Update on the Leopold Center's director search

Last month I posted about the controversy surrounding the search for a new director of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. University officials offered the job to Frank Louws, a plant pathologist in North Carolina, although the search committee preferred Ricardo Salvador, the program director for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food, Health and Wellbeing program. Salvador is a corn expert and displayed a more “holistic perspective” about sustainable agriculture, which is probably why the Iowa Farm Bureau had expressed a preference for Louws. ISU’s Dean of Agriculture Wendy Wintersteen informed Salvador that he would not get the position before Louws had accepted the job. Typically, employers wait until they have a deal with their top candidate before telling other finalists that they didn’t get the job.

For about two months, Louws neither accepted nor declined the offer to head the Leopold Center. Meanwhile, ISU President Greg Geoffroy denied that he had been influenced by the Farm Bureau, saying he had followed “very strong advice” from Wintersteen and ISU’s Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Hoffman. In the sustainable agriculture community, many people believe industrial agriculture interests influenced Wintersteen’s and Hoffman’s recommendation.

In any event, Louws has declined ISU’s job offer, the Ames Tribune reported yesterday. Wintersteen said North Carolina State University made him “a generous counter offer,” and Louws decided not to uproot his family.

According to the Ames Tribune, Geoffroy “advised [Wintersteen] to call Salvador back for a second interview” after Louws turned down the Leopold Center job. That interview has not yet been scheduled.

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Iowa State let Farm Bureau choose the head of the Leopold Center

I lost a lot of respect for Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy after reading this piece by Alan Guebert for the Burlington Hawk Eye. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has been looking for a director to replace the retiring Jerry DeWitt. An expert panel conducted a nationwide search and chose four finalists, whom you can learn more about here. Guebert explains how the search ended:

Iowa Farm Bureau made it known to ISU aggies that the leading candidate for the post, Ricardo Salvador, the program director for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food, Health and Wellbeing program, was not its prime choice. It preferred Frank Louws, a plant pathologist at North Carolina State.

According to interview and program evaluations, Louws was a clear second to Salvador in almost every category commented on by evaluators. He had limited experience with Iowa commodities, no livestock experience, no “national or international reputation in sustainable agriculture,” and a “lower scope of vision” for the Center than Salvador.

Despite these shortcomings, Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy authorized ag Dean Wendy Wintersteen to offer Louws the job. Simultaneously, Wintersteen sent Salvador an email Dec. 2 that informed him he would not be Leopold director.

Why, asks Laura Jackson, a center advisory board member and a professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa, was Salvador, “clearly the most qualified applicant interviewed,” sent packing before Louws either accepted or declined the position?

Those who have seen the documentary King Corn might remember Salvador from a few scenes. He is highly regarded by sustainable agriculture experts inside and outside the U.S. and is an expert on one of Iowa’s leading crops.

Guebert reports that Louws has neither accepted nor declined the position at the Leopold Center, so perhaps there is still a chance for Salvador to be offered the job. Either way, the episode doesn’t reflect well on ISU, which already had a reputation for being less than welcoming to sustainable agriculture advocates.

When Fred Kirschenmann was hired as director of the Leopold Center in 2000, none of the agricultural science departments wanted him on their faculty for fear of angering corporate interests. So, Kirschenmann was appointed to the ISU Department of Religion and Philosophy. But at least the Farm Bureau was not allowed to veto his hiring. It’s a sad day for a university when a corporate group can overrule the strong preference of a hiring committee.

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