives information and support from the Department of Entomology, I would appreciate your input into this review. Below are four general questions about the Department. Please respond to these questions via this e-mail message. Feel free to discuss this matter with, and to get input from, other members of your organization. Please respond by Wednesday, December 1, 2010.

 

1) How does the UK Department of Entomology provide effective research/extension information to
meet your pest management needs and those of your industry?


2) Evaluate the quality and professionalism of the programs in the UK Department of Entomology.


3) What are other ways in which the UK Department of Entomology could meet the future needs of your industry?


4) What types of pest management/pesticide safety information and support (workshops, short courses, training programs, etc.) have you or your industry received through the UK Department of Entomology or Extension service?


5) Please indicate if you find information from the following sources useful, practical, and easy to understand (check all that apply).

 

Kentucky Pest News __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
Entomology Publications __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
Pesticide Recommendations __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
Applicator Training Materials __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
Training Meetings and Conferences __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
Pesticide Training Web Site __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
UK IPM Web Site __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use
UK Entomology Web Site __Useful __Practical __Understandable __Don't Use

 

If you have not used any of these materials, please explain.

 

Please respond by Wednesday, December 1, 2010. Your response will remain confidential and only summarizes will be provided in the Review Report. Thank you in assisting us to provide effective extension, research, and educational programs to meet the needs of Kentuckians!

 

Appendix B - Survey Instrument for Relevant DUS

 

Dear DUS:

 

A committee consisting of Reddy Palli, Ric Bessin, Lynne Rieske-Kinney, Teri Lear, Mark Williams, Blake Newton and myself as Chair was charged with the responsibility of conducting a periodic program review of Entomology. We are nearing the completion of this effort and recognize that we need additional input from the Directors of Undergraduate Studies of curriculums that rely on Entomology undergraduate course offerings to meet degree requirements. Given the recent weather related delays and bonus holidays I thought the best approach to obtain input would be through a brief survey. In the event there are larger issues or areas of concern, the Review Committee would be happy to meet with you in person.

 

We ask that you please complete and return the survey below to initiate this dialog. Our intent is to provide a summary of all responses to this survey in the report. We will ensure the responses are void of names and will attribute them in general to the Directors of Undergraduate Studies in the COA. On behalf of the Review Committee I would like to thank you in advance for responding to this survey. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

 

1. Considering the current undergraduate courses offered by Entomology, are the needs of students in your degree program(s) being met? If not, please explain (topics not addressed, or topics not addressed in sufficient depth or depth) and be specific regarding course numbers and titles.

 

2. Are Entomology classes offered on a recurring basis and with a sufficient number of seats to ensure your students are able to meet degrees requirements in a timely fashion? If not, please explain and be specific regarding course numbers and titles.

 

3. Are there additional courses that may be needed to complement existing course offerings at the undergraduate level? If not, please describe what course or courses should be added in support of your program along with a brief description of content.

 

4. Considering the existing course offerings, are the formats (lecture, lab, and/or recitation) appropriate to meet the needs of your students? If not, please explain and be specific regarding course numbers and titles.

 

5. Are there other concerns the Review Committee should consider as we bring closure to the report and/or do we need to meet in person to discuss your concerns?

 

 
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