Iowa Farmers Union Steps Up

Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) came out swinging in a press release sent out earlier today.


AMES–Iowa State University’s administration is moving in a questionable direction by removing renowned sustainable agriculture champion Frederick Kirschenmann from the position of director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, says Chris Petersen, president of Iowa Farmers Union. […]

“Taking Fred Kirschenmann out as director of the Leopold Center sends a questionable message,” says Petersen. “Is it that ISU’s administration is not comfortable with the strong stance Fred has taken for years opposing the economic and environmental abuses of corporate agriculture in Iowa and across the country?” […]

Dr. Kirschenmann’s efforts have evidently angered agri-business interests, who for more than a year have lobbied the dean’s office in the College of Agriculture to stop his work on sustainable agriculture and other projects that benefit family farmers and the land, Petersen said.

“Fred’s tenure brought hope and opportunity for Iowa’s farmers,” Petersen said. […]

In keeping with the principles of academic freedom, Dr. Kirschenmann was originally hired through a legally mandated search committee, Petersen said. “We are concerned that this process was not followed in naming the Center’s interim director,” he said, “and we urge that the Leopold Center be allowed to operate without strings attached, as the Legislature intended. We have great respect for Jerry DeWitt and hope he can keep the Center focused on its mission without administrative or corporate interference.”

Interim Dean Wintersteen has said that part the motivation behind her action was that some of the stakeholder groups in Iowa were not happy with Kirschenmann. IFU is obviously not one of these dissatisfied groups. Perhaps Wintersteen would like to clarify who these unhappy groups are.

3 Replies to “Iowa Farmers Union Steps Up”

  1. Gregory L. Geoffroy
    President, Iowa State University

    Dear President Geoffroy:

    It is with disappointment, embarassment, and anger that I read in the Ames Tribune, the Des Moines Register, and on the rather disgraceful way in which Dr. Fred Kirschenmann was summarily dismissed as director of the Leopold Center. When I read the explanation offered by Dean Wintersteen for her demand for Fred’s resignation, in addition to my forestated feelings, I thought the reasons offered were shortsighted, parochial and disingenuous.

    First of all, the reasons are shortsighted. I am an alumnus of Iowa State University (Ph.D. Rural Sociology 1985). As a student and scholar of sustainable agriculture, Fred has been my friend, colleague and mentor. When Fred was hired as director of the Leopold Center, I was thrilled that my alma mater had the good sense and good fortune to hire someone of his caliber and stature to head up the center. Before Fred was hired, the center had languished in obscurity, but when Fred arrived, he brought a degree of stature from his long connection to the sustainable agriculture community through his activism and scholarship. As a fellow North Dakotan and as a member, and now board member of the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (which Fred had founded), I was delighted to see Fred get the recognition he deserved not to mention to have him bring his considerable stature to the center. Any institution would have been proud to have national recognition for its work in a particular field, especially when that work is led by a prominent scholar in the field. I only regretted that North Dakota State University did not provide him with the opportunity that Iowa State University did, but North Dakota’s loss was Iowa’s gain.

    Now after the rather graceless way in which the interim dean summarily dismissed Fred without consultation with the board of directors, Iowa State University has earned a black mark in the sustainable agriculture community equivalent to the censure placed on an institution by the AAUP for depriving a faculty member of his rights under normal academic due process not to mention his academic freedom. Certainly Iowa State University did not need the notoriety that this dismissal has generated among the sustainable agriculture community and in some farm organizations such as the Iowa Farmers Union. I was embarrassed for my alma mater that it had conducted itself in such a shameful manner. That the interim dean would called for his resignation within 48 hours, without consultation of the board of directors which I understand is to make recommendations on such matters, is shameful. As a member of the faculty rights committee at my institution, if such a case were brought before us, I know that we would have found that the institution had violated Fred’s right to due process.

    Secondly, the reasons are parochial. The problems of sustainability of Iowa agriculture do not end at the state line. Sustainability is a systemic concept, which it appears that the interim dean does not understand, and it involves assessing the political, social, economic, and environmental
    subsystems which comprise an ecosystem. Fred’s work in the Agriculture of the Middle as well as his efforts in bringing together the various centers for sustainable agriculture to maximize their efforts is a recognition of the inter-relatedness of the systems of sustainability. To say that the center is an Iowa center and should be focused on Iowa’s problems, speaks volumes about the interim dean’s complete misunderstanding of the dynamics and inter-relatedness of sustainability.

    Thirdly, the reasons offered are disingenuous. I know that in the last two years the dean has expressed her concerns that the center be more “Iowa centered”. I can only surmise after discussions with faculty at Iowa State University as well as with members of the sustainable agriculture community in Iowa, that the administration has been under pressure to “reign Fred in”. I had hoped that an institution as proud of its traditions of academic excellence and academic freedom would not cave in under pressure from the agribusiness lobby. Granted, the sustainable agriculture community does not have the resources of Monsanto, Cargill, Pioneer, et. al., but a land grant institution should fulfill its mission of serving all the people of Iowa and not just the corporate donors and agribusiness lobby.

    That this has happened is all the more regrettable as now that I am about to be promoted to full professor, I would be in a position to begin to repay Iowa State University for the generous support I received as a graduate student by making small donations to the univeristy foundation. As a faculty member in a state where faculty salaries are 49th in the country, my donation would have been small in comparison to those from agribusiness. However, it would have been a token of my appreciation. Now I am reconsidering and plan on making my donation in honor of Fred to any one of several foundations that support sustainable agriculture.

    Regrettably and sadly,

    Curtis W. Stofferahn, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor
    Co-director, Center for Rural Studies
    University of North Dakota

    cc: Benjamin J. Allen
    Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

  2. I am a member of another farmer group (Practical Farmers of Iowa) that is on the Leopold advisory board. I will be very surprised if PFI’s own board is one of the dissatisfied constituent groups. Fred is always at our annual meeting and is quite alright with me!

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