Biological sciences vie for higher rankings

Amy Olson

In its second year of accepting freshman applicants, the College of Biological Sciences nearly doubled its freshman class this year.
In 1997, the college admitted its first freshman class of 117 students. This fall, however, more than 200 freshmen were admitted out of the 800 students who applied.
Robert Elde, dean of the college, said the caliber of the students admitted is also rising.
“The students in the freshman class are among the most talented and brightest students admitted to any college at the University,” Elde said.
He added that the rising quality of applicants reflects the growing reputation of the University’s biology program, adding that some of the applicants could have gone to Ivy League or west coast schools.
While the school’s reputation is rising, University administrators are still working to improve it. Nearly two months ago, the Board of Regents approved the reorganization of biological science disciplines at the University. The reorganization brought together faculty members from the same disciplines who have previously worked in separate colleges.
The reorganization created four new departments by consolidating faculty from departments, including the Medical School and the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. Those new departments include: plant biology; neuroscience; genetics, cell biology and development; and biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics.
Elde said that in the past, both the Medical School and the College of Biological Sciences had biochemistry departments. That division has not enhanced the working relationship between faculty in both departments, nor has it spurred joint research.
At the regents meeting where the proposal was approved, University Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks likened the old structure to playing basketball with a virtual team, where the team members practice separately but come together for games.
The reorganization will immediately allow professors to learn new teaching approaches and provide opportunities for professors who have mainly taught graduate and professional students to teach undergraduate students, said biochemistry professor David Bernlohr.
If professors are able to publish that joint research, they might be able to attract more grant funding, said Charles Louis, the head of the new biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics department. More grant funding, in turn, might help recruit graduate and professional students as well, which will improve the National Research Council’s evaluation of the University.
Elde said the reorganization will also help attract new junior faculty members who are “rising stars” in their fields to beef up the current roster. Louis said his department will probably hire between 12 and 14 new faculty members over the next three years. Louis said his department could start adding new faculty members as early as spring.
There is an immediate need to hire more professors to support the University’s teaching mission as well as research, Louis said.
“We need to grow in size,” he said.