At the reception to honor departing College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Jeff Armstrong last week, Provost Kim Wilcox reflected on the meaning of the word “farewell.” He noted that the word originates from an older English phrase “fare thee well,” in which the speaker shows compassion for a departing friend or colleague by wishing them prosperity, good health and strong social support. He shared that having worked with Jeff and having seen what he can do, he genuinely felt the word “farewell” captured his sense of wishing Jeff and his wife, Sharon, prosperity, good health and strong support in their new role at the helm of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
The economic and state budget news from California isn’t any better than the news in Michigan has been during much of the time Jeff has served as our dean. Within two weeks of his departure to California, the news that the California governor had targeted the state’s investment in higher education for significant budget cuts didn’t seem to bother Jeff at all. He’s dealt with similar challenges throughout his time at Michigan State University. And in wishing him “farewell,” it struck me that the provost’s wishes probably aren’t so much that he would avoid those kinds of challenges – that’s unrealistic. But with the kind of support implicit in “farewell,” Jeff and Sharon will lead Cal Poly with the confidence and optimism that they need. So in that spirit, I’m pleased to repeat Provost Wilcox’s parting comment: “Farewell, Jeff and Sharon.”
Saying goodbye to Dean Jeffrey Armstrong isn’t easy, but I am extremely pleased that Provost Kim Wilcox has announced that he will recommend Dr. Doug Buhler to the Board of Trustees to serve as interim dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Doug has served CANR well and in a variety of capacities since arriving in 2000. Dr. Buhler is currently research associate dean of the CANR and associate director of AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station). He is a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, for which he served as chairperson from 2000 to 2005. His appointment is pending approval by the MSU Board of Trustees, and if approved, Dr. Buhler will begin as dean Feb. 1 and continue in the position until a permanent dean is identified through a national search process. While he was department chair, Doug also served as an interim state leader in Michigan State University Extension for agriculture programs for about 18 months, so he is well aware and supportive of MSUE’s role and mission. Doug and Dean Armstrong are working closely already on making a smooth transition of leadership during what are challenging times.
It’s difficult to describe ANR Week—so many different programs addressing so many interests, needs and opportunities for Michigan and the Great Lakes region. But I heard Provost Kim Wilcox share an observation this week that captures it as well as anything I’ve ever heard. In his comments at the ANR Week Luncheon on Tuesday, he noted that as only the third speaker on the agenda, he had already heard the word “partnership” used 14 times. Subsequent speakers used the word, too.
In his comments, the provost pointed out that working in partnerships—within the university and with state agencies, federal agencies, private businesses, community organizations, individual volunteers, commodity groups, conservation organizations, and others—is a hallmark of the work of MSU, and that certainly includes MSU Extension. In fact occasionally MSU Extension stakeholders and staff members mention to me that they think we need to figure out how to get the word “cooperative” back in the title of MSUE. Years ago the decision was made that MSU Extension was a name that better represented our organization, reflecting the fact that we are the program that connects communities, families, businesses and organizations with MSU. And I don’t intend to change that. But it’s good to remind ourselves that we ARE the Cooperative Extension Service of Michigan, and as such link more broadly to the national CES system. More importantly, we are an organization that not only works in partnerships, but by definition, we do not EXIST without partnerships. It was great to hear the provost recognize and remind us of our own need for and commitment to working with partners.