Dean-elect confident of Macdonald's future

by Diana Grier Ayton

When McGill's Board of Governors approved the appointment of Deborah Buszard as Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences last month, they helped make a little history. That's because Buszard will become the first woman in Canada to head an agricultural faculty.

Although her appointment won't take effect until June, Buszard, a plant scientist and currently associate Dean for academic and student affairs, has plenty of ideas about new directions for Macdonald Campus.

"The principal has been telling all of us that we need to change and do things in innovative ways. Our faculty, in my opinion, is one of the ones best able to adapt. We are used to working with very dynamic systems in agricultural and evironmental sciences. We are used to change, to working in a multidisclipinary way. We don't have some of the traditional barriers between the disciplines that exist in other faculties."

A priority for Buszard will establishing greater links with the downtown campus, and with other Quebec and Canadian universities. "We are proposing to introduce joint programs with other faculties in the University. I'm hoping that we'll be able to get more cross-appointments of our staff with other departments."

And she strongly supports a proposal currently being discussed for the establishment of a McGill School of Environment which would draw initially on departments in her own faculty, as well as the faculties of Arts and Science. A preliminary report on the idea has been produced by a joint committee from the three faculties and presented to the deans. The next step, says Buszard, is to work on the specifics of the structure and the program.

"There isn't a plan for a physical centre­the concept is of a virtual school at the moment. We do think that Macdonald Campus is ideally situated for the teaching of a lot of the environmental sciences with our facilities here­the arboretum, the lake, the farm­and the natural ecosystems that go along with all of that."

Another goal is for the faculty to set up co-op programs for both graduate and undergraduate students. "This will help us link students with the industries where they will be seeking jobs once they finish. It will make the programs better in terms of training students for what's really out there."

The concept works both ways, says Buszard. "Right now we're offering a six-credit professional development course for members of the Ordre des agronomes here in Quebec. The association is asking its members to take 45 hours of university courses over a three-year period. We'll be offering more courses to address the need for professional upgrading for people working in agriculture."

Buszard says that Macdonald has traditionally been very involved in Quebec agriculture. Many people working in the field are McGill graduates and the level of francophone undergraduate enrolment has risen to 50%.

"In addition, our professors serve on government committees on things like the use of pesticides, the new germ plasm and animal health. We're involved in things that people can relate to­food, the natural environment, biotech-nology, pesticide residues."

Macdonald Campus staff are very busy abroad as well, says Buszard. "Some people comment that many of our faculty spend more time in Pakistan or Egypt on major projects than they spend here, but that's part of McGill, that's the way we function. We have an international reputation and we have a high percentage of international students on this campus. It makes sense that we're doing research in other countries."

Buszard's own research has focused on fruit cultivation and especially strawberries. So far her work has led to the production of several new cultivars, plants adapted to the Quebec climate and designed to be hardier after picking.

"We're just about to release a new variety, to be called Joliette after the town. It has a very good flavour and doesn't rot quickly after harvesting. We're excited about this and so is the industry­propagators are phoning to get plants and the licence to produce them." Buszard says the fruit won't be on our tables until 1998, but she can stand the wait. "That's the sad thing about strawberry breeding. You taste so many, you just get sick of them."