When did agriculture become a four-letter word? And when did an image of cotton become an embarrassment to higher education?

Yeah, even I, with my limited math skills, know that a-g-r-i-c-u-l-t-u-r-e includes considerably more than four letters. But I'm using the philosophical sense, four letters being a synonym for ugly language, bathroom talk, profanity. A word to be avoided less it offend someone.

Apparently some academics believe the term agriculture evokes vibes bad enough to turn away prospective students, who would be more apt to enroll were the college of agriculture named something else, perhaps the college of ecological, environmental and political correctness studies.

For instance, The University of Nebraska recently announced that it's considering dropping the word agriculture from its college of agriculture. Reasoning behind the change would be to reverse a trend of declining enrollment in ag studies. A recent Associated Press article reported that instead of traditional agricultural curricula the school would promote other offerings, such as professional golf course management, forensic science, and hospitality, restaurant and tourism management.

Last time I checked Nebraska remained a key farm state with lots of grain and livestock and a long tradition of support for agriculture and farm industries.

But Steve Waller, dean of what is currently known as the University of Nebraska College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, wonders if the term agriculture is too antiquated for a modern university.

No. It isn't.

The problem comes from a populace that may have forgotten its rural, agrarian roots but remains, nevertheless, dependent on them for life and well-being. Even those of us who work in front of computer screens, in boardrooms scores of stories above ground, or in factories have at least two things in common: We eat and wear clothes. And that means involvement in agriculture, or ecological studies or natural resources or whatever. Changing the name doesn't change the result. Agriculture continues to put food on our tables, shirts on our backs.

So, if enrollment drops in ag schools, change the name to attract more students. Perhaps that makes sense in some perverse way but changing the name of something doesn't change the something. A rose by any other name and so forth.

The business of agriculture needs better public relations, a better means of conveying its value to the very people who use it. Changing names won't accomplish that.

And, closer to home, Texas Tech University is toying with the idea of removing the symbol of cotton from its official seal. How absurd. And how utterly snobbish.

Texas Tech and the cotton industry have been closely linked, successfully so, for generations. Tech graduates have aided the cotton industry, helped develop new varieties, and better chemistries and helped farmers improve production techniques. The International Textile Center continues to find new ways to use cotton, make it more comfortable, safer, a better value for those who grow it and those who use it.

The cotton industry has supported Texas Tech handsomely. Cotton based companies are important contributors to the university.

The Texas Southern Plains boasts a long, rich tradition of cotton production and textile manufacturing. The area just completed the largest cotton harvest in history. Agreed, the area now includes a varied industrial complex that complements cotton. But cotton still pays a lot of bills, including the tuitions of many farm kids, a lot from cotton farms, who attend Texas Tech. Ask them how important cotton is to the area and to Texas Tech.

Removing cotton from the school seal is a betrayal of those farms as well as the institution's own traditions and history.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com