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Gardening and landscape education: new challenges for the future

I have attended and delivered several courses on horticultural and landscape design, and teaching horticulture, over the years, at the University of Florida and the University of California, Irvine. I don’t know how many have ever thought about the role these courses will play in the landscape education landscape in the future. Let’s face it, today’s landscape professional has to be prepared to compete for both professional advancement and also for a livelihood. Landscape education is a key part of this equation.

The landscape architect (LA) program at the University of Florida (UF) will be on the chopping block in fall 2015. So far, the landscape architecture program has not made the cut. The landscape architecture faculty has not had an increase in the past 8 years. Many landscape architecture students, who have chosen UF because of the program, may be forced to reconsider their path.

This is not a recent development. The landscape architecture program at UF has been in flux since the beginning of the new century. It is a good thing that the University of California, Irvine, landscape architecture program, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, will not face the same fate as the one at UF. As UF prepares to close its LA program, however, the landscape architecture program at UCI will begin closing its doors in January 2014. And it will have been closed to landscape architecture students since 2008. It is unfortunate that the University of Florida is closing its program, which has a long history, but it is a reality. The landscape program at UF, which was opened in 1984, has been struggling with declining enrollment and a difficult funding environment for the past 10 years or so.

In the UF landscape architecture program, which is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAB) and has been accredited for 25 years, students are encouraged to design “landscape systems” with a focus on the local and regional environment, as well as the natural and cultural elements that make the area unique. This concept is reinforced by the university’s designation as a “Florida Green Leader,” as well as the recognition that UF is the largest urban forestry research institute in the U.S.

UF landscape architecture faculty, from professors to teaching assistants to the graduate program director, are dedicated to the vision and mission of the program. For example, the current landscape architecture chair, Dr. Mark Satterfield, has a focus on environmental education and sustainability. The University’s new chief academic officer, Dr. Lisa Heinzerling, has made sustainability one of the priorities for the university. In that context, it is difficult to imagine a greater challenge for UF’s landscape architecture program than being shut down.

However, UF should not be held hostage to any one group, organization, or individual. The program exists because of UF’s leadership in the discipline, its faculty, and its students. The landscape architecture program also exists at a time when UF’s administration is trying to be more responsible in its spending, and to avoid the fiscal crises of the past. And that leadership should extend to recognizing and implementing UF’s role in addressing issues such as climate change.

That is what some UF students are doing: On March 2, students from eight of UF’s colleges and programs met with administrators to demand the landscape architecture program continue its work. In addition to the administration, the students included students in the UF College of Medicine, UF College of Law, UF College of Education, UF College of Veterinary Medicine, UF College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, UF College of Business, the UF Research Foundation, and the UF College of Dentistry.

Some students from the school of landscape architecture are planning to protest, which is something that UF and the administration has requested.

It’s all about responsibility and leadership.

Kerry O’Brien is a senior majoring in landscape architecture at UF. He was the campus representative on UF’s student climate change task force. In his interview with UFNow, he said that he wants to see more action from the administration:

“I think this is a perfect example of what our administration and student government do not value student involvement in the climate change issue. We do not have one administrator or one official representative from our department in a single statewide event! As a university it is more than a little bit irresponsible to leave students out of important decisions about our future, but more importantly it’s an affront to our graduate students. This means a lot to them, they’re the ones who are planning this campaign and are helping to shape the future of our university and the discipline that they’re working in.”

O’Brien also says that the administration is not doing its job in preparing the university for the effects of climate change. He said:

“The UF administration is responsible for preparing the university for what is coming next. They should prepare for more heat waves, more wildfires and more extreme weather. They are not doing this, and this is irresponsible. UF has more than enough money to create a climate and sustainability advisory committee, they just don’t want to do it.”

“Climate change is going to have a significant impact on Florida, and it is only going to get worse in the next few decades. How we prepare our students for this is going to be an essential component to their future success in life.”

O’Brien also said that it’s up to the faculty and administration to do its job and prepare the students:

“We also have an administration and faculty on this campus that should be doing the work to help our students prepare. Instead they are just telling our students ‘oh the climate change campaign is something we’re not going to do’. Well excuse me, the administration and faculty should be working on this, instead of telling our students that they need to be doing this for themselves. I think this campaign is a great opportunity for our students to be active citizens in addressing climate change, and that’s something that has not been emphasized enough by the administration.”

In a separate interview with Florida’s CBS affiliate on July 15, President Trump said that some schools are considering canceling upcoming hurricane evacuation drills. As a result of this, O’Brien made a statement on Twitter in response to the president:

“Donald Trump is trying to stop students from preparing for a hurricane. That is irresponsible, but students are already prepared and many college students are even taking extra precaution as a result of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey.”

“We already have students in Texas and Florida making sure they are adequately prepared, and students are prepared not only in Florida but all across America. Hurricane Harvey and Irma prepared students, and they are getting their education and preparing


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