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Notes From the Interim Dean for Extension

When Dr. Nick Place asked me to serve as interim Dean for UF/IFAS Extension, I didn’t have to think very long before I said yes.

Interim roles are not new to me. This is the fourth assignment that I’ve had as an interim administrator in IFAS since 2009. If you’re a baseball fan, consider me a utility infielder, one who can play several positions. One good thing about stepping into this role is that I already know the culture and climate of IFAS Extension and Extension Administration.

One thing that has always really impressed me is how well Nick worked together with the deans, Dr. Robert Gilbert and Dr. Elaine Turner, and with the VP—first with Jack Payne and now with Scott Angle. It will be my intention to join that group and work just as well with them as Nick has done. Together they’re a really great support system for what we do, and we support them, too.

In addition to the VP and the deans, I have an outstanding team around me here in Extension Administration. I’m talking about Dr. Saqib Mukhtar, Dr. Michael Gutter and their teams, as well as the staff here in the office.  We’ve all been here for a while and we’re really good at what we do. The same goes for all the faculty and staff in UF/IFAS Extension throughout the state. Having interviewed many of our county and state faculty and having evaluated countless promotion packets, I know how hard you work to pursue excellence.

So taking this role was an easy decision, because of the support that I’m getting from you and, in turn, what I can offer you.

The interim administrator is a special kind of position. The first priority is to maintain our core mission—we don’t put the ship in neutral and we don’t let it drift with the current. We keep the engine running, we have our hands on the wheel and we know where we’re going.

While I’m on a nautical riff, it’s important to make sure that Extension doesn’t feel rudderless through this transition. We have a rudder and that’s where communication comes in. The dean’s office will continue communicating to you through this blog, the Extension Administration website, email announcements, our newsletter and other means. I’m a better writer than I am a talker, so you will probably see more written communications coming from me.

Sometimes when there are leadership changes, people become concerned or worried about how it might affect them or what they do. I want to allay any concerns that faculty and staff might have. If you do have some concerns or questions, you know where to find me. Call or email me to let me know of any uncertainties you’d like to ask about, and I’ll be glad to address those.

We will be making some decisions during this transition period and we will use the best information available to do so. COVID-19 is something we will continue addressing—the light is at the end of that tunnel, but it’s a very long tunnel! Regarding vaccines, we will be involved in educating ourselves and our clientele about vaccines and the science behind them so people can make their best decision. As part of that effort, UF/IFAS Communications Director Christine Vivian, my colleages and I will be conducting a webinar, scheduled for January 14 at 3 PM EST, featuring a discussion with Dr. Michael Lauzardo from the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute. Extension personnel can register for the webinar here: https://ufl.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_y94XL9RRS2eLuqLLGL1FWQ

On January 26 at 1 PM EST, you’re invited to a COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall presented by the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, featuring Dr. Glenn Morris. This webinar will provide the latest updates on COVID-19 transmission and vaccines. You can submit questions when registering to be answered during the event. Register by clicking the following link: https://ufl.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_qkLVDeatQa60FCJqPvqJeA

We are continuing to develop the IFAS Extension Roadmap, as well as working with the VP’s office on the overall IFAS Strategic Plan. A report from our faculty input survey should be ready early this year, and we will begin planning for listening sessions with our stakeholders this spring.

Related to my current position (because I’m not leaving my job duties as Senior Associate Dean and head of County Operations) I’d like to talk a bit about extension faculty hiring. We’re currently in the process of replacing 17 county agent vacancies and hiring one new regional agent. Beginning this month we’ll be starting the process to replace another 11 county agent vacancies, with the goal to eventually fill 11 more vacancies. Our ability to follow through with letters of offer depends on how the IFAS budget fares this spring.

Finally, there are some things you don’t do when you’re in an interim administrator. It’s important to avoid limiting the creativity of the next Dean by making decisions with long-term consequences that could restrict the ability of the next extension leader to enact his or her vision for IFAS Extension. We must make sure we set the next Dean up for success.

Making the right choice for the next Extension Dean will be critical to our future success. I have great confidence that we have some outstanding individuals who are interested in the position. Future success starts with a careful recruitment and selection process.

Most importantly, I want to thank Nick Place and wish him great success at the University of Georgia. Thanks to him, UF/IFAS Extension has made great strides during the last eight years. His leadership, friendship and support have made it easy for me to step in as interim Dean, and it sets the table for further success when we welcome our new Dean.