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.

  • What a debacle

    Who tells the Number 2 choice that he's out when the Number 1 Choice hasn't said "yes" yet? I guess she never had more than one suitor for the Prom. Oops, that was probably mean, and I'm not really one to talk.

    Anyway, now Salvador's bargaining position is hugely strengthened. Regardless of how good he would be for the Leopold Center, that's a bad deal for ISU and for Iowa taxpayers.

    I wonder: Will this be another instance of a high-ranking official keeping their job after screwing up the most basic of responsibilities: in this case, negotiating the hiring of a top executive?

    Or will Wintersteen get another chance to show her managerial chops? If she were a dishwasher, truck driver, or office manager and made a blunder of a similar magnitude, she would certainly be fired I would think. As Wintersteen's boss, holding her accountable would seem to pertain to Geoffroy's job description as well -- but then again maybe he's the one who told Wintersteen to prematurely 86 Salvador. Will anyone lose their job over this?

    This accountability problem is endemic to all bureaucracies, by the way, private sector as well as public.

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