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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SDSU Cans Catangui for Defending SD-Specific Science?

Professor of Plant Science and Extension Entomologist Mike Catangui has been dismissed by South Dakota State University. South Dakota farmers and gardeners may recognize Dr. Catangui as a regular panelist on Garden Line on SDPB.

Professor Catangui's dismissal may have an interesting states-rights twist. Catangui has done research on aphids and soybeans and finds that the regional recommendations made for spraying soybeans with insecticides to get rid of aphids don't work in South Dakota's climate. Dr. Benjamin Kantack, SDSU professor emeritus of plant and bug science, apparently agrees. Kantack is telling the press that Catangui's firing is a result of his resistance to those regional recommendations.

"He was told he would accept the recommendations from these other states, which do not fit South Dakota weather conditions or growing conditions and so forth, which his own research showed do not fit," said Kantack, a professor emeritus and retired Extension entomologist at SDSU. "He was told if he didn't accept them he would not keep his job.

"He has defended the ag interests of South Dakota and saved them a lot of money over the years. He's being discharged, in my opinion, unjustly" [Wayne Ortman, "SDSU Dismissal of Longtime Extension Insect Specialist under Fire," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2010.07.27].

I'm not up on my aphid science, and I'll appreciate any enlightenment my farm neighbors can offer. But I am curious as to whether there is some Monsanto angle to this story, since SDSU is run by a highly paid member of Monsanto's executive board. Monsanto does cite in its aphid-management literature the 250 aphid-soybean threshold that Catangui and Kantack appear to challenge, but Monsanto take its info cue from extension services in neighboring states. If anything, Catangui's science seems to recommend more aggressive use of pesticides against South Dakota aphids, something Monsanto shouldn't mind. If Kantack is correct, Catangui's dismissal appears to be politics within the Extension Service trumping science that makes sense for South Dakota's unique growing conditions.

Everyone else from Catangui to the SDSU president is keeping mum, since this is a personnel matter and legal wheels are a-turning. As a teacher who's been there, I do appreciate Professor Kantack's willingness to speak out on behalf of a colleague he feels is being mistreated. I hope Catangui can come out with a fair resolution of the situation and continue his research on behalf of South Dakota's farmers.


  1. I was shocked when I heard about the dismissal! I always thought that tenure protected professors from this type of situation. The whole Monsanto connection is worrisome. although I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist. Does tenure work differently in Extension vs. regular academic departments? I hope we get an explanation about this. If I was in Extension, I'd be worried about ever deviating from the status quo.

  2. David-

    Tenure isn't what it use to mean. Most large universities aren't even offering it anymore. However, it still exists at SD universities.

    My guess is that there is quite a bit more to this than has been put out to the press. If not and it was an arbitrary firing the faculty would be up in arms.

    Similar things have happened at SDSM&T (where I work) and in every case that I've heard of the faculty/staff member did something stupid to get the boot. However, things were kept quiet to limit PR damage to the university.

    It would be a very strange move if the booting wasn't motivated by a poor decision on the part of the faculty member.


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