UA taps Auburn professor to lead agriculture school

FAYETTEVILLE -- A longtime Auburn University professor will lead the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's agriculture college, the university announced Tuesday.

Deacue Fields III is expected to begin in mid-May as dean of UA's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, pending approval by the University of Arkansas System board of trustees.

In a state where agriculture is considered a principal industry by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Fields will serve as the top leader for UA's fifth-largest academic college or school by enrollment, with 2,200 students as of this fall, or about 8 percent of the university's total enrollment of 27,558 students, according to university data.

His job also will involve working with the UA System Division of Agriculture, which administers research and extension programs throughout the state.

Fields, an agricultural economist, will be the first black dean to lead UA's agriculture college, a university spokesman said.

He joined the faculty at Auburn University in 2002 and since August 2013 has served as chairman of the school's Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology.

In a podcast last year from the Newsouth Network, Fields said he grew up in rural Louisiana and from about age 13 oversaw cattle herd operations on an approximately 25-acre family farm.

Fields described taking out a $3,000 youth loan from the United States Department of Agriculture to buy six heifers, eventually using livestock show winnings to pay for his education at Southern University.

"At 14, I had my first steers myself, that we raised, and I kind of got my start that way," Fields told hosts of the Freelunch Podcast.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Southern University in 1993, then a master's degree from the University of Missouri and a doctorate from Louisiana State University, according to UA.

Fields was among four finalists named after a search to replace Michael Vayda, who left UA in 2016 to become provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Vayda, who joined UA in 2010, earned $231,980 yearly as dean, including a contribution of $103,619 from the UA Division of Agriculture.

Fields will earn $235,000 yearly, UA spokesman Steve Voorhies said in an email, with the final hiring decision made jointly by Jim Coleman, UA's provost, and Mark Cochran, vice president of the Division of Agriculture. Voorhies said 51 percent of Fields' salary is being paid by the Fayetteville campus while the remainder will come from the Division of Agriculture.

Other announced finalists were: Michael Woods, head of an agricultural economics department at Oklahoma State University; Mickey Latour, dean of an agricultural sciences college at Southern Illinois University; and Lona Robertson, interim agriculture dean at UA since June 2016.

Voorhies said Robertson is expected to continue as interim dean until Fields arrives.

Other economists spoke highly of Fields.

"He's very well-respected in the field," said Lisa House, president of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association.

Fields is president-elect of the association, voted in as the next leader of the organization that has about 650 academics and students as members, House said.

Jeff Jordan, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Georgia, said he's known Fields for close to 20 years.

"He does well with people," Jordan said. "He's a very nice guy, very smart, and Arkansas has gotten a good one here."

Fields did not respond to voice messages and an email, but in a statement released by UA said he was grateful for the opportunity.

"I've been preparing for a leadership position like this my whole career, and I'm excited to work with our award winning faculty and staff," Fields said, adding that he's excited to work with students as well.

Metro on 12/06/2017