Recently, there has been more disappointing news regarding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The interim director appointed after the previous botched search has resigned. In addition, Rich Pirog, Asssociate Director and face of the Center across the U.S. is leaving at the end of the month.
Essentially, the University Administration has literally hijacked the leadership of the Center by appointing three consecutive “interim directors” in a row after relieving Fred Kirschenmann of his duties. You may remember in the last search process, the search committee, composed of a broad range of people, selected four candidates to interview on campus. Of these, they recommended two to the President. Ricardo Salvador was the preferred candidate and another was acceptable, while two were deemed unacceptable. The job was offered to the 2nd candidate and at the same time Dr. Salvador, the #1 choice was sent a flush letter. The 2nd candidate eventually declined and the university was left with no other options.
According to the article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, a comment Dr. Salvador made during a presentation that “cows evolved to eat grass” is counted as his downfall (this is a state whose agriculture is dominated by corn and confinements and feedlots that feed ruminants corn; the emperor did not appreciate this comment that suggests there was a lack of clothing.)
The Chronicle interviewed the Dean of Agriculture and asked her if she believed that “cows evolved to eat grass.” She said she had no opinion. (As though this is a question of opinion!). The Chronicle continued to push her and finally she said something to the effect that she was trained as an entomologist and should not be expected to know about everything! Hmm. I’d think for $227,000 dollars a year, a Land Grant university could find some genius who is underemployed who is not an animal scientist who might have a broad understanding of agriculture that includes the knowledge that cows are ruminants.
Obviously, the Dean knows the answer, and no matter who was in that position might have answered the same. There is a structural problem. The problem is that the concept of a Land Grant University funded by public taxes, no longer serves those who pay the taxes, but captains of industry, much like many politicians in Washington serve who do not vote for them.
Somehow, this seems appropriate on the anniversary of our democracy. There’s still work left to do! A recent billboard for Iowa State urged students to “Change your zip code and change the World.” If the University blocks progress on changing less than 2% of Iowa farmland and intercedes to maintain the status quo, there is no hope the world will change anytime soon. There are many bright faculty and students at Iowa State – they deserve leadership that allows them to do just that – change the world.
So, it’s time to go back to the founding legislation and mission of the Center, as put forth in the Groundwater Protection Act that established the Center to:
(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices,
(2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and
(3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings. It is important to recognize
that this mandate creates, by design, a dynamic tension between conventional and alternative forms of agriculture.
The latest string of administrative actions and the litmus test of needing the approval of the powers of conventional agriculture run counter to the designs of the center. It’s time to move the administration of the Center out of suffocating hand of the College of Agriculture and to a more broad-based reporting structure so it can fulfill it’s mission.