Oral History - Farrell, Kenneth R.


Interviewed by Murray Brown OAC ‘51
December 1st, 2004
B This is an interview with Dr. Kenneth R. Farrell, Vice-President Emeritus, University of California, by Murray Brown, OAC ’51. We are conducting this interview in J.D. MacLachlan Building, University of Guelph, on December 1st, 2004, because Dr. Farrell is giving a lecture later today on ‘Public-Private Relations in Agricultural Research - Policy Implications’.
Professor Farrell, I understand that you graduated from OAC in 1950, so I would like to start this interview with your background before attending the Ontario Agricultural College. First, where were you born and raised?
F I was born in a small rural area called South Mountain, which is about 30 miles south of Ottawa, and spent my early years in that community.
B Well, that’s very interesting. We had a lot of students from Eastern Ontario at the Ontario Agricultural College at that time. What made you decide to come to the Agricultural College?
F Well, after I graduated from High School, I taught school– one through to grade eight- in two rural communities, first near North Bay for about a year, and another near my home community for a year. At the end of those two years, I decided that I‘d had enough of teaching school. I also had a little money saved by that time, so I knew it was time to move on, so to speak. What really influenced me though, I think, was the fact that there was a neighbour, a good friend of mine, who was attending OAC at that time. I often talked with him about-what he was doing; what he was studying; and what he hoped to do after he graduated. This perked my interest in OAC! So, I think that that individual was probably the single most important determinant of my decision to come to OAC.
B What were your first impressions of the college when you arrived?
F Well, coming from off the farm, so to speak, directly off the farm, I was impressed initially by the size of OAC. Of course, it was small then, compared to what the University is today – but for me it was the size, the facilities, the activities that were so obvious among the students, all of that was very exciting and I wasn’t here more than three months when I was convinced that I had made the right decision.
B Dr. Farrell, did you live in residence all four years as an undergraduate here at Guelph?
F I did. I started off in what is now Johnston Hall and I think I stayed in a different dorm in each of the following years but with the same room mate throughout those four years.
B Do you recall anything about individual professors and staff that had a major impact on your career choices, or any amusing incidents with respect to professors?
F Yes, I do. There were several Profs that made an impression, an important impression, on me. I think perhaps the most important person was Professor Wm. M. Drummond who, at that time, was Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics and was well-known throughout Ontario and Canada for his work in the economic and policy sphere. I attended his lectures at two different times and was very impressed by him and the material that he presented. Also, there was a professor in the Department of English by the name of E. C. McLean. He was called ‘Chippy’. Chippy McLean was a very interesting instructor and you really had to be alert in his class because, every once in a while, he’d call on you unexpectedly to respond to a question. And the reason I was impressed by Professor McLean was that, it was my first real introduction to English Literature, and his lectures and recommendations for reading, led me to a lifetime of enjoyable reading. Of course, there were others, but those two Profs.still stand out in my mind today.
B Well, that’s interesting, when you mention Agricultural Economics and English, because those were the two subjects that I had difficulty with as an undergraduate, and as I told you earlier, that’s probably one of the reasons I ended up in Agricultural Chemistry as an undergraduate. So, what academic program was your major, and was there anything that influenced you in deciding – to take that option?
F Well, Economics was the option that I chose – at that time it was Agricultural Economics and you majored in third and fourth year only. No doubt, I chose that option in part because of the influence of Professor Drummond, and I felt that the future of agriculture really turned on economic methods, economic affairs. Even before coming to OAC, I had a general interest in public policy and in economic matters, so this option was a logical thing for me. The other factor was the fact that, unlike you, sort of the opposite of your story, I did not really appreciate animal husbandry classes, particularly those in the Bull Ring. So, I was happy to go to a subject like Ag. Economics, that didn’t require that kind of demonstration of ability.
B Again, it’s kind of interesting that you mention Animal Husbandry, which would have been my second choice for an option. But, did you have time to participate in any extra-mural activities while you were a student?
F I did. I had some limited time. I played in sports, intramural sports, in several… I think for each of the four years that I was here. Things such as hockey, and even practiced for football but I obviously was not large enough for that. In my second and third years, I took up wrestling, and became a Canadian Inter-Collegiate Wrestling Champion in 1948, I think. At that time the Athletics Program was headed by Bill Mitchell. It was a very enjoyable experience participating for him. I also did some boxing and a little bit of curling. Really there was limited time for extra-curricular activities because of the number of academic courses we were required to take.
B Again, it is interesting that you participated in curling because that was one of the activities that I participated in when I was an undergraduate so we must have been down at the Guelph Curling Club about the same time.
F I’m sure we were.
B How about friendships formed when you were an undergraduate here?
F Well, many friendships, and very long lasting, durable friendships were formed. One of my closest friends, whom I have corresponded with for all of the years since graduation, is now a retiree and living on Vancouver Island. We occasionally visit him and he visits us in California. There are several others whose friendship I made when a student here. A very close friend used to work for a Company called Rhom and Haus, a clinical organization, and we still correspond with them yearly. So, the friendships formed while at OAC have been very important in my life.
B So, that’s a little bit about your undergraduate days here. I would like to go next to… what you did right after graduation and you might want to make some remarks on your first job?
F Well, that’s an interesting question. As it turned out, I interviewed for several positions and had agreed to take a position in accounting in the offices of the Canadian Industries Limited in Toronto, but before I got there they changed the location of the position to somewhere in western Ontario, so I decided not join the company. But, a friend of mine from the same class, OAC ’50, had in the meantime gone to North Dakota and was teaching in a community high school, teaching a class of post world war II veterans in subjects related to agriculture, and he called me one day and said: “There is a similar position in a nearby city, or town, and if you’re interested I would be glad to recommend you.” So, I said: “Please do” and lo and behold, we made an arrangement, and in the Fall of 1950 I moved to a little town in southwestern North Dakota called Bowman, where I taught veterans training programs for about two years.
B Well, that’s interesting too. I understand you - in fact I know - that you took graduate studies. Where did you go after that job?
F Yes, after that first job, I then entered graduate school at Iowa State University in Ames. I was there from 1953 through 1957 majoring in Economics and Statistics and obtained Master’s and PhD degrees. I then made the move to California.
B Now, we delve into questions with respect to your career and community involvement, achievements, honours received – that sort of thing. First of all, you said you had left Iowa State with a PhD back in 1957. Did you immediately go to the University of California at that time?
F Yes, I did. I went there as an economist in their Department of Agricultural Economics in both research and extension education, and was there from 1957 until 1971. And during that period that I was in the department at Berkeley, I also spent a year at the University of Naples, in Italy, as a visiting lecturer. The University of California and the University of Naples had established a joint program to start the first program in agricultural economics teaching and research at the University of Naples. And we, the University of California, rotated professors from Berkeley and elsewhere into Naples for a period of about five years. I was fortunate in being selected as one of those. So, that was a very interesting part of my life.
In 1971, this was the time when we were in the… at the heart of the student rebellion at Berkeley. I’m sure you’ve heard about all of that. I became quite disenchanted with the difficulties that occurred, especially with respect to being able to carry on an effective teaching program. Students would not attend classes regularly and it was very disruptive and, after several years of that, I decided it was time for me to move on. So, I resigned from the University of California and went to the Economic Research Service, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I headed up their program in marketing for a year, and then I became the Assistant Administrator, and later the Deputy Administrator for that Agency, which is responsible for information and statistics – economic analyses – in the Department of Agriculture. It is quite a large organization. Later, towards the end of the 1970’s, I became Administrator of the Organization. I held that position for about four years, well until 1981, when I had the opportunity – again through a friendship that I had formed earlier in my career – to move from government to the private sector, to a non-profit organization called “Resources for the Future” that was then headed by a friend of mine. The purpose of that position was to establish a new program focusing on agricultural policy, i.e. public policy issues related to food, agriculture and natural resources. So, I was able to secure a sizeable grant from several different Foundations and launch this program-- which still exists today by the way, some 20 to 25 years later. So, for nearly five years, I was the Director of that Policy Centre. Then California beckoned again, when I was offered the position as Vice-President of the University of California, a position that I accepted, and we moved back to California in late 1987. So, that takes me up to the last position I held – as Vice-President.
B Well, certainly, that sounds like you had a very interesting career up to that point and perhaps you would carry on with what you did after 1987?
F Well, as Vice-President responsible for agriculture and natural resources throughout the university at our three campuses. We have agricultural programs, including research, and teaching, at three campuses – Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside--and each of those is headed by a Dean of Agriculture. The Vice-President is responsible for overall direction and coordination of the programs across the three campuses, and the co-operative extension system which operates in each of the 58 counties in California. So it was a sizeable undertaking, and I found myself very busy throughout that entire period. However, it was a very enjoyable period of my career. It was a period in which we had budget difficulties and that was a challenge to set priorities – and to make the necessary adjustments in the budget, but I think, made substantial progress in enlarging our research, --i.e. re-focusing our research programs--related to natural resources and environmental issues in particular. Then, throughout that period of time, I served in a variety of roles – advisory roles. I reported directly to the President of the University, so I was constantly on call to him--and to the Board of Regents-- on anything that related to agriculture, and served on advisory committees in Washington, D.C. related to agriculture and natural resources. We had fairly extensive overseas programs in Spain and Mexico and in a couple of other Latin American countries, in which I became involved, and again found that to be a very interesting challenge.
Then, in 1995, after serving as Vice President for over eight years, I decided that, I was bit tired of administrative duties, --I’d been working too hard-- and I wanted to do some other things to complete my career before it was too late, and those other things included -- international consulting work, which I have done fairly regularly in the years since I retired. I have been a part of groups that served Armenia, ????????, and the Republic of Georgia. I enjoyed that role – that new role in my life – and what I found so enjoyable was that in those countries there was a great opportunity to do simple things to help improve agriculture and living conditions in these countries. Such things as helping them develop credit programs, and to establish the elements of an extension education program. Trying to revitalize and refocus their agricultural research field stations. So, this was a period in which I called upon all of my previous experience and applied it to particular programs in developing countries. It was a very interesting and satisfying experience.
B I am sure it was! You know, I’ve done some quick calculations here -- as I turned 65 in 1993 and you graduated a year before me and also taught school after completing High School – so, you must have retired at about 70. I understand that’s fairly common at Universities in the United States.
F It is fairly common and increasingly so! In most Universities they have an age retirement date for Administrative Staff but not for Professors. Frequently, what happens is that administrators, who reach the age of 65, -- which is the preferred retirement age for administrators--, will stay on at the University after stepping down from their position – and resume their position as Professors for several more years. There is really no mandatory age requirement for Professors to retire. They may, theoretically, teach till they’re a 100 or more. Now, from a practical standpoint, most people do retire at around age 70 to 75. That’s generally the upper limit.
B I mention this because in Canada, at least Ontario, we’re moving to perhaps allowing professors to carry on after age 65 because of the age of people now, and they feel they are going to need those people to carry on longer in their professional career.
F I agree with that. I think that with people generally healthier and living longer,
there’s a huge amount of knowledge and expertise that’s been built into these individuals by the age of 65, and if they’re healthy and capable of continuing to offer that talent, I think it’s a great loss to do otherwise.
B Yes, that’s right. Let’s move on to your community involvement. Now, I know since you moved around during your career, you may have spent most of your time at working – but did you have some community involvement during those periods?
F Well, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said I spent most of my time working-- since my wife describes me as a confirmed workaholic. But – so I did spend most of my time on activities related to my professional position. However, I have always been a keen, avid gardener so wherever I lived I have been involved in gardening and, in fact, I often ended up as the President of the local Gardening or Garden Association, so that has been my hobby so to speak. In addition, I’ve been involved in a variety of community organizations, particularly those related to public policy. While I have never been actively involved in politics, I am very much interested in political issues, so I have been involved with various local interest groups that were involved in the political and policy process. In addition, the usual sorts of things such as -- church membership, P.T.A., and all that goes with raising a family.
B You mentioned politics. I won’t ask you how you voted in the last election.
F Well, I appreciate that you are not going to ask me that but I do want to say I did not fly in here on Air Force One as some other person did yesterday.
B Apparently, he had difficulty flying out of Ottawa this morning because of the snow!! Now, I’m sure you received some honours during your career, no doubt
from your achievements. Perhaps you can discuss honours and achievements for a while.
F Yes, I’m quite proud of those – of my achievements, and the honours that went with it. Included among those was my election as Director, and later the President of the American Agricultural Economics Association, which is the association of my peer economists in the United States. I felt honoured by that, being elected to that position. I’ve also been in fortunate in having received several awards from that Association for my work in the public policy and policy issues related to food and agriculture. Also, I was made a Fellow of that Association in 1980, which is the highest honour that a professional association bestows on its members. In addition to that organization, I am a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is a very prestigious scientific organization. Not just economics but science generally in the United States. Also, one of my most enjoyable assignments – and I consider it to be an honour – was when I was appointed to a Presidential Commission in Washington, D.C. in the mid-sixties. This Commission was to investigate the status of marketing of agricultural commodities and make recommendations on public policies to enhance efficiency in the marketing system. That was an eye opener because it was my first experience in Washington and I got to see issues from a different perspective and to meet a lot of interesting people. Later in my career, about ten years later, the Commission on Food Marketing appointed me to a Commission to examine the development issues in what was then called Zaire in Africa – now the Republic of the Congo. This was a completely different kind of experience, but again one that I found to be very interesting and challenging. I also served on a special A.I.D. – United States Agency for International Development-- Assignment in Egypt, again focusing on agricultural development. So, I’ve had a fair number of honours and privileges of that kind, – all of which have been very, very rewarding.
B Dr. Farrell, since you spent your career at Universities as well as working with the U.S. government, did the government have any influence on your academics and career?
F Yes, it did. And I would hope it was vice versa, that I had some influence on their behaviour as well. But yes, I think that my experience with the government gave me a much deeper appreciation of the policy and political process than I ever could have garnered from the University. And when I went back to the University, after government service, I felt that I had a distinct advantage over some of my colleagues because I knew and understood the process as it operated in Washington and was able to participate in that process, in more effective ways than I could have otherwise. I worked with the government during an interesting period of time. In my first assignment there, in the mid- to late 1960’s – it was following the Kennedy Presidency and things were in a position of flux and change, which was very interesting of itself. Over the years, I worked for, and participated directly on many occasions, with five different Secretaries of
Agriculture. Because as Head of the Economic Research Service in the Department, every Secretary of Agriculture found that, sooner or later, he or she must rely on economists for information and analysis. They may not have liked what we said, and they might have even at times wished we would go away, but they couldn’t – they had to depend on economic information that we provided. And so, it was my privilege to work with five of these individuals, each of them distinctly different in their uses of economics and in their policy objectives but each of them very interesting. So, it was a two-way exchange– I felt that I was able to have effective input in shaping policy through them, as well as congressional activity. And, vice versa, that experience had a large influence on my life and career.
B One of my classmates was an Agricultural Economist by the name of Gerry Trant – you probably know Gerry. He did much the same thing as Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture when Eugene Whalen was Minister of Agriculture.
F Yes, I knew Gerry and I think Doug? Hedley was also an Ag. Economist and has been performing much the same role in recent years.
B Yes. Unfortunately, Gerry’s gone from us now, as you know.
F Yes.
B Dr. Farrell, no doubt your undergraduate days here at OAC had some influence on your career path following graduation?
F Well, there’s no doubt about that. It was a huge influence. Perhaps I didn’t fully realize or appreciate just how much of a contribution being at Guelph and OAC made at the time I was here. But I think it not only equipped me in a way that was very useful in graduate studies; for example, I found that when I began graduate work at Iowa State I was much further advanced in calculus, for example, than most of the students that were there. So, that was a distinct advantage. But, the other thing that I benefited from is– an understanding and appreciation of the role of the University, of education, of the value of education, and of seeing young people develop into mature, professional people and become highly successful in life. All of that really goes back to OAC, so I believe that OAC gave me, not only the academic fundamentals to do graduate work, but an appreciation of what a University life and purpose is about. And that has been a very, very valuable contribution to my work and career.
B You mentioned calculus. Another advantage that Canadian students had over American students during their graduate studies was languages. I took High School French and German as an undergraduate here at OAC, and then when I went to Iowa for PhD studies, I was able to pass the language requirements in my first semester at Iowa State because I had that background in French and German.
As you know at that time, when in PhD studies, we were required to have a reading knowledge of two foreign languages.
F Yes.
B I’m sure that was the case for you as well, since you were at Iowa State too.
F Exactly. But I followed the same course that you did. I had studied French in High School – and in the community where I was born, French was spoken broadly throughout that community. So I studied German as an undergraduate here and when I got to Iowa State I did exactly the same as you did, took the exams in French and German very early during my Ph.D. studies.
B Well, that’s interesting. Now, I understand you are returning your considerable talents along with a financial contribution to the OAC through the Kenneth R. Farrell Distinguished Public Policy Lectureship and that is what you’re speaking on this afternoon here on campus. Perhaps you’d like to comment on that contribution that you have made to Guelph.
F Well, thank you for asking about that. Yes. I have felt for some time, as I intimated earlier, that Guelph – OAC – contributed a great deal to me in my career and in my life and I have felt for some time that when I got to the position where I could do so that I would like to somehow express my appreciation in appropriate ways. Now, I usually attend class reunions, -or least intervals of class reunions- here at OAC and in fact – later next year, I will hopefully be attending the 55th reunion of OAC ’50- but I also thought that I could be of help professionally perhaps. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, I strongly believe that there are some major public policy issues relating to food and agriculture. There are the questions related to- how agriculture relates to the environment; and to natural resource use. And there’s a need for the leaders of the province and the country, and university people, to come together to discuss these issues, to begin a dialogue on these issues, to begin to think about how to best address these issues. So, after some discussion with the people here at Guelph, including the Dean of the OAC, last year, I made a modest contribution to establish what is called The Farrell Public Policy – Distinguished Public Policy- Lectureship. So, the idea of that is to provide some resources each year, so the Dean can invite to Guelph a prominent person to speak about public policy issues related to agriculture- to food and agriculture- in some way. Hence, this is the purpose of my visit to-day- as it turns out- as I am to give the first lecture in this new series. So, I’m pleased, not only to be able to establish the Lectureship, but to have the opportunity to participate in it.
B Let me be the first to thank you for your contribution in that regard, and I certainly hope that I can attend that lecture this afternoon in Rozanski Hall.
F Thank you.
B This has been an interview with Dr. Kenneth R. Farrell, Vice President Emeritus of the University of California Agricultural Campuses, by Murray Brown, OAC ’51, conducted in the Agricultural Economics Dept., University of Guelph.