Excellence in Leadership Award
James R. Fischer
The nation's land-grant universities and agricultural experiment
stations keep America growing. The South, especially, has benefited from
the land-grant system. From the end of King Cotton's reign through the Green
Revolution to the rise of biotechnology, Southerners have relied on land-grant
scientists, teachers and extension agents to help make their present prosperous
and prepare them for the future. Having agriculture programs that meet changing
needs and times is not simply a series of fortunate coincidences. Someone
needs to look toward the future, plan for change and put the plans into action.
Someone must lead.
Actually, it is many "someones" leading agricultural programs across the
South. The Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors
(SAAESD) has established an award to honor the men and women making outstanding
contributions to the land-grant mission and the region's agricultural success.
Receiving the first award is a nationally recognized land-grant leader from
Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.
"It is a great pleasure for me to congratulate Dr. James R. Fischer
as the first recipient of the Southern Agricultural Experiment Station Award
for Excellence in Leadership," said Dr. Charles Scifres, Association Chair.
Presenting the award at a recent association meeting, Dr. Scifres noted
that Dr. Fischer personifies the award's stated purpose, which is
"to recognize those who have served the Southern experiment stations, the
SAAESD and the national land-grant system with exemplary distinction.... This
person's leadership... shall have personified the highest level of excellence
by enhancing the cause and performance of the SAAESD in achieving its mission,
the vision for the Southern Agricultural Experiment Stations and the land-grant
Dr. Fischer is Associate Dean for Agricultural Productivity and Profitability
and has overseen major reorganization of the South Carolina experiment station and
the university farms, improving their efficiency and effectiveness despite
"Jim is a 'big-picture' person with a particularly clear perspective of
the impact of change on the land-grant system," said Dr. Scifres. "He has
worked steadily with Clemson faculty and administrators, experiment station
association colleagues and other professional and governmental organizations
to shape the responses of the land-grant system to rapid changes occurring
Dr. Fischer served as chairman of the National Agricultural Biotechnology
Council in 1998 and 1999 and continues to serve as a board member. He also
has been an experiment station representative to the National Association
of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC). In 1993 he chaired
the national Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP).
His most significant national achievement occurred in 1996, when he co-directed
the project, "From Issues to Action: A Plan for Action on Agriculture and
Natural Resources for the Land Grant Universities."
"Jim and Zerle Carpenter of Texas A&M led the Kellogg Foundation-sponsored
project that explored ways that the land-grant system can more effectively
engage with society," said D.C. Coston, Associate Director of the Oklahoma
Agricultural Experiment Station, and former Associate Director of the South
Carolina Station. "This effort, and the thought-provoking report that came
out of it, has stimulated discussion and activities at land-grant universities
across the nation. I know of no other person who believes as deeply in the
value of the land-grant system and the need for constant innovation to assure
that our institutions are relevant, effective and service oriented.
Dedication alone is not enough to bring about change. Strong leaders realize
that involving others is vital to success. Dr. Fischer has made his trademark
to bring numerous voices to the table, enabling a diverse and comprehensive
conversation about issues, say his colleagues."
"Jim has always emphasized collaboration in his words and actions -
collaboration among institutions, within the Southern region and throughout
the nation, as well as with state and federal agencies and the clientele
we serve," said Eric Young, Association Executive Director. "With expanding
challenges and shrinking resources, these types of interactions and interdependencies
are more critical now than in the past."
Dr. Fischer joined Clemson in 1987. His background in biological and agricultural
engineering, along with significant experience as a USDA-Agricultural Research
Service scientist and administrator at Michigan State University prepared
him to take on his post at Clemson. Throughout Fischer's tenure he has brought
not only expertise but creativity to his leadership role.
"Jim is a creative person who has always challenged the status quo," said
Richard Jones, Dean of Research at the University of Florida. "He passionately
believes that there is a better way to do anything. This trait has served
him well as a leader and enabled him to propel many enhancements at Clemson."
Burgeoning biotechnological innovations have challenged the land-grant
system to set a new course. Seeing a need to create a biotech research resource
for South Carolina, Dr. Fischer successfully advocated construction of a
$27 million Biosystems Research Complex at Clemson. He also assisted in creating
the Clemson University Genomics Institute, an internationally recognized
genetics library and research program.
Cutting edge challenges sometimes come from the blade of a bulldozer.
South Carolina, like many Southeastern states, is coping with rapid development.
Conflicts between metropolitan and rural interests pose problems for leaders
seeking to preserve agricultural values and promote economic growth. Dr.
Fischer initiated the Clemson Land Use and the Environment program, a land
management program to encourage public awareness of development issues and
options for resolving them through wise-use land policies and best management
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing land-grants today is funding. Elected
officials and the public are demanding tax and spending limits. The public
rightly wants to know how its tax dollars are being spent and what results
have come from its investment. Publicly supported institutions and programs
must be held accountable. The accountability requires improved administrative
management information systems.
At Clemson, Dr. Fischer has overseen development of the Clemson University
Activities Information System, called CUAIMS. The project incorporates the
latest computer, Internet and accounting technology into one system that
increases management effectiveness, financial reporting, researcher access
to data and public awareness of research and public service initiatives.
"Jim's career exemplifies the trends and issues that have confronted agriculture
and society since the late '80s," said Dr. Scifres. "He has approached them
with enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism as well as a good sense
Dr. Fischer was touched by the award. "I am honored and accept this award
on behalf of all the people who joined me in working through the tough process
of giving up the comfort of the status quo for the unknowns that come with
change. I hope that I have made the land-grant system more relevant and responsive
to the needs of the nation and region. I look forward to the future and the
opportunities we will be blessed with."
Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors
Contact: Charles Scifres, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. 979-845-8486