The Dealings of the AEM Program

22 11 2009

For almost every day of the past semester, there has been something in the news about proposed budget cuts or streamlining of the university in the name of efficiency. The AEM (Applied Economics and Management) Program is probably the biggest target of the streamlining arguments, and not without good reason. Someone could effectively obtain a business major through AEM in CALS, PAM in Human Ecology, or by concentrating on a particular field within the Hotel School. The engineering school has a program set up with CALS where engineering students can minor in business through AEM.  Some aspiring entrepreneurs take classes at the Johnson as undergraduates. Point is, anyone whose interested in business (if at least because of the big financial rewards) can do so.

AEM hasn’t always been the fast track to I-banking as it is often seen today. The AEM of competing business fraternities, Wall Street ambitions and pre-MBAs is largely a recent phenomenon.The history of AEM shows how much of a radical departure the program has made in recent years, and thankfully a professor emeritus of the department recorded it in a written book about the history of the department that is available online in its entirety.

AEM started in CALS for good reason — it was first known as agricultural economics. The program has its earliest roots from around 1903, when Ag school dean Liberty H. Bailey hired Prof. Thomas Hunt, who taught the first courses on farm management. By 1907, Hunt left to become a dean of the Penn State Ag school and George Warren took over most of his duties, becoming a full professor of the Farm Crops and Farm Management Department by 1910 (the sister department at the time was Rural Economy). George Warren by and large shaped much of the early development of the program, hence Warren Hall’s dedication to him when it was built in the early 1930s. In 1919, the two sister majors were merged into one department to be called Agricultural Economics, as ordered by the Board of Trustees.

For the next several decades, Ag Economics was a major usually taken by farm kids who planned on going back to the farm or engaging in some other form of agricultural operations. By the 1970s, the program had begun to diversify somewhat, and by the 1980s the program offered a substantial number of courses that didn’t focus as much on the agriculture portion of ag economics (mostly these new offerings were in environmental and managerial economics — the managerial portion could be seen as a predecessor to today’s AEM). To reflect this, the department changed its name to Agricultural, Resource, and Managerial Economics (ARME) in 1993.

Unfortunately, the book ends off in early 2000, and a lot has changed in the past nine years. The program changed its name from ARME to AEM in 2000.  The undergraduate business program was accredited in January 2002. Doing this required a significant financial infusion on CALS’s part, one example being the hiring five key staff members that were required for full accreditation (for ratio purposes and course requirements needed for accreditation). Depending on the year, AEM has offered anywhere from six to ten concentrations, some ag based and some not. This is where the blurring has resulted from.

So, we have the kids who come straight from the farm and want to pursue agricultural objectives. That’s right in line with CALS’s objectives. But then you have the kids who are completely set on Wall Street and Wharton. the ones who scowl when you mention that CALS is state funded or poo-poo most of their intraschool brethren (I know that they’re not all like that, but all it takes is a few to set a bad example and garner a poor image). The department has definitely become more diverse, but some argue that it comes at the cost of diluting the mission of the school (of course, who am I criticize when CALS also includes atmospheric science [meteorology, which grew from crop and soil science], landscape architecture and and communication)?

Should AEM be streamlined? It would seem appropriate when you consider the variety of business programs Cornell offers. But to be frank, CALS does not give a damn what Cornell as a whole thinks when it comes to AEM. CALS invested heavily in the program in the late 1990s and early 2000s to get it accredited and propel it into the top ten in recent years. Why would they let someone deprive them of lucrative business majors (who become lucrative alumni) after they worked some hard to lure them into the program? This is more of a problem than people seem to realize. Unfortunately for me, my adviser rants about AEM’s high-and-mighty attitude roughly twice a week, so I won’t be seeing an end of those complaints anytime soon.



One response

22 11 2009

For the record, I am an AgEc alum. When I come back to campus to speak I find myself being introduced as an AEM alum, which is funny because there is a large difference between what AgEc was then and what AEM is today.

CALS had to spend substantially to get AEM accredited. The reason for this is that AEM was extremely understaffed and could not offer introductory level courses that were standard in most undergraduate business programs. If it was not for the accreditation process I believe that AEM would still be woefully supported by CALS. Students in the AgEc days had to take classes in Hotel, Arts, and Johnson to complete an undergraduate program on par with other top undergrad business program.

I agree with the argument to merge the related undergrad buiness programs into a single undergrad buiness school. Even when the economy was in better shape I thought this would be a good idea. I think the only way this idea is put into practice is if it is forced upon AEM, PAM, and Hotel Finance by the University. Otherwise, the the three colleges will not give up control over departments that generates a good amount of donations.

Keep up the good work,

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