Leland Shapiro, former chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources department, has said major changes by the college to the management of the farm prompted his retirement from Pierce College in September.
He retired this semester after 39 years at the college, one year earlier than he’d planned. He said after the college transferred authority over the farm to Plant Facilities it became too difficult to teach his students using hands-on classes.
“I miss the college and I miss the students but it was my time to leave,” Shapiro said.
According to Shapiro, under “tremendous pressure from developers,” the college has sold several pieces of the farm’s land over the years.
“The Board of Trustees promised the revenue of the sale of that would come back to the farm, and it never got to us,” he said.
According to Shapiro, the college “wound up overspending on other things.” He criticized Pierce President Kathleen Burke’s predecessors, but said Burke herself has been more supportive. Shapiro added that Burke has dedicated about $100,000 per year to the farm.
“She did a lot more than her predecessor,” he said.
Burke did not return requests for comment, but associate vice president Larry Kraus disputed Shapiro’s claim that the farm was cut out of the land sale proceeds.
“After part of the land was sold, about half a million dollars went to the farm,” Kraus said.
In an email statement Shapiro sent to former students, he said “college administration decided to take the farm away from Agriculture and give its management authority to the facilities branch of the college.”
The statement added that the Plant Facilities department is not suited to oversee the farm.
“The facilities branch is great at painting, electrical, plumbing and carpentry,” Shapiro said in the email. “They have no expertise in farming.”
According to Shapiro, director of Plant Facilities Paul Nieman “controls the purse and overall management of the farm.” Nieman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Shapiro compared Plant Facilities managing the farm to him “going over to the music department.”
After Plant Facilities took over management of the farm, Shapiro said the health of the animals suffered. Oversight of the farm and animals was previously 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After the change of management, Plant Facilities began maintaining strict 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. hours of operation.
Shapiro said after Plant Facilities assumed management in his last semester at Pierce, he had many animals die at the farm.
“On a regular basis I was asked to open our freezer,” Shapiro said, referring to the refrigerated storage where the farm puts dead animals.
He blamed the deaths on a shortage of funding, a lack of trained veterinary professionals and the cut in hours.
“Animals require a 24/7 management, and not a 7 to 4 p.m. management,” he said in an email. “We used to allow students to live, for example, at the animal units to take care of nighttime emergencies, birthings, sick animals, etc. Today, workers close the gates by 4 p.m. If an animal needs help in the evening it takes an act of Congress to get permission for someone to stay.”
Shapiro added that “more chickens, goats and lambs died in the past year than in the previous years combined.”
Everything the farm does is part of the college’s instructional programs, which fall under the supervision of Vice President of Academic Affairs Sheri Berger.
“I receive a weekly farm report from Greg Mruk,” Berger said, referring to the farm manager at Pierce College.
She said she had not heard about the string of animal deaths Shapiro mentioned. She was only aware of one, a chicken that died during a heat wave. According to Berger, the reports she has received all indicate things are going well at the farm.
Berger said she takes the welfare of the farm’s animals seriously, and is currently working on strategies to keep the animals safe from coyotes.
“The health and safety of the animals is just as important as the safety of our students,” Berger said.
The new chair of the department, Liz White, is excited to be taking over where Shapiro left off.
“I am very excited about where the farm will be in a year from now,” White said. “The farm is at a crossroads as to what they are doing in an instructional sense.”
Shapiro said not many people wanted to run the department after he retired. He said that the chair of the department was only given seven hours to do a job that required 30 to 40 hours a week. There used to be a full-time secretary that would handle phone calls, paperwork and the ordering of supplies. The college asked the chair of the department to handle all of those responsibilities after the secretary retired.
“It looks like it was calculated to be uneconomical to sustain the farm,” Shapiro said.
White described the administration’s attitude toward the department as “quite supportive.”
“Shapiro would be proud of how we are operating the farm and taking care of things,” White said.
Shapiro said that though White “does an excellent job” as the Veterinary Technology director, he will not be satisfied with the situation unless the farm is managed by the Agriculture department.