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Thayne Dutson

Thayne Dutson header image
Thayne Dutson: the ag sciences dean heads home to the ranch.
Thayne Dutson photo by Lynn Ketchum

It’s time to run my own cattle, said Thayne Dutson when he announced his retirement this year as OSU’s dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Dutson has been dean of the college since 1993 and director of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station since 1987.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Dutson said, looking back on the roller-coaster years of Oregon’s economy, including the passage of Measure 5 that limited property tax and cut education funding, and the budget shortfalls that hit in 2002. Tough decisions had to be made, including closing some departments and refocusing others.

“You have to build a system that provides as much benefit as possible from the dollars you have,” Dutson said.

But despite the hard times and tough decisions, the college excelled.

Dutson oversaw significant growth of the college’s education and research roles, including expansion of the OSU Seafood Laboratory in Astoria—a partnership with the Seafood Consumer Center—and establishment of the Food Innovation Center in Portland, in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Also during his tenure, the college became home to a new Marine Mammal Institute and the western regional headquarters for the national Sun Grant program.

In 2006, OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences was ranked number one in the nation among the top 100 federally funded U.S. universities in agricultural sciences for “citation impact of published research” in the field. Dutson himself is one of OSU’s most cited faculty members. As a food scientist, his work on enzymes and muscle-tissue biology and on techniques for studying muscle tissue continues to be widely quoted by colleagues across the country and around the world.

Dutson was raised on a cattle and sheep ranch in Idaho that taught him two valuable life lessons: produce as much value as you can with what you have, and always strive for accountability, excellence, and balance. Following those two maxims, Dutson has gained a national reputation for measuring the benefits of the college’s programs.

“As soon as I arrived at OSU, I heard wonderful stories about the work of our researchers,” Dutson said. “I would write those stories down on scraps of paper along with notes about the economic, environmental, and social benefits drawn from the research.”

With the help of communications professor Gwil Evans and economic analysts in the college, Dutson’s scraps of paper grew into Oregon Invests!, a sophisticated system for measuring accountability and a national model for reporting results from agricultural research. The database contains hundreds of research and extension projects, each independently evaluated for its contribution to Oregon’s economy, environment, or social benefits. Collectively, the contribution of all those programs within the College of Agricultural Sciences contributes more than $213 million to Oregon’s economy each year.

“Although he has served during challenging economic times for higher education, Thayne has guided the College of Agricultural Sciences to sustained excellence both in discovery of new knowledge and in education and technology transfer. Our students on campus and the state’s many agricultural producers, food industries, and natural resource managers across the state are among the many beneficiaries,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “The college is in good shape; we’ve got excellent faculty and administrators and a culture that produces value,” Dutson said.

And the college’s contributions will continue.

Agricultural economist Bill Boggess will take the helm as interim dean, working closely with Dutson to ensure a smooth transition. Concurrently, OSU will initiate a national search for a new dean, according to Provost Sabah Randhawa. In the meantime, Dutson will continue to serve on a part-time basis as director of the western Sun Grant center until a new director is selected.

But after June 30, Dutson will be spending more time on his ranch near Sisters, horseback riding with his granddaughter and running his cows.