Update on Agricultural Experiment Station, June 5, 2012
We’re now a couple of weeks into our summer break, which means, for what it’s worth, I have a little more time to wax philosophical. So I’m going to start this message with a quick history lesson.
150th anniversary of the Morrill Act of 1862
As you may know, we’ll be celebrating the 150th anniversary on July 2 of President Lincoln’s signing of the Morrill Act that created land-grant universities. This was, in retrospect, an astonishing gesture — coming just one day after the Seven Days Battles ended, with Union Commanding General George McClellan retreating toward Washington. In the midst of the bloodiest year of the Civil War, with the Union Army in retreat, and against a historical backdrop in which education was only for the wealthy, Lincoln had the foresight to sign a bill creating a public university in each state committed to assuring that every American with the talent and motivation to earn a university degree should have that opportunity. It created an educational system that changed our nation and continues to change education around our world today.
Creation of Agricultural Experiment Stations
Of course, we all know that the Land Grant universities created in 1862 included in their mission a focus on the science of agriculture to feed a growing nation. And in that same year, Lincoln also signed legislation that created the Department of Agriculture. But just as important, 25 years later, Congress authorized the creation of a system of Agricultural Experiment Stations funded through this federal department but connected with these state colleges — a move that provided the original foundation for the research mission that has been such an enormous driver of our country’s innovation and advancement over the past century and a half.
Just as Land Grant universities are as alive and vibrant today as in 1862, our Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station is still an integral part of that mission, conducting research to support “economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable” agriculture in Colorado, working in close partnership with nearly all of our academic colleges and faculty across the institution. The state of Colorado invests about $12 million in the AES every year, and the Experiment Stations in turn generate more than $82 million in annual economic impact through improved varieties and practices and disease prevention and control.
In short, the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station is an outstanding asset to Colorado and our University — and an important part of our statewide research and educational mission. And if our society is going to meet the challenge of global protein demand — feeding 9 billion people within our children’s lifetime — it will be because Land Grant universities and Agricultural Experiment Stations put their shoulders behind that wheel.
AES director Sommers to retire, CSU will restructure ag research leadership
A great deal of credit for the success of our AES goes to its longtime director, Lee Sommers, who has provided outstanding leadership for the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station since 1996. Lee has guided the AES through a period of difficult consolidation and budget cuts, always remaining a staunch champion for our agricultural research agenda and our statewide experiment station operation. And so, it’s with some pause that I announce that Lee has recently informed me of his decision to retire a year from now — May 31, 2013. I’m personally delighted for Lee and wish him all the best on this well-earned retirement, but his decision also requires that we consider the future leadership of the AES as a CSU agency and how best to position it for a new era.
After discussions with Lee and College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Craig Beyrouty, we have agreed to move forward with a restructuring — combining the Director of AES position with the role of Ag Sciences Dean. Craig will assume both roles at the time of Lee’s retirement, reporting directly to Provost Rick Miranda. This fall, we will launch a national search for a Deputy Director of AES/Associate Dean for Research of the College of Agricultural Sciences so that this position can be in place in time to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities next spring.
Restructuring will engage AES with university mission
Our goal with this restructuring is to more fully engage AES with the larger university mission and to put the Dean of Agricultural Sciences in a policy-setting role relative to all of CSU’s agricultural research. This will help streamline our engagement with the statewide ag community and also ensure effective engagement internally through the position’s seat on the Council of Deans.
The problems facing agriculture in Colorado and globally are complex and multidisciplinary and will require the involvement of faculty from a wide range of disciplines who are concerned with water, soils, animal and human health, food safety, nutrition, the environment, and more. The AES and its historic link to our land-grant mission give CSU an extraordinary vehicle through which to confront these issues, and I believe this new structure will open new opportunities for even greater impact.
While we’ll still have the benefit of his leadership for the next year, I want to take this opportunity to thank Lee for his great work both with AES and as a CSU professor, scientist, and academic administrator for more than 27 years. He has been and will continue to be an invaluable member of our campus community, and I hope you will join me in recognizing him and thanking him for his leadership during the coming transitional year.
Dr. Tony Frank