From the interim chair
September 26, 2014
On May 9, 2014, Dean Fred Poston, after consulting the Department’s Advisory Committee, asked me to serve as the interim chair of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE). I accepted the assignment because I care about and owe so much to the department, my colleagues and our stakeholders, including our students. It is a daunting assignment to follow Steve Hanson, whose leadership in this position helped the department gain increased recognition nationally, internationally and among our peers. Not in my experience have our graduate students been so highly respected and sought after. Not in my experience have we seen our undergraduate enrollment at 850. Nor do I recall a time when our international expertise been so highly sought after. So, part of my assignment during this interim period is not to mess things up—I’ll try hard not to do so. But if we are not moving forward, we are likely to slide backward, so I have three initiatives I want to emphasize to keep us moving forward.
The first initiative is to revitalize the global agri-food area in the department. During spring 2014, faculty members interested in the global agri-food space met regularly to discuss branding our product, connecting to our stakeholders and responding to undergraduate teaching opportunities. To that end, we approached the dean to propose new hires in this area. I am pleased that we have been approved to hire one new faculty member this year. We are also actively recruiting to fill the Elton R. Smith Chair, which should add faculty expertise in this space. A committee in our department is also exploring online opportunities to reach out to our stakeholders in the agri-food arena.
The second initiative is to build synergy in the environmental and natural resource program. Our faculty skill and expertise in this area, including joint appointments with the economics department, may be the best available. We need first to communicate more effectively our strengths in environmental, energy and resource economics, and second to capitalize on more research opportunities that use those strengths. We also need to cooperate in our recruitment and funding of graduate students in this area. In this effort, we will look for opportunities to cooperate with partners locally, nationally and internationally.
The third initiative is to establish a solid financial base for recruiting graduate students. We now compete for some of the best graduate students in the country. But sometimes we find that others can make better offers, and we sometimes lose students whom we believe would be best served by a Michigan State University education and who would be ambassadors for our programs when they leave.
So stay tuned for a report on how we’re doing in these initiatives during the coming year. In the meantime, please continue reading about some outstanding educators and researchers who have joined our faculty ranks, how two faculty members were awarded our profession’s highest honors — fellow in the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists — and also remember two eminent colleagues who passed away this past year — Carl Eicher and Robert Stevens.
Lindon J. Robison