After 24 years as a university faculty member, the chancellor will retire Friday.
Nov. 13, 2013
“So — can you explain to me what it is that my Brady does at the university?”
This was the question that agricultural economics professor Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes remembers hearing from Arnold Deaton, the father of Chancellor Brady Deaton.
Smoking a cigarette outside his grandson’s wedding reception in Indiana, Arnold Deaton wanted to know about the job his son had apparently never described.
Kalaitzandonakes was taken aback.
The man closest to “Brady” did not know his son made decisions that affected more than 15,000 employees and 34,000 students, numbers that had both increased since the start of his chancellorship.
He did not know that Brady, in his role as head of a land-grant university, had enhanced the quality of both the physical infrastructure and the faculty.
He did not know that Brady continuously used his international influence to extend MU’s reach, increasing both international student enrollment and research opportunities.
When Kalaitzandonakes told Arnold Deaton the responsibilities about which his son had never felt the need to speak, tears welled up in Arnold Deaton’s eyes as he whispered, “My Brady … my Brady.”
The man retiring
After calling MU his own for 24 years, Brady Deaton is on his way out.
On Nov. 15, Deaton will formally retire from university duties, ending more than two decades of service that have inspired colleagues and friends alike.
Achievements from his nine-year run as chancellor include increasing student enrollment by almost 30 percent — the biggest enrollment so far being 34,704 in the fall of 2012 — and doubling grant aid through the billion-dollar “For All We Call Mizzou” fundraising campaign, which ran from 2000-2008.
Brady Deaton also made strides in procuring research grants and expenditures, reducing MU’s carbon footprint and moving MU into the Southeastern Conference.
Despite his accomplishments, Deaton’s modesty is readily apparent in his often-uttered motto: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
It is a phrase that rightfully applies to a man who grew up laboring on a family farm that lacked plumbing and electricity.
Born Aug. 25, 1942, in London, Ky., young Deaton was responsible for helping his father lay bricks and milk cows in the mornings before he went off to his one-room schoolhouse.
A lack of electricity did not make his experiences any less empowering.
“My father has never described his childhood as poor,” daughter Christina Deaton DeMarea said in a speech at the chancellor’s Nov. 4 retirement reception. “My father would cringe at the suggestion that his success is in spite of that childhood. His achievements are in honor of that childhood.”
Having grown up observing the farming industry’s influence on the economy, Brady Deaton decided to study agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky. He obtained a bachelor's degree in the subject in 1966.
While in school, Brady Deaton put his passion for agriculture into action and joined the Peace Corps in 1962 to teach vocational agriculture in Nan, Thailand, for two years. He still describes the experience as life-changing.
Another of Deaton’s personal milestones was marrying Anne Simonetti in 1967. The two met through a Young Men’s Christian Association service trip to Ecuador and have since been inseparable in both career and outlook.
“Brady and I have always felt like a team, since the first day we met and became acquainted and shared values of community and public service,” Anne Deaton said at her husband’s retirement reception.
Bea Smith, dean emerita of the College of Human Environmental Sciences and longtime colleague, agreed.
“The two of them are so very joined at the hip in the way they approach life and in their sharing of experiences and in the same interpersonal qualities,” Smith said.
With wife Anne at his side, Brady Deaton graduated from Kentucky in 1968 with a master’s degree in diplomacy and international commerce. He received a second master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1970 and a doctorate in agricultural economics there in 1972.
Later that year, Brady Deaton took his first faculty position at the University of Tennessee teaching agricultural economics and sociology. He also became staff director of the Special Task Force on Food for Peace at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1975.
Deaton moved on from Tennessee to take a professorship at Virginia Tech in 1978, where he also served as coordinator of the rural development research and extension program.
He spent his last four years there as associate director of the Office for International Development before receiving an offer to work at MU.
At the time, the Deatons’ longtime friend, Daryl Hobbs, was a professor of rural sociology. He took it upon himself to persuade the Deatons to join the MU faculty.
“(Hobbs) called me as Brady was being interviewed to come to the University of Missouri, and he said, ‘Anne, you and Brady come to the University of Missouri. It will be great for both of you,’” Anne Deaton said. “Well, that’s the underestimation of our lives. Nothing could’ve been greater than the move to Missouri for both of us.”
Initial years at MU
Brady Deaton was no less satisfied with the range of experiences MU provided him.
“The 24 years I’ve been here at the University of Missouri, with Anne at my side always, has been certainly the most thrilling aspect of my life,” the chancellor said in his speech Nov. 4.
Those years began when he came to MU in 1989 as the new chairman of what is now called the department of agricultural and applied economics.
Kalaitzandonakes was his first hire in September 1990.
“I remember that when I walked in, he gave me a key to the office, and he said, ‘Here’s your office, and there’s a small funding allocation for your research. Go do good things,’” Kalaitzandonakes said. “Brady was always a very positive, very encouraging person. He gave you much freedom to do your work.”
Michael Cook was on the agricultural economics faculty at the time and felt the same effects of Brady Deaton’s mindful nature.
Cook, professor of agricultural and applied economics and the Robert D. Partridge chairman in cooperative leadership, said the chancellor’s leadership style has been consistent over the years.
“His interests were very broad, but he was always interested in whatever you do, to make sure that it helps people,” Cook said. “His interest is in solving problems. He’s very solution-oriented in a very civil way.”
Whether it is a department or the entire campus, Deaton has always been able to communicate with everyone, Cook said.
“He’s instilled that culture into his leadership of the university,” Cook said. “I think if you were wanting to know what he’s left, it would be this civility.”
From faculty to administration
Building a thoughtful rapport also characterized Brady Deaton’s later relationships. When he became chief of staff to then-Chancellor Charles Kiesler in 1993, Deaton worked closely with Missouri Commissioner of Higher Education David Russell with topics such as strategic planning and governing board relations.
Russell said Brady Deaton continues to advocate for public higher education today.
“During the last three years, I have had occasion to work closely with Dr. Deaton on statewide initiatives in higher education,” Russell said. “He has positioned the University of Missouri-Columbia to continue making a critical contribution to public higher education well into the future. We are all in his debt.”
After four years as chief of staff, Brady Deaton became deputy chancellor in 1997 and served shortly as interim provost in January 1998. He officially became provost in October 1998.
Law professor Michael Middleton served as deputy chancellor during Brady Deaton’s provost years and was asked to stay on when he became chancellor.
The two worked on matters ranging from revising the faculty grievance process to resolving issues with the athletic department when the university joined the SEC. They also shared a passion for diversifying and internationalizing the campus that resulted in an ongoing effort to enact diversity initiatives, Middleton said.
“He’s got such great experience and perspective,” Middleton said. “Economists approach issues somewhat differently than lawyers do, so it was just a great experience to work that closely with someone who brought that perspective to the decisions they make. I think I learned a lot from Brady, and I think he appreciated the input I was able to give him. It was a good relationship, and we will miss him greatly.”
Smith, the longtime colleague of the Deatons, met the future chancellor when she hired Anne Deaton as a member of her faculty in 1989.
“I liked both of them immediately,” she said. “They are a couple who inspire awe for their academic abilities."
Smith said the Deatons have built careers around serviceable ways to reach out to fellow humans and embody the concept of “servant leader,” citing their appreciation for students as one example.
“(I) had the chance to work with lots of administrators at the system and campus level,” Smith said. “The thing that stands out with the Deatons is the very human warmth of these people. The Deatons have remembered that the students come first. You watch Brady Deaton or Anne Deaton go in a setting where there are students, and they always stop to talk with them. I’ve seen the academic leaders who don’t do that.”
Professor of philosophy and longtime colleague Bill Bondeson agreed.
“Not only are they good academics, but they have taken their role in the community very seriously,” he said. “They’ve acted in all kinds of ways of connecting the university with Columbia, with the state, with the nation, and I think that’s as admirable as it could possibly be.”
Chancellorship and national recognition
In addition to his provost position, Brady Deaton took on the additional role of executive vice chancellor for academic affairs in 2001.
On Oct. 4, 2004, his hard work paid off when he was selected to succeed Richard Wallace as chancellor.
During his chancellorship, Brady Deaton also served as chairman of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities’ Commission on International Initiatives and as a member of both the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center board and the International Committee of the Association of American Universities.
He was also appointed chairman of the seven-member Board for International Food and Agricultural Development by President Barack Obama in 2011 and reappointed in 2012 for a four-year term.
The BIFAD conducts research and recommends policies affecting the global war on hunger, and Deaton’s selection as chairman is significant, Smith said.
“I know from my own Washington, D.C., experience — committee experience — what a very big deal BIFAD is,” she said. “It is a very much esteemed and huge international responsibility.”
Russell said being on BIFAD further qualified Brady Deaton to give input on international affairs.
“The presidential appointment affirmed Dr. Deaton’s international reputation as a thought leader in global agricultural economic policy,” he said.
After his term expires, the chancellor and his wife will head the new Brady and Anne Deaton Institute for University Leadership and International Development. The institute will be housed in Ellis Library and open Jan. 1, 2014.
“Our Board of Curators honored my wife and me by establishing the Institute for University Leadership and International Development, which will give me the opportunity to analyze our university relationships and others around the nation so that Missouri can choose the components of an optimal model for moving forward from here,” Brady Deaton said. “So I’ll continue to be involved in some of those important moments of the university as we go forward. And that fits my lifestyle right now very nicely.”
As chairman of the BIFAD, Deaton wanted to give more time to his international work and have more time and flexibility to spend with children and grandchildren.
That added up to retirement, he said.
“For me it was a very natural time,” he said. “I’ve become very involved in public policy issues that I started out in my career working on and international food security issues. I’ve been able to build on that from my background in agricultural economics and social sciences and do work with many parts of the university. I feel good about where we are…. The programs we've worked so hard on are maturing nicely.”
Brady Deaton said he hopes to work with other campuses of the UM System and become familiar with all aspects of the campus that concern food security issues, linkages with journalism, business development and engineering to see how it adds up in the world.
First, however, the Deatons plan to break up the busy schedule by enjoying the winter holidays with their family.
Brady Deaton said that the many people he has worked with over the years are what have made his tenure as chancellor most enjoyable.
“Knowing you, working with you, being able to provide a leadership role and lift you up… it’s that inspiration we have felt throughout the time we’ve been here,” Brady Deaton said on Nov. 4. “That’s meant so much to us. That makes the role of chancellor the most wonderful thing you can do.”