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Roles shift in College of Ag at Purdue University

Karen Plaut
NEW TITLES: Karen Plaut will fill in temporarily for Jay Akridge as interim dean of the College of Agriculture. Akridge becomes Purdue’s interim provost July 1.
Dean Jay Akridge becomes interim provost for the university; Karen Plaut will be interim ag dean.

If you visit the Purdue University College of Agriculture in early July, you’ll see some familiar faces in different roles, and a new face or two around campus. Some of the changes are temporary; others are permanent.

To sort fact from rumor, we asked Jay Akridge, dean of the College of Agriculture, to help us update the scorecard of who is who and who is doing what at Purdue beginning in July. The temporary changes start with the dean himself.

“Our provost at Purdue left to become chancellor at Rutgers University, and that left an opening there,” Akridge says. “I certainly wasn’t looking for another job, but President [Mitch] Daniels asked me if I would become interim provost until the position could be filled permanently. I said yes, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with President Daniels.”

In university jargon, provost equates to the chief operating officer for a business or corporation, Akridge explains. All deans of Purdue’s other colleges report to the provost, who reports to the president.

Counting time served as interim dean, Akridge has been dean of the College of Agriculture for just over nine years. That may have been one factor that put him into consideration for the interim provost position.

There certainly is a precedent for Purdue Ag deans moving across the street to be interim or permanent provost. In recent times, Vic Lechtenberg followed that path, and later, Randy Woodson did, as well.

Akridge becomes the interim provost of Purdue on July 1. Daniels has indicated that an internal search for a permanent provost will begin later this year.

Other changes
With Akridge moving across the street temporarily, that leaves the dean’s chair vacant in the College of Agriculture. Karen Plaut, senior associate dean and director of ag research, will become the interim dean, Akridge says.

Plaut gained recognition recently for overseeing a major initiative in plant science research, including development of a phenotyping facility located at the Agronomy Center for Research and Education. The phenotyping facility was officially dedicated in August 2016. Plaut appeared on the Indiana Prairie Farmer cover in October last year. She was featured for her work in helping make this state-of-the-art facility a reality.

While Plaut serves as interim dean, three different administration members will share her current duties, Akridge says. All are experienced and longtime members of the staff of the Purdue College of Agriculture. No break in continuity of projects is expected.

Meanwhile, two new heads of departments within the College of Agriculture will assume their official duties in early July, as well. Ron Turco, a longtime staff member, will become head of the Agronomy Department. Turco is known internationally for his work on water quality. He replaces Joe Anderson, who held the post for several years. Anderson’s specialty is molecular genetics.

The Agricultural Economics Department will also get a new leader in July. Ken Foster, who has served as department head for several years, will return to a faculty position within the department.

The new head of ag economics will be Jayson Lusk. He comes to Purdue from the Ag Economics Department at Oklahoma State University.

“It’s not like he isn’t familiar with Purdue,” Akridge says. “He was here on our staff before. We are excited about what he will bring to his new position.”

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