Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Postgraduate study for world forestry

Director of Graduate Studies, State University College of Forestry, Syracuse University, New York

Paper delivered at the Fifth World Forestry Congress.

ONLY a few hours' drive from this campus, at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River, David Douglas, the Scottish botanist, landed in 1825. Little did he anticipate that the magnificent Douglas fir, with which his name was to be associated, would become the most cherished exotic forest tree among European foresters. Neither did he realize that the particular ecotype he brought back to Kew Gardens in England would turn out to be the most successful of all the seed sources that later were imported to Europe for propagation.

This took place only nine years after the first academic forestry school in the world was established. For it was at Tharandt, Germany, in 1816, that Heinrich Cotta's master school was elevated to Royal Saxonian Forest Academy. Thus, in 1816, the first school offering college-level forestry education was brought into existence.

At that time, little could Cotta anticipate that today, only one or two rotations later, 10,000 students would be enrolled in forestry schools throughout the world. In Douglas' and Cotta's time, this university campus, indeed the entire vast metropolis of modem Seattle, was covered by a towering virgin forest that most likely had never been beheld by white man.

Like Douglas and Cotta, both pioneers but in different fields of forestry, today's generation must develop men whose work and vision can be of far-reaching and lasting importance.

In spite of the short span of time - in a forestry sense, only one or two rotations since the time of Douglas and Cotta - we live today in a vastly different world. Perhaps the most difficult thing in our time is to predict... yes, even believe in the future. In contrast, Douglas, Cotta and the generations following the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna could look forward with confidence to a period of development in science, education, technology, trade and increasing world population. And even more important, to a period - of greater human freedom and appreciation of human dignity and rights.

Our youth of today, on the other hand, looks with uncertainty and fear into the atomic age with its threats of destruction of humanity and of our cultural heritage.

For years, many have realized the need for world co-operation and that our responsibility toward humanity is on a par with our responsibility to race, nation or tribe. Today, this need for co-operation is not only a means for making a better world to live in. It appears crystal clear that understanding and co-operation are necessary for our very existence.

We need leaders in every walk of life who can look beyond the needs of tribe, nation and race and regard the welfare of the world as our objective. How can we in education, and those of us in the field of forestry education, help to develop these types of men?

Mass education problems

One strong trend in almost every place of education throughout the world during the larger share of this century has been a strong emphasis toward mass education on all levels. This has also been the trend in forestry education. The chosen few who enrolled in Cotta's academy are a far cry from the more than 10,000 students who today are enrolled in academic forestry courses throughout the world.

This increase is not only an expression of the tremendous growth of our profession during the past 150 years, but is also an expression of the fact that our profession is sharing in the general expansion of education. We believe that the most valuable resource we have is knowledge. The more we share this knowledge, the better world we shall have.

This democratic thesis is accepted in most countries. But, in adjusting our educational machinery to meet the demands that such a philosophy brings about, we are likely to hamper the educational development of the better students. The educational freedom that is so highly treasured in many European universities is likely to suffer under mass education. In addition, the tutoring system that is so successfully developed in several British and American colleges does not lend itself readily to the education of large numbers.

Important as education for all is to society, it is equally important that the education of the most talented does not suffer. There is a tremendous need for leaders in most branches of endeavor, including forestry. In our effort to open wide the doors of learning to the many, we must not neglect to develop the talents of the gifted.

It is outside the scope of this paper to discuss how this objective in part may be met in early schooling and basic college training. For this reason, I shall confine myself to the opportunities that postgraduate - often called graduate - training offers.

The curriculum that the academic forestry schools throughout the world offer can, I believe, be characterized as being crowded with technical courses aimed at qualifying the students for certain positions within the country in which the school is located. Little room is allowed in the curriculum for general education that would broaden the outlook of the students and give them a better perspective of forests and forestry in relation to our culture.

The need for general education courses may not be so acute if the preforestry schooling includes a thorough cultural curriculum or where the forestry school is a part of a university which can provide the many cultural advantages universities offer. This last idea presupposes that forestry students are given the opportunity and are encouraged to participate in the intellectual and cultural life of the academic community.

Another thing that is often characteristic of forestry undergraduate curricula is the lack of an appreciation of the value of research. Forestry is an art, and the how of forestry is often emphasized more than the why. Sometimes higher forestry education has even been accused of resembling vocational training more than academic education.

Finally, it may be said that much forestry education gives the impression of being " provincial." The students are given a training that is narrowly directed to meet the needs of their country or, quite often, the part of the country in which the school is located.

This accusation of a tending toward vocational training may be tied to the empirical basis for several of the most important disciplines of forestry rather than an experimental foundation, such as we are beginning to build now.

Variations in world forestry practices

It is striking how differently forestry practices are executed in different parts of the world. This is in sharp contrast to other professions, like engineering, medicine and architecture. For example, take the building of a modem bridge. Today a modem bridge is built almost in identical manner, whether it is built in Africa, Europe or America. Medical treatments are virtually the same, wherever modern medicine is available. Yet, not long ago, when local medicine men or folk medicine prevailed, treatments for human ailments varied widely throughout the world. Even modern architecture is adopting common basic principles. Modem houses in Japan, America and Scandinavia are remarkably uniform in concepts of design while great allowances are made to satisfy local taste and tradition.

You would agree, I am sure, that forestry is not that far. Many concepts basic to forestry are interpreted differently under similar conditions. Forest stands located under identical climatic, biological and economic conditions are often treated with great variations. Concepts of stand density and optimum growing stock for given situations are applied at great variance under equal conditions. It is, of course, only natural that concepts and implementation of public responsibility toward the forest resource should vary greatly under different political systems and resource-management traditions. But, when only technical factors are involved, then we should expect that the most logical concept would be accepted and applied.

Necessity for international training

The fact that we do not find general acceptance of concepts in forestry, I believe, reflects, in part, lack of international intercourse in our profession and, in part, lack of sufficient advanced training of our most gifted forestry students, that is, students who are equipped to take advantage of postgraduate studies on an international basis.

The demand for such international training in forestry exists today. To illustrate this, I refer to just one institution, the forestry college in Syracuse, New York, where I serve. Here, we had 45 foreign students during the past academic year. This was 33 percent of the total number of our postgraduate students. Similar situations more than likely exist in other schools. This leads to a basic question: How should such postgraduate studies in world forestry be planned and organized?

In contrast to the undergraduate, the postgraduate student should be offered far more freedom in selecting courses to meet his individual needs. This flexibility in Betting up a graduate program may be difficult to attain when a student comes from a foreign country and is unfamiliar with the offerings of the new institution and local customs. Under these conditions it becomes difficult for his adviser to help plan the best .possible program for him. Even evaluation of his past academic attainments offers many obstacles.

We must also recognize that the high school curricula that furnish the basic tools for later scholarship vary greatly from country to country. Not only do the curricula vary in content and quality, but also the length of time for high school study may vary as much as 25 percent.

We know that the professional forestry curricula offered in the forestry schools of various countries include great differences - far greater differences than we find within the professional engineering and medical curricula throughout the world. Part of these differences can be explained by the types of forests and terrain that characterize a particular country. In Switzerland, forest engineering is an important and necessary part of the forestry curriculum. In Finland, the management of swamp forest is listed as an option. Countries whose forestry is fully on a reproductive basis place great emphasis on silviculture. Countries that are in the transitional stage from extractive to reproductive forestry place relatively more emphasis on utilization and relatively less on silviculture and its underlying sciences.

To some extent, these differences may be attributed to the already-mentioned vocational flavor that can be found in forestry education. However, the more we dig down to basic principles, the more we shall discover how much we have in common.

It seems to me that the time is ripe for organizing special international conferences on forestry curricula. This would be of great benefit to our profession.

Program planning for postgraduates

At the present time, program planning for the postgraduate studies of international students in forestry is difficult and requires considerable understanding on the part of the adviser. He must not only know what courses and research possibilities are available, but he should also be able to appreciate the variety of backgrounds represented by the students in such a cosmopolitan group.

Fortunately, the students of world forestry are themselves usually relatively mature and have specific objectives in mind. They are of the elite of their school or professional group. In the ideal situations, the students are able to formulate their own program, outline their research problem, and even select their own advisors. This represents the ideal for postgraduate work: the least possible direction on the part of the adviser, and the most possible initiative on the part of the student. This is the way it should be.

Ideally, the student should perform and be considered as a young colleague of the professor in their common search for truth. We all are aware of the fact that this ideal is not the rule. Students look for directions, and actually prefer this, in many cases, to taking initiative and responsibility upon themselves. And professors soon discover that it is easier to direct rather than to advise. Indeed, graduate students are sometimes regarded and treated only as assistants. Under such conditions, the student is apt to find that his own research, training, and educational development is slowed up considerably.

Aside from educational standards and requirements inherent to securing a specific degree, the world forestry graduate student should be given as much freedom of study opportunity as possible so that his particular needs can adequately be met. Such freedom should not only include selection of recognized forestry courses but also the selection of courses far afield from what generally is considered to be part of a forester's curriculum.

Many students come to do graduate study to deepen their knowledge of a particular narrow speciality and to investigate a problem of their choice. Such students will stick primarily to courses closely connected with their specialization and, as a rule, most of their time will he spent on research, with only little time on regular courses. The final goal of these students in their formal educational endeavor is usually a Ph. D. degree.

But there is a second group of students who have broader interests. They prepare themselves to become responsible in a broader professional field. They expect to deal with people both inside and outside the profession. Eventually, they may have to become the interpreters and advisors on forestry to leaders of their community or country. They may include advice on legislation which has a bearing on forestry.

Such students may want courses in sociology, human relations, history, basic law or citizenship in addition to advanced forestry courses. They will want to develop themselves not only as foresters, but also as broad understanding human personalities who have a deep appreciation of the needs of our civilization. We must have leaders within our own profession who can develop, present and sometimes defend the place of forestry, in society.

A third group of students that may be found within a postgraduate program in world forestry include, in particular, those students who want to prepare themselves to participate in the forestry assistance work that at present is sponsored by the United Nations and individual countries. Such students will want, in addition to their specialties, to study the economics of world forestry, and to study plant geography on a worldwide scale. They may want to participate in one of several programs in international living. They may take courses like the course in " overseamanship " developed by the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, to mention one of the pioneers in this field.

It is doubtful that the technical courses for world forestry students should aim at application to any great extent. Principles should be the main objective. Applications are most useful, however, to illustrate principles. But principles in forest ecology, silviculture, forest economics, forest management, wood technology, wildlife management, forest recreation, watershed management, etc., are universal. Applications are legion and must be studied locally.

Teaching methods - and teachers

One of the most fruitful media for teaching such heterogeneous groups that will be found in a world forestry program is the seminar. In its orthodox form - a teacher working with a group of students doing research - excellent results can be obtained. Seminars lend themselves better than any other form of teaching device to stimulate active student participation. Each member of the seminar does research and reports, on one phase of a common problem, the entire group discusses each student report and the problem as a whole. Seminars also provide an opportunity for outside lecturers, visitors from abroad, local foresters as well as forest scientists who are specialists on certain phases of forestry to present a series of topics of current interest. Such stimulations add vitality and variety to the seminar program and are most appropriate in such a program. Divergent contacts and impressions motivate thinking on the part of the students.

Regardless of the type of educational program, the most important factor in any educational endeavor is the teacher. An institution of learning is as good as the quality of its faculty. Library, laboratories, equipment and, in the case of forestry education, college forests, are important educational facilities. But none of these factors compare in educational importance with ability of the teaching staff to inspire and guide the students along the trails of learning.

In a world forestry program, it is obviously necessary that the faculty have world-wide views and interests. It would be preferable that some have all or part of their training and cultural background in foreign countries, and that others have professional work or travel abroad. At Syracuse University, 15 members of the teaching faculty have had all or part of their formal education in 12 different countries. True, a heterogeneous faculty may cause problems, both professional and personal problems, but as with students, divergent backgrounds and views are the basis for stimulation and fertile thinking in any profession.

Visiting professors who offer regular courses or seminars in their specialty can provide valuable contributions to a graduate group and the permanent faculty. Visiting professors may come on an exchange program and take over courses offered in the ordinary curriculum. This may not always be easy for the visitor or sound for the institution if he is to teach core curriculum courses and has not had previous acquaintance with content and methods used in related courses. It is far better for all parties concerned if the visiting scholar offers elective courses within his specialty. Such an arrangement will also give him more opportunity to carry on personal research and studies which is usually one of the major objectives of such visits. Already many universities have funds for such visiting professorships. It would be to the advantage of our profession if visiting professorships could be made available to forestry schools throughout the world to a greater extent than they are at present.

Change of school advised

Probably most postgraduate students would prefer to enroll at only one school for their entire period of graduate study. Sometimes the college where undergraduate training was obtained may be the best place to do the specific research that interests the student. Here may be the very best place to take the advanced courses that will round off his professional education. In most cases, however, a change of school is advisable. Going to a new school will give him new teachers, new environment, and new impulses that will stimulate educational growth. In German universities, it is common practice to encourage even the undergraduates to enroll for one or more semesters at a school other than the one in which the major part of the education is obtained. Throughout Europe and even more so in America, postgraduate students are encouraged to take their work in new educational environments.

For postgraduate work in world forestry, this practice may be extended further. It seems to me that co-operative agreements could be made among several forestry schools, schools located in different countries. The co-operative agreements regarding postgraduate study should facilitate postgraduate work for students attending two or more schools where they could receive credit for satisfactory work. In the beginning, no doubt, the degree would be awarded by one institution only. This would be by the faculty before whom the thesis would be defended. Eventually it would be desirable to consider having the participating schools confer a joint degree. Such an action would require considerable international understanding and co-operation. It would, if realized, strengthen such a program substantially.

The conferring of the degree, however, is not, or should not be, the dominant factor. The important aim of such cooperative programs would be to help graduate forestry students to receive educational opportunities that develop their intellectual capacities to the fullest and, as far as possible, meet their objectives, while providing a true world forestry opportunity.

It should be possible for the students not only to take formal courses and seminars at the participating institution but also to collect research data at the different places where they would study. This would not be done, of course, in all cases, but many studies in the various disciplines of forestry and its basic sciences do lend themselves to treatment under different climatic, biological and economic conditions. Research under such international arrangements could contribute considerably to better understanding among foresters throughout the world and to strengthen world forestry.

Men with such an education - undergraduate training in their own country, postgraduate studies at two or more forestry schools abroad - would have an excellent background for their professional careers. To their own country, they would bring new impulses, new techniques, and new thoughts that could result in improved research, teaching or practices. Should they choose to work abroad, they would bring with them a sound background both with respect to general international education and specific forestry training.

The civilization we are building and should build is international in character. We should adopt the best possible theories and practices irrespective of their origin. We may want to preserve attractive national traditions. But, for the major share of our culture, we should continually consider, test, reject or adopt theories and practices that can help to shape a better world for humanity.

Co-operation between forestry schools throughout the world, along the lines outlined in this paper, will necessarily cost additional money. There win be the cost of travel to meetings, cost of exchange of professors, administrative costs, probably publication of literature, including outlining and cataloguing the objectives, scope and means of the program. Not the least of these increased costs will be the travel, study and research costs for students.

Fortunately there are private foundations whose objectives include support of such international educational objectives. If and when agreement can be reached between a group of forestry schools which are able and willing to co-operate on extended postgraduate education, applications for financial support may be addressed to such philanthropic institutions.

It also seems possible that several of the large companies which are employing foresters in various parts of the world would be interested in awarding student fellowships both for training and research. Such companies - and there are many of them throughout the world - need men with a broad, international training. In addition, they may very clearly see the benefits of establishing research contacts and liaison with educational institutions.

It should be possible to create far more intimate cooperation between the forestry schools of the world than we have in 1960. We are not competitors. We have a tremendous task ahead of us - as we all know - when we consider the forest resources of the world, the conditions they are in, the manner in which we use them, and the immense need the world has for our forests.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page