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Office of Executive Director - History

Historical Background

About 20 years after passage of the 1887 Hatch Act, which provided federal funds for the support of state agricultural experiment stations (SAESs), the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations was formed. In 1906, the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP) was formed to provide for continuing SAES input to the association between annual meetings. The association evolved into what is now known as the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).

Regional associations of SAESs, all active by the early 1940s, were formed to coordinate interstate and regional activities and to serve as a regional forum for national agricultural research policy. Further responsibilities fell to the regional associations as a result of the Research and Marketing Act of 1946, which required regional administration of regional research funds, and congressional mandates of the 1960s that required regional and national planning of state and federal research.

In order to meet the growing need to facilitate communications and coordinate activities between the regional associations and between the states and USDA, the regional associations established offices of the Director-at-Large (DAL) in the 1960s. The evolution of the DAL offices mirrored developments that affected the SAESs at the state, regional, and national level, and reflected the unique character and culture of the association it served as well as the individual background and expertise of the incumbent DAL. However, a continuing and consistent feature of these offices has been their primary function which is to deal with the business of the regional associations they serve.

The sphere of DAL interest and influence gradually expanded to include the entire range of issues in the state-federal partnership. They developed a more extensive presence at the national level to represent both the individual interests of the regions and the corporate interests of the SAESs as a whole. As their involvement with complex planning, budget development, and advocacy grew, so did their interactions with members of Congress, leadership in USDA, CEOs and Washington-based staff of major farm, commodity, environmental, and consumer organizations, and other parts of NASULGC. To reflect this expanded role and to use a designation more broadly understood and commonly used to reflect activities of offices that serve a multiple constituency, the title of Executive Director (ED) replaced that of DAL during 1991 and 1992.

New Dimensions and Opportunities

The mission of the SAESs has broadened well past developing knowledge for production of food and fiber. The complex industries that comprise U.S. agriculture have a broader need for new information and technology. There is also growing concern about conservation of natural resources and environmental stewardship, food safety and nutrition, and the socio-economic consequences of alternative agricultural practices. During the remainder of the 1990s, changes in the way that agricultural research is prioritized, funded, staffed, conducted, and evaluated are certain. For example, the role and expectations of SAESs within the land-grant university system are in transition, the organization of USDA is under revision, and better coordination and improved efficiencies of research in problem areas that cut across geographic regions and federal agencies are being sought.

There is therefore a growing opportunity for involvement in strategic planning, budget development, and guiding both authorizing and regulatory legislation affecting the SAESs. There is a definite regionality to each of these issues. The network of SAES directors that makes up the Experiment Station Section of NASULGC is a distributed coalition with state and regional interests that must converge to define national issues. The engagement of SAESs with non-USDA parts of the federal establishment has broadened markedly, and the regional associations are playing an active role in representing this engagement on behalf of individual states. The EDs are playing a vital role in this dramatic evolution by guiding positive change while advocating proven and established policies and positions, maintaining a corporate awareness of issues and events impacting agricultural research, developing options and alternatives for action, looking for new opportunities at the margin of traditional missions, and bridging the SAES system with other entities having similar missions and goals. The degree to which the EDs are expected to fill those roles is increasing because of recent and anticipated downsizing of SAES administrative staffs.

The duties and responsibilities of the EDs can be described under three somewhat overlapping areas:

1. Intra-regional activities;
2. Regional activities at the national level; and
3. National activities for the total SAES system.
Intra-Regional Activities

Specific duties and responsibilities of EDs vary among regions and over time, but about half the commitment is region-specific. In all their dealings, the EDs are first representatives of their regional associations. Their offices are financed by funds prorated among the SAESs in their respective regional associations. General responsibilities are to expedite coordination of research efforts among the states within the region, between regions, and of the SAESs with USDA, other federal research agencies, and industry research programs. In close consultation with the regional association leadership, the ED advances the interests of the association through communication with Congress and others, providing executive and staff assistance to the association's leadership and sub-groups, development of analyses, maintenance of records, special services to individual SAESs, participation in regional planning activities, providing orientation for new SAES administrators, and serving as association liaison to other regional groups whose agendas are related to or impact agricultural research. The EDs also serve as a point of entry to the SAESs in their respective regions for USDA officials, Congress, and others.

Regional Activities at the National Level

Much of the EDs' interface with the federal dimension is in behalf of their regional association, and is through ESCOP and its subcommittees. They serve on a continuing basis as a sounding board and advisory group for the ESCOP Chair, who also is Chair of the Experiment Station Section, Board on Agriculture - NASULGC. Regional representatives to ESCOP serve for only three years and are all employed full-time at home. The EDS therefore add an element of continuity and corporate memory to a federated system of which the regional associations are a part and in which elected and appointed positions are often rotated on an annual basis. They also provide administrative advice and support for directors holding national leadership assignments. For example, the ED in the region of the ESCOP chair serves as Executive Vice-Chair and is responsible for meeting arrangements, agenda, and minutes. All four EDs serve on ESCOP standing subcommittees where regional representation is important (e.g., planning, budget), and at least one ED serves on other ESCOP subcommittees requiring considerable coordination and time commitment (e.g., budget advocacy, leadership development), often as executive vice-chair. While the elected leadership assumes responsibility and authority, the EDs play an increasingly active advisory role in leadership for the system. Appendix A displays the current mix of current ESCOP-related ED assignments.

National Activities In Behalf Of Total SAES System

The EDs, with the knowledge and consent of their regional association leadership, share many national responsibilities in behalf of the whole SAES system. They arrange for division of responsibilities among them to equalize time spent and to capitalize on their unique experiences, capabilities, and interests. Requests for ED leadership usually reflect those differences, but involvement by all four EDs is often requested if regional differences may be important to the task. The underlying goal of the EDs in their collective national activities is to be as complementary as possible in advancing the interests of the SAES system by preserving only the best, unique characteristics of the status quo while looking for new opportunities to better serve the evolving mission. ESCOP is often the vehicle for these national activities, but the EDs also often accept officer and board responsibilities with associations, institutes, and councils; participate on program review teams, panels, and commissions; and are active in professional societies to which they belong.

The need for an expanded national presence by the SAESs is shared by the land-grant university community in general. As the overall presence (and attendant cost) has grown, and as state budgets have become increasingly stressed, the need has arisen to examine the overall investment strategy for Washington, D.C. activity. If the only major need were to serve the SAESs as a whole in Washington, the system would not hire four professional scientists/administrators to perform this function. However, the principal reason for having four EDs is to pursue the interests of the regional associations at both the regional and national level. It therefore seems appropriate to take maximum advantage of this resource to also serve the national needs of the SAES system as a whole.

1 Developed by the chairs of the regional associations of state agricultural experiment station directors (Neal A. Jorgensen, North Central; James A. Stewart, Northeast; Charles J. Scifres, Southern; and James J. Zuiches, Western) in consultation with the chair and chair-elect of ESCOP (James R. Fischer and Roger E. Wyse, respectively) and the Executive Directors (Kurt C. Feltner, North Central; Dale W. Zinn, Northeast; Neville P. Clarke, Southern; and Bob D. Heil, Western).  April 23, 1993.

Maintained by: Donna Pearce, Assistant to the Director