Timeline set for finding UA ag extension chief

Improved rice varieties like ARoma 17, Wells and others are developed and tested in research plots at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Rice Research and Extension Center. (Special to The Commercial/Fred Miller/University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture)
Improved rice varieties like ARoma 17, Wells and others are developed and tested in research plots at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Rice Research and Extension Center. (Special to The Commercial/Fred Miller/University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture)


The hiring committee looking for the next director of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service has set a projected timeline to conduct a nationwide search to replace outgoing director Bob Scott.

The Extension Service announced last week that a hiring committee would be tasked with finding candidates for the position of senior associate vice president for extension.

Scott's departure was first announced in May; he said he would stay on as director until the position is filled and would later seek a faculty position.

The search will be conducted by the committee and the division, Jeff Edwards, search committee chair and head of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences for the Division and Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, said on Wednesday.

The jobs is based in Little Rock and the director oversees approximately 600 full-time and 200 part-time employees. The director also oversees management of federal, state and county appropriated funds, grants and monetary gifts, as well as an annual budget of $61 million, according to the Extension Service.

An estimated salary for the position was not provided, though Edwards said in his experience, the salary range for similar positions is usually commensurate with a candidate's experience.

The application period will remain open until the job is filled. The committee will begin reviewing candidates on August 1 if there is a good-sized pool of applicants or a stand-out candidate. Interviews will be remote via video.

The committee could start in-person interviews as early as October, Edwards said.

Scott was hired for the director's position in July 2020 after his predecessor Rick Cartwright announced his retirement in 2019.

Cartwright retired after four years and his predecessor, Tony Windham, served for six years before joining the private sector.

Scott has worked for the Division of Agriculture for the last 21 years, starting out as a weed scientist and serving as director of both the Newport and Lonoke Extension Centers from 2013 to 2018; he was later appointed director of the 1,000-acre Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart in 2018.

One of the highlights of Scott's career was helping the department get its footing when he took over as director during the pandemic.

"We had to do a lot of shifting to online like everyone else did, and find ways to get our programming and our educational materials out there, so the first probably year and half of my time as director was spent doing that," Scott said.

Scott also had a few priorities when he took the director's position: balancing staff duties, bringing in more county extension agents and finding money to raise some staff salaries.

One person used to oversee both family consumer science as well as 4-H and youth development programming for the Extension Service but oversight of the two project areas was split into two associated vice president positions during Scott's tenure, and one person has since been hired to oversee 4-H and youth development programming, he said.

Because employee retention was also a major concern for the department during the pandemic, Scott found money for a new Extension internship program targeting college juniors.

"We do frankly have a shortage of people who want to be county agents, especially in the Delta counties," Scott said.

"In these counties we see populations moving towards the cities in some of these counties, especially in our rural counties, we do struggle to fill our positions, I don't think we're any different than any other employer in that aspect and we are looking for individuals with education in agriculture or family consumer science or youth development for those county agent positions."

A few pay increases were also implemented during his tenure.

There was a recent pay increase for some lower-wage employees; Scott said the Extension Service now has a $30,000 per year minimum starting salary.

Scott said there was also an increase in beginning salaries for new county agents to make those positions more competitive.

Scott said he did not initially plan to leave his post in just a few years.

"My reasons for leaving are personal," Scott said.

"I didn't really intend to retire from the position and I have some opportunities coming up in the future to get back into agriculture. I really want to get back out there and get some mud on my boots again."