J ames Haney can’t leave well enough alone, particularly when he sees a way to make life more interesting. When a doctor advised him to spend 20 minutes on the treadmill each day, Haney returned with a counterproposal. What if he were to race through his weightlifting and calisthenics—would that be enough aerobic exercise? The doctor agreed.


A treadmill? For Haney? It never could have worked. A Pygmalion at heart, the professor of zoology’s career has been distinguished by a willingness to embrace change. When he first came to UNH to teach freshwater biology 27 years ago, Haney’s lectures came straight out of textbooks. Before too long, he dispensed with rote learning tools and let student excitement guide his teaching.

“Once a course is over,” says Haney. “I always feel it could have been done better, and the next time I teach it, I try something different. I want to give students the opportunity to do things they haven’t done before. That’s when they are at their best, and it’s much more interesting to me.”

The annual waiting list for Field Limnology speaks to the success of this philosophy. Because of the intensity of the work and the cost of the equipment involved in a field study of freshwater habitats, Haney and co-instructor Alan Baker have to limit the course to 15 students each spring. Acceptance into the course is competitive and decided by academic record.

“For many students, this course is the highlight of their undergraduate experience, and they return to tell us so,” says Baker, a professor of plant biology. “I attribute this mostly to Jim’s incredible foresight. He has masterminded the course’s evolution since the early 1970s.”

It’s an evolution that has matched Haney’s changing philosophy on how science is conducted and taught. It is an exciting time to be a scientist, he says, now that “we are coming out of our pigeon holes—microbiologists, zoologists, resource economists, botanists, geneticists. Finding answers to fundamental questions requires an integrated approach as does teaching the next generation of scientists.”

Which is why Haney decided to give his Field Limnology students an opportunity to integrate research, collegial review, and public service. Working with a local lakes association, each student designs a study to examine a water quality issue in a particular lake, pond, or stream. Students collect and analyze data and write a manuscript, which they first submit to one another for an anonymous peer review, and later to Haney and Baker.

“Students like doing something that’s genuine,” says Haney. “This gives them the experience of investigating real problems and responding to critical review, just as they will have to do if they pursue a career in research.”

The professional quality of the students’ reports is such that Haney won’t allow them to sit in a corner of his office gathering dust. He found the funds to make them available on the World Wide Web and at libraries in the state, so the public can make use of data gathered by the students.

Alongside teaching, Haney is chair of the Department of Zoology. He is cofounder of the Lakes Lay Monitoring Program, a citizen-based research network that monitors the quality of more than 250 freshwater bodies throughout New Hampshire. He recently translated one of the textbooks used for his General Limnology course from its original German. He keeps an ambitious schedule, and often finds that he has more ideas than time to fulfill them. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I was in college, I thought a profession had to be serious business, and that one’s most passionate interests were best left as hobbies,” says Haney. “I learned the hard way [he explored chemistry, prelaw, and German before freshwater biology] that both work and hobbies should be fun. So, I always ask my students: If you could have as much fun as you possibly can—what would you do? Then I tell them they should do that for a living.”

—Dolores Jalbert, University Publications

 

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College of Life Science and Agriculture, James F. Haney

James F. Haney with student Leo McKillop, Barbados Pond, Dover

James F. Haney, professor of zoology, College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, with student Leo McKillop, Barbados Pond, Dover, N.H.

 

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