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Open Letter to Board of Trustees Zamorano 2

Open Letter to Board of Trustees Zamorano 2

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Published by Jose Falck

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Jose Falck on Aug 12, 2010
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10/25/2012

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August 7, 2010Mr. Frederic Falck,President Board of Trustees,Escuela Agrícola PanamericanaDr. Alison StoneVice-President Board of Trustees,Escuela Agrícola PanamericanaBoard of Trustees,Escuela Agrícola PanamericanaDear Board of Trustees and its Officers:I am writing this open letter to you as a Zamorano graduate (Agrónomo Class of 1984), a person who hasnavigated through the high level international policy analysis and dialogue arenas, who has been aformal Zamorano Faculty and who is now an Affiliate Professor at Zamorano and at the University of thePhilippines Los Baños, as well as a professional working for a world class policy analysis organization, theInternational Food Policy research Institute (IFPRI). These are my opinions, not that of my employer oranybody else.I am writing this letter to share with you, some of my impressions and ideas on the future of Zamorano,now that the process of selecting a new rector is underway. This open letter is made with the mostpositive and proactive desire for Zamorano to excel in its mission and objectives. I cannot emphasize thispoint enough as I seek to construct and contribute through very explicit and direct opinions on issuesrelevant to the institution. To do so we have to start by discussing a bit of background on Zamorano as ahigher learning and capacity building institution in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Is Zamorano unique amongst higher learning institutions?
Zamorano is indeed unique amongst higher education institutions in Latin America and the Caribbeanand other parts of the world. Zamoranos emphasis on a practical, hands-on education focused onproblem solving and the development of a can do attitude separates us from mainly theoreticaluniversities.The principles that made Zamorano and its graduates different than others have been widely describedelsewhere. Certainly, Dr. Simon Malos book El Zamorano: meeting the challenges of tropical Americasummarized principles these better than what I can do in this short piece. However, it is important to listthese principles as the need will exist to modify or in some cases strengthen these principles. We needto make these changes with an explicit consideration of the new and emerging agricultural professionalprofile that will be ready today to address the problems and issues of 2050 (and beyond) Latin Americanand the Caribbean agriculture and the economy.The principles by which Zamorano built a highly regarded reputation are:
 
1. Learning by doing2. Basic philosophy of education and research with a purpose3. Concurrent classroom and field training4. Excellent student body that starts from choosing the best of the best through heavy selectionpressures with the explicit objective of selecting the best candidates before admission5. Disciplinary system and the code of conduct6. Egalitarian student society: Having a student body with mix backgrounds in an environmentwhere everybody is as equal as possible7. Panamericanism and the building of a Zamorano community after graduation
O
ur prestige has been eroding over time
There may be some signals that Zamorano (and its graduates) prestige has been eroding over time.Although there are no hard data that I am aware of leading to an exhaustive analysis of whether thisperception is true or whether Zamorano graduates are not being rewarded for excellence in terms of employment or competitive salaries, there are some anecdotal an indirect measurements we can use togain some insight into this issue.As can be seen in Table 1, university rankings by 4ICU.org (www.4ICU.org) and Webometrics(www.webometrics.org) position Earth University above Zamorano in their perception of quality. We aresimply not in the league of advanced universities in the region; we do not compete with some of theuniversities in Central America such as the University of Costa Rica, much less with universities in Brazilor Mexico. We do not necessarily need to compete with these more traditional universities; in fact, oneaspect that needs immediate attention is finding the appropriate comparisons to which we can comparea unique institution such as Zamorano which has a specialized educational program. Perhaps we aremore akin to such institutions as Teknion in Israel or some of the special education Eccoles in France. Wedo need to worry about why Zamorano is not ranked higher in these two rankings. Understanding thereasons why Zamorano is ranked so low in Latin America will tell us a lot about what we need to do toaddress this issue.Of course, indexes such as those from 4ICU.org and Webometrics, reflect the parameters which areused in their construction. At the very least, these indexes are telling us that Zamorano has to do asignificantly better job in disseminating its outputs, while positioning its work in the international debateand discussion arenas and the internet and to improve the quality of its outputs. Certainly, a muchmore rigorous and robust survey of employers, educational institutions, graduates and otherstakeholders needs to be done to address whether this erosion is more of a miss-perception that needsto be addressed by Zamorano promptly.
 
One can propose many reasons why Zamorano prestige may (or can) be eroding over time. First, there isincreased competition by other educational institution. Second, the perception exists that there mayhave been some decreased emphasis in maintaining the excellence and discipline standards for bothnew students and for faculty. I do not have any way to measure nor prove this. I can only relate someperception s gained through personal experience and from personal communications with othergraduates. In fact, the perception exists that some of this slippage may have been reversed already.Finally, a major contributor is our own complacency. Here I include the administration, faculty,instructors, graduates and students who have not been diligent enough in supporting Zamorano and itsactivities. We have been simply too passive and not willing to engage all stakeholders in this endeavor.Certainly I am as guilty as everybody.One major issue that needs to be thought over and debated is the need to address the reality of fourcareer tracks and thus four professional/graduate profiles. We moved away from the one career singletrack generalist to a system that delivers four careers and thus graduates. We have four distinctprofessional profiles that will have to be marketed differently with Zamoranos clients. We cannot sellthe idea of the jack- of-all-trades professional anymore. A graduate from the DSEA career is quitedifferent than one from Agro-Industrias. Zamorano did maintain concept of a common core curriculum,but this is not sufficient to maintain the one professional profile we had before.
My
vision for Zamorano 2050
My vision is for Zamorano becoming a world class educational institution by 2050. I propose that thepathway to this end point contemplates four distinct pillars which will ensure meeting its mission, goalsand objectives.1. Raising the bar for research and innovation capacityTo develop and implement strategic efforts for establishing Zamorano as a world-class center of higherlearning, research, and innovation excellenceZamorano needs to significantly raise the quality of its research and innovation capacity so that itsproducts are comparable to those of lead institutions at the global level. Research and innovation haveto be up to world standards in terms of peer review and to firm up the recognition by actual andpotential stakeholders of being a high-quality provider. Certainly, Zamorano needs to strengthen theIngeniero Agrónomo thesis program so that a significant share of all the theses developed during acalendar year can be published in regional and international journals. Furthermore, Zamorano has todevelop the culture of publishing in international journals and making presentations in internationalconferences.This is the most effective way to gain access to donor funding, obtain an excellent performance standardand ensure its competitiveness amongst other institutions in Latin America. We cannot afford to haveIngeniero theses gathering dusts in the Wilson Popenoe Library and as such Zamorano needs to helpits faculty develop their own research programs so that individual thesis, or a set of theses, can be usedto respond research questions relevant to the institution.

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