Oblinger, in turn, appointed Dr. Johnny C. Wynne as interim dean. Wynne previously served as the College’s associate dean and director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service. Filling Wynne’s position as interim director is Dr. Steven Leath, formerly NCARS’ associate director.
During his tenure, Oblinger focused on celebrating the accomplishments of students and faculty and staff members, while serving as an ambassador for the College.
His goal: to solidify traditional constituencies while reaching out to new ones. He repeatedly emphasized the importance of the continuum that spans the agricultural and life sciences in boosting the economy; enhancing the environment; allowing for healthier plants, animals and people; and yielding safe, affordable food and fiber.
Oblinger also encouraged partnerships to integrate the College’s academic, research and extension programs and to reach beyond the lines that traditionally separate disciplines and organizations. As a result, during his time as dean many of the College’s most significant advances — in genomic sciences, biotechnology, water quality, waste management and agricultural diversification, for example — involved partnerships with other university units, government agencies and the private sector.
Thanks in part to such partnerships, the College has seen steady increases in contracts, grants and private contributions. In 2002-03, the College recorded its best year ever for contracts and grants, with $55 million awarded in the first three quarters alone — compared to $38 million in 1998-99.
Private fund raising has grown even faster, reaching an estimated $45 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s up about 450 percent since 1996, when the College garnered $10 million in private support.
Oblinger’s record of accomplishment positions him well for N.C. State’s number two role, said Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. In particular, she cited his “strong support for faculty, students and staff, a keen understanding of the university’s academic challenges, and a vision for raising our level of performance in teaching, research and extension.”
While Fox notes Oblinger’s vision, the new provost focuses on performing the job at hand.
“ N.C. State has a mission that has been fundamentally relevant since 1887,” Oblinger told a provost search forum audience. “The context within which we execute that mission has changed — we have new tools, new societal issues, new disciplines and so forth — but our mission hasn’t changed because of information technology or the Centennial Campus or the person who sits in the provost’s office.
“ My vision for N.C. State is that we hold true to our mission and excel at executing that mission in the context of our times and across the breadth of all our disciplines.”Wynne takes College helm
When it comes to executing the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ mission, there’s perhaps no one more well-versed than Oblinger’s interim successor, Johnny Wynne.
Wynne, who took the helm on May 19, has been associated with the College for four decades. He earned three degrees in the College’s Department of Crop Science — a bachelor’s in 1965, a master’s in 1968 and a doctorate in 1974 — and has worked in the College his entire career.
Upon joining the Crop Science faculty, Wynne built an internationally recognized research program that reflected his roots in Martin County, one of the state’s leading peanut-producing counties. As a peanut breeder, Wynne developed a number of high-yielding and pest-resistant varieties and taught plant-breeding courses.
In 1989, he was named head of the Crop Science Department, before becoming associate dean and research director in 1992.
Wynne “has proven to be a thoughtful, deliberate leader” whose experience will serve as a steadying force as the College deals with continued state budget challenges, Oblinger said. “Dr. Wynne is an outstanding leader, committed to our land-grant mission and to advancing excellence in all aspects of College operations.”
As the College’s associate dean, Wynne guided research efforts spanning the agricultural and life sciences. NCARS scientists conduct basic and applied research in university laboratories, at five field laboratories in the Raleigh area and at 18 research stations across North Carolina. Emerging areas of strength in genomics and proteomics complement the research service’s traditional focus on ensuring agricultural sustainability in North Carolina and beyond.
During Wynne’s tenure, the research service’s annual budget grew from around $60 million to nearly $99 million. Much of that growth occurred because of the faculty’s ability to compete successfully for large national research contracts and grants — most notably, a $17.5 million agreement to conduct alternative animal waste management research and a $17.6 million contract to map the tobacco genome.
Such competitiveness places the College in an enviable position at a time when colleges and universities across North Carolina expect budget cuts from the state legislature. These cuts could come at a time when higher education faces increasing demands. For the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the demands come both from rural and urban communities strained by the economic downturn.
Life science industries are turning to the university for help in preparing students to join the work force and in pushing the frontiers of science in ways that open new economic opportunities. Meanwhile, rapid changes in the global marketplace, in federal farm programs and in state and national environmental regulations have created economic hardship for North Carolina’s food, fiber and forestry industries.
“ If we are to compete in a global market, our producers need value-added agricultural enterprises,” Wynne said. “One of our College’s highest priorities in the coming months will be continuing our work with commodity groups and government agencies in helping develop enterprises that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
Like his predecessor, Wynne believes that the complex, rapidly changing nature of the challenges facing North Carolina’s industries and communities demands stronger and more inclusive partnerships.
“ When I say ‘inclusive,’ I’m not only speaking of the need to have a diverse faculty and staff willing to work across traditional boundaries. I’m also referring to the need to reach out in terms of whom we serve and to encourage equitable partnerships with other institutions so that we remain relevant and responsive in the face of change,” he said.
“ It’s not an exaggeration to say that ours is among the best colleges of agriculture and life sciences in the nation,” Wynne added. “Thanks to an excellent faculty and staff and the strong partnerships they have forged with each other and with industry, government and other colleges and universities, we are well-positioned to build on that reputation for excellence in ways that directly benefit North Carolina’s citizens.”
College milestones: 1997 to 2003