THE LEGEND OF THE KNIFE
(As told by Dr. Doyle Chambers and presented to SAAESD in April,
1998, by outgoing chair, Dr. D. C. Coston)
The symbol of authority for the Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (SAAESD) is not the traditional
gavel. It is a pocket knife that is laid on the table when
meetings are open and passed from chairman to chairman. The beginning date of this tradition
is uncertain, but the best guess is that it originated at the spring meeting
in March, 1958 or in March, 1961 -- no one is quite sure which. In 1992, Dr. Gale Buchanan, Chair, purchased a wooden box and placed an inscription on the top, thus creating an official "resting place" for the knife.
Dr. Doyle Chambers, Director Emeritus of the Louisiana Agricultural
Experiment Station, met on November 14, 1997 with the Louisiana participants
in the ESCOP/ACOP Leadership Class. He was asked to relate the story of
this symbol of authority for the SAAESD. The legend related
by Dr. Chambers, which was unrehearsed and without notes, follows.
It is an interesting story. It came out of some complications that
you always get into when you have new legislation and new programs to administer,
the guidelines of which are not always very clear to the Directors and
sometimes not very useful. Sometimes they are real impediments to getting
the job done. When the Hatch Act was revised, in 1957 I think it was, they
had one paragraph in there (paragraph 3C3) which says that up to 25% of
such federal funds as are appropriated under this act as payments to the
states can be used to support cooperative research conducted by two or
more states and it's called a regional research fund. It is part of the
Hatch moneys from that time on. So the Department of Agriculture and the
Directors agreed that, in the original version of the administration of
the regional research fund, the Directors would decide on what projects
they wanted to work on together. The Directors would administer the funds
as a single pot at the regional level. In the south S-1 was the cotton
breeding project and nearly everyone had cotton so everybody wanted to
participate and everybody, of course, wanted some of the money that went
with the project. S-2 was a dairy project and S-3, S-4, S-5, etc. were
others in various areas. S-10 happened to be a beef cattle project with
which I was affiliated for many years.
The Directors decided how much money was to be allocated from the Regional
Research Fund to a particular project. Then the Directors let the technical
committee on a project vote on how much each state got. The technical committee
was composed of a scientist from each state that participated. Certainly,
this led to feuds at that level.
But, there were also concerns at the Directors' level. The Directors
were always fighting over whether or not to fund a project on beef cattle
or cotton or peanuts or sugar cane or whatever some Director wanted. Whether
or not a particular project would be considered worthy of funding was decided
at the Director's meetings by votes.
To prepare for these meetings, the Directors decided they should have
a regional research committee that would come to them with recommendations
on this complicated affair. The regional research committee would review
project proposals and would recommend either approval or disapproval of
each to the Directors association. You could imagine the difficulties you
have when you have states from Virginia to Texas and Oklahoma back to Florida
including exotic states like Louisiana that had a completely different
agriculture than many of the others.
In any event Mr. Taggert who was Director here in Louisiana thought
that the regional research program was a silly requirement and for a long
time he refused to let any of his staff members participate in regional
research. He said it was only 15 cents on the dollar and it costs you 85
cents to get 15 cents so he thought it was stupid. He declined to get in
knowing, I guess, what he was going to run into when he went forward with
a regional project proposal. But, finally he began to submit regional projects,
especially one on sugar cane which was his glory. Taggert came out of the
Sugar Station in New Orleans when it was moved to Baton Rouge.
The regional research committee always included directors from some
of the more enthusiastic regional research states. They managed to get
on nominating committees and kept themselves in power. Don Lewis in Texas,
Cummings from North Carolina and Welch from Kentucky served as the committee
for many years. Mr. Taggert had submitted several projects and they were
always turned down by the regional research committee.
At a Directors meeting in New Orleans Mr. Taggert had the sugar project
submitted for consideration. Director Young from Virginia was presiding
with Don Lewis from Texas representing the Director's regional research
committee. So, the agenda got to Mr. Taggert's project. Lewis reported
that the committee had recommended 'no' on the approval of the project
for funding under the regional research fund. Mr. Taggert weighed about
125 pounds, had two or three fingers missing on one hand (had been ground
off in a sugar mill) and had only one eye I think. He was a pretty wiry
looking critter and he jumped up when the negative recommendation came
in. Don Lewis was about the same height as Mr. Taggert, a little short
fellow, but he weighed about 200 pounds. He was sitting across the table.
Mr. Taggert gets up and he says "Gentlemen of the Southern Directors.
During the last century many pestilences have come out of Texas--tick fever,
the boll weevil, the screw worm and now this s_ _ of a b_ _ _ _ Don Lewis."
Don Lewis tried to grab him from across the table and the Directors had
lost their decorum by that time. Director Young slammed on the table and
said, "The Southern Directors will be in recess until1 o'clock this afternoon."
That was about 10:30 in the morning. He gave them a cooling off period.
He came back at 1 o'clock, he pulled out a knife that he had bought down
on Canal Street and he opened it up and he says "The Southern Directors
will be in order." That's the version that I recall of what happened.
The result of that exchange was that they changed the procedures drastically.
The Directors no longer had the technical committees vote on allocations.
The regional research funds go to the states by formula as part of the
Hatch funds and each state had a share that it could spend on whatever
projects the Director in each state decided to put it on. Directors still
have that authority.