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Excellence in Leadership Award

Presented to

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 ideal."

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 budget cutbacks.

"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 in agriculture."

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 practices.

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 of humor."

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."

News Release
Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors
Contact: Charles Scifres, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. 979-845-8486 or c-scifres@tamu.edu

Maintained by: Donna Pearce, Assistant to the Director