Rick Klemme has been asked to step down as dean and director of University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.
In a memo sent by UW-Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen to Extension employees on Aug. 29, Sandeen said, "After thoughtful deliberation, I have decided that this is the right time for a leadership change in Cooperative Extension as we move into the future. Dean Klemme understands the new direction that needs to be taken and has agreed to step down by Nov. 1."
Due to the $250 million budget cut to the UW-System passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker in July 2015, Extension is going through a reorganization that will reduce state aid by $3.6 million. Klemme estimates that it will translate into a loss of between 70 and 80 Extension positions at county and state levels. The plan is expected to begin to be implemented no earlier than February and will continue through all of 2017.
Klemme said the downsizing process has been difficult but he added, "as long as there are Extension agents in every Wisconsin county we will continue to do good work."
Klemme said he got the news about the change in leadership on Aug. 24 during a meeting in the chancellor’s office.
“The chancellor wants to change leadership, and she’s acted as she has the right to do as the chancellor,” he said. “I respect that and understand it.”
In her memo to employees, Sandeen said she would appoint an interim dean the week of Sept. 5 who will work closely with Klemme during the transition period.
"Dean Klemme will serve as a consultant to the nEXT Generation project and will transition out of his role as co-executive sponsor," Sandeen explained. "Dean Klemme will continue to represent UW-Extension and Cooperative Extension in regional and national meetings this fall and will be instrumental in transferring his considerable divisional and institutional knowledge in the upcoming transitional period."
As of Sept. 13, no announcement had been made by Sandeen about who the interim dean would be, but during an interview with Wisconsin Agriculturist, Klemme revealed the interim dean will be Karl Martin. Martin was hired by Klemme two years ago as the program director for the Community, Natural Resources and Economic Development program area.
Klemme, 62, was appointed interim dean of Extension in February 2007. In May 2009, he was named dean.
"The two things that are toughest about this are the hundreds of relationships I have made with Extension personnel, especially in agriculture at the county, state and national levels, the media and others and now all of those relationships will be lost," he explained. "The other thing that will be tough is changing the pronoun from 'we.' I'm no longer part of the 'we.'"
Klemme said he hasn't decided what he will do in the future but he admits he is leaning toward retiring. As a tenured faculty member with a PhD in ag economics, he could teach at UW-Madison.
"I'm going to take my time and think about my future,' he explained.