Ga. University Starts Nation's First School of Ecology

Sunday, July 15, 2007; 11:34 PM


Associated Press Writer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- The bust of one of science's most respected ecologists stands at the entrance to what could be the nation's first university-level school of ecology with a ready reminder: The ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts.

The quote and the bust honor Eugene Odum, the legendary University of Georgia ecologist and namesake of the school, which officially opened last month. And now the late scientist's favorite mantra is being put to the test.

The school is the university's smallest, and its faculty is an odd mix of aging Odum disciples and thirty-something scholars who grew up reading about him.

Although administrators are buzzing with hopes that it could become a national blueprint, they also struggle with a declining number of ecology majors, a limited budget and a healthy dose of self-doubt.

And there's concern the promotion could sap some spunk from the school -- dubbed "The Big O" -- where bearded faculty roam the hallways chewing over their latest research and graduate students host laid-back gatherings on the first Friday of every month.

"Change brings uncertainty. This is something really novel. UGA is taking the lead with a new school of ecology," said John Gittleman, the school's dean. "Where we're going to be a year or 10 years from now is unclear. But the faculty does understand when you do a new experiment, you typically don't know where it's going to end up."

If anything is clear, administrators say, it's that the first ecology school belongs at the University of Georgia.

Odum helped put ecology on the map as a scientific discipline during his career at UGA.

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