Heed the poets and be vigilant

Now this college and this University are in the midst of great change.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There are two classes of poets – the poets by education and practice, these we respect; and the poets by nature, these we love.”

Our own North Country poet that so many of us (of a certain age) love is Bob Dylan. The recent broadcasts of Martin Scorsese’s film biography “No Direction Home” was a nostalgic reminder for me of my youth and of living through contemporary history – the Cuban missile crisis (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”) and the 1963 march on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (“When the Ship Comes In”). I’ll leave it to others to debate the genre of Dylan’s work, but his lyrics are indeed poetry, and some, “The Times They Are A-Changin,’ ” in particular, served as a rallying point for young people of the 1960s.

Now, nearly 45 years after Minnesota-born Dylan first sang that song, we continue to live in changing and unpredictable times: Hurricanes and more hurricanes in the Gulf states – heavy rains and mudslides in Guatemala – earthquakes in Pakistan – malnutrition and poverty the world over – the political debates surrounding health care, education and energy policy in this country and many others. Each day, these issues and more are before us. And each day, at this University, our students are before us. We in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences and our colleagues across this University are intent upon providing the highest quality education for our students. Students are the solutions for the future. Yet, I take Dylan’s lyrics as a sobering reminder of our responsibility to these students:

“Come mothers and fathers / Throughout the land / And don’t criticize / What you can’t understand / Your sons and your daughters / Are beyond your command / Your old road is / Rapidly agin’ / Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand / For the times they are a-changin’.”

Now, this college and this University are in the midst of great change. Collegiate and departmental structures will change. Campuses will change. Old ways will change. When your instinct is to resist change – to stand squarely blocking the new road – remember why we are about change. It is for the sons and daughters. It is for the highest quality, research-based education that this institution can provide them. They are the new agents of change.

There will not be a College of Natural Resources. There will not be a College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. Something new is unfolding:

“Come writers and critics / Who prophesize with your pen / And keep your eyes wide / The chance won’t come again / And don’t speak too soon / For the wheel’s still in spin / And there’s no tellin’ who / That it’s namin’ “

This story is yet to be written, but it will include wisdom over ignorance, future over past, swiftness over stall. It will be written by the young and those not yet born.

For the scholars and teachers and mentors, there is the legacy of the science of a single cell, the dwarf spring wheat that saved millions in India and Pakistan, the wind that makes energy, all manner of discovery Ö that’s poetry too.

Charles C. Muscoplat is a University vice president and dean. Carla Carlson is an assistant vice president. Please send comments to [email protected]