When Marc Linit joined the University of Missouri in 1980 as an assistant professor of entomology, the first lecture he gave was in a teaching lab in the southwest corner of the second floor of the Agriculture Building. It’s the same room, nearly 40 years later, which Linit occupies as senior associate dean for the Office of Research and Extension and director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.“CAFNR has been extremely fortunate to have Marc in many capacities over the years – probably more fortunate than we realize. Our programs have great stability and are respected not only in the state, but throughout the country and on an international level. Marc has played a key role in all of that.”
―Tom Payne, vice chancellor and dean emeritus of CAFNR, and close friend of Linit’s
It’s a perfect parallel for Linit’s tenure with the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources – there have been plenty of changes throughout the years and Linit has been a constant throughout.
Linit’s retirement was effective May 31. He has served in a limited role since that time, helping CAFNR through yet another transition period – finding his replacement as senior associate dean. Shibu Jose was recently announced as the interim senior associate dean in the Office of Research and Extension and the interim director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Jose will begin his duties on Jan. 1, 2019.
Linit’s CAFNR career featured many transitions, several of which he helped facilitate.
“CAFNR has been extremely fortunate to have Marc in many capacities over the years – probably more fortunate than we realize,” said Tom Payne, vice chancellor and dean emeritus of CAFNR, and close friend of Linit. “Our programs have great stability and are respected not only in the state, but throughout the country and on an international level. Marc has played a key role in all of that.”
A Transition to Agriculture
In his early 20s, if Linit had gazed into a crystal ball to see his future, a career in agriculture would probably have shocked him.
“I grew up in a former Dutch farming community on the east coast called Brooklyn,” Linit joked. “I grew up in an apartment complex on Ocean Avenue, a busy four-lane street that ran right to the ocean. I remember trolleys, cabs and buses rolling through there constantly.”
Linit spent his childhood and teen years in New York. After his high school graduation, he attended Ohio University and graduated with a degree in Asian philosophy.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do heading into college,” Linit said. “That was where I ended up. While I was completing my undergraduate degree, it was a very tumultuous time on college campuses. The Vietnam War was going on, there were multiple protests. The Kent State University shooting happened during my junior year, and I remember the next day, our campus was shut down. The National Guard was all over the place. It was pretty wild.
“After I graduated, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. Special education had just come on as a requirement for public schools. You could get a job as a special education teacher just by saying, ‘I want to do that.’ So that’s what I did. I taught special education for a year in Marietta, Ohio. I found out that really wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
On the last day of classes, Linit packed everything into his Volkswagen van and drove to Maine. He had decided he wanted to study forestry.
“I had no background in forestry, but our family would take trips to upstate New York and spend time in the Catskill Mountains,” Linit said. “Whether I knew it or not, I think those trips made an impression on me. When I started thinking about what I wanted to do, I kept coming back to those moments.”
Linit walked into the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture at the University of Maine and sat down with then director, Fred Knight. Linit enrolled immediately.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but Fred had a son right around my age, and I don’t think his son knew where he was headed, either,” Linit said. “I think he saw a little bit of his son in me, and that led him to really take me under his wing.”
Knight ended up serving as Linit’s advisor as he completed his master’s degree in forestry. Upon completion, Linit began the job search. An advertisement for a technician with a new entomology professor at the University of Arkansas caught his eye.
“Things were obviously different back then,” said Fred Stephen, forest entomologist and professor at the University of Arkansas. “You would post an ad in a journal and hope someone would call or write you.”
Stephen was just beginning his academic career when he posted the technician position. He clicked right away with Linit.
“Marc was willing to try anything,” Stephen said. “He became really good at climbing trees.”
Southern pine beetle was the insect of choice for Stephen and his team. While Linit didn’t realize it as the time, the southern pine beetle would connect him with the person who would drastically change his career more than 20 years later – Thomas Payne.
“The first time I actually met Marc was on Bourbon Street in New Orleans,” Payne said. “We were both attending a meeting of the Entomological Society of America. We were just walking down the street and I saw a colleague of mine, Fred Stephen, who introduced me to Marc.”
A Transition to Academics
Linit loved working with Stephen, but he soon realized climbing trees wasn’t something to which he wanted to devote his entire career. He enrolled in a doctoral program and became Stephen’s first doctoral student. He turned his focus toward teaching, while keeping the same passion he had for research.
“I had an uncle, actually, he was my mother’s cousin, who was a successful biochemist,” Linit said. “He was on the faculty at Berkeley and later at Columbia. I would only see him about once a year. He was a very successful researcher and became a mythical figure in my life. If someone got sick or needed a question answered, he was the first person they called. I developed a reverence for research from him – I held it in high regard.”
Linit received his doctoral degree in December of 1980. He began his career at MU in September of 1980.
“I didn’t do a post-doc,” Linit said. “That would probably be unheard of today, but that’s how it worked out.
“I first saw the ad for the MU job at an entomological society annual meeting. I think I really resonated with the graduate students – I definitely felt a connection.”
Linit had a research and teaching appointment when he first joined MU. He did research on forest insects and taught an introductory course on forest entomology. Linit taught a graduate course on insect ecology as well.
“I remember showing up on my very first day,” Linit said. “I walk downstairs to the basement of the Agriculture Building, to room 1-64. I unlock the door and the first thing I see is a brown recluse spider right in the middle of the room waiting for me. It was quite the welcome party.”
The first 20 years of Linit’s CAFNR career featured him being promoted to an associate professor and then professor. During that time period, CAFNR was going through structural shifts as well. The departments within plant sciences were organized into a unit. The former departments each had a department coordinator, who reported to the new unit leader. Linit served as the department coordinator for entomology.
“Honestly, it was very, very part-time,” Linit said. “Most things were handled by the unit leader.”
A Transition to Administration
Linit’s career took a new trajectory in 1999, when Payne became the vice chancellor and dean for CAFNR. Linit helped recruit Payne to MU, after years of building a relationship through their entomological research.
“Tom Payne joining the University of Missouri served as the turning point in my career,” Linit said.
“Marc was instrumental in me coming here,” Payne added. “Marc and Mike Chippendale gave me insights into the college and MU – and some things that they felt needed to be done for the college.”
Payne made a couple of major changes during his first week on the job, including naming Linit the unit leader of plant sciences.
“Tom’s first day was Jan. 1, 1999 – and I think I got a call to meet with him on Jan. 2, 1999,” Linit said. “I think I had been in the dean’s office only one other time. Mike was already sitting in the office – he was serving as the unit leader of plant sciences at the time. Tom said he was moving Mike into the associate dean role and me into the unit leader role. I felt like I walked into the doctor’s office thinking I had a cold and I was diagnosed with cancer. I had never aspired to be in administration.”
“When I came here, CAFNR was in transition,” Payne added. “Marc said I came in and made all of these changes in the first week – and he’s right. People like Marc. They trust him. He’s even-tempered and fair. Marc gives a lot of consideration and deep thought to things.”
After telling Payne he would think about the opportunity, Linit eventually said he would fill the unit leader role. During the next few years, Linit would be charged with helping plant sciences transition from a unit into a division.
“While the units had been around for probably 10 years at that point, there was still a strong departmental identity,” Linit said. “Our goal was to unify the division. There was definitely some tension during the process, but everyone eventually bought in.”
After becoming a division, the next step for plant sciences was to figure out its master’s and doctoral degree programs. Linit continued on, now as the division director.
“We were still operating with four master’s degree programs and four doctoral degree programs,” Linit said. “You looked at all of these programs at similar land-grant universities and we were among the smallest in entomology, plant pathology and horticulture. Agronomy was bigger, but still among the smallest among our peer institutions. It was not a quality issue – it was a number issue. It really limited what we would do.
“We had to decide if would be better to go on as four good but small programs or consolidate into single master’s and doctoral degrees. That conversation was a slog. We wanted everyone to be comfortable. After a couple years, I think everyone started to see the benefits. Once we became a division, we’ve been extremely powerful and productive. Even if you have a specific focus within the degree, you get to rub shoulders with students in other disciplines. You graduate extremely well-prepared. That’s how the plant, insect and microbial sciences degree was born.”
After helping to facilitate the change in plant science, another opportunity opened up for Linit in 2006 – his current position, as senior associate dean for the Office of Research and Extension and director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.
“You remember where you are when these things happen,” Linit said. “I was in Long Island with my wife, Sue (Hollingsworth), and we were at a family reunion. We’re standing in her father’s backyard and my phone rings. Tom was always calling me, so I had no clue what he wanted. Sue could tell it was a big deal because I went to the very far corner of the backyard.”
“Marc had done a great job with plant sciences, so it seemed like a natural progression,” Payne added. “It just made sense to me. I know he wasn’t looking for a job of that nature, but he really grew into both roles.”
Lint and Hollingsworth met at Mizzou, finding a common interest in their upbringing. The two met while working out at the rec and found out that they grew up just 12 miles from each other. Hollingsworth is the director of the Academic Support Center at MU.
In his new, and current, role, Linit has worked with CAFNR’s numerous researchers, administering and promoting their work.
“I truly believe this is the perfect job,” he said. “You get to ride the coattails of all of these great researchers. You get to learn so much about what they do – and then share it with others. I’m extremely proud of the work our researchers have done and are continuing to do.”
Linit also became the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, a system of Research Centers around the state that meet the regional research and demonstration needs of agricultural producers and natural resource managers. Those Centers reach all corners of Missouri and provide not only research opportunities but community outreach as well.
“Coming out of forest entomology, I did some work at the Baskett Research Center (Ashland) and the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (New Franklin),” Linit said. “As the division director, I got even more familiar with our Centers. They’re tremendous assets and serve as the front door to MU for many, many people. Our Research Centers are a huge part of the land-grant mission.”
One Final Transition
Toward the end of Linit’s tenure at MU, he helped CAFNR through a major transition – the retirement of Payne. Payne served as the vice chancellor and dean for CAFNR for 18 years.
“When I announced that I was going to retire, I was concerned about who would come in for the interim,” Payne said. “I lobbied very, very hard for Marc to be in that role. I really felt that he was the only person who could step in and do that job. He was familiar with the college and what we were all about.”
Linit served as the interim vice chancellor and dean for a year, helping CAFNR through some difficult financial times.
“As associate dean, you would get nibbles from search firms asking if you are interested in other dean positions,” Linit said. “I really never found the exact right situation or location. I think, deep down, I never really wanted that role. I truly believe I have the best job in the college.
“However, when this opportunity came along, I felt a sense of responsibility to get us through the transition period. I really enjoyed that year.”
Linit was also instrumental in the hiring process of a new vice chancellor and dean. MU hired Christopher Daubert to fill the vice chancellor and dean position; he started in the role on Aug. 1, 2017.
“There are some great things happening in CAFNR,” Linit said. “Chris is providing us the opportunity to chart the course for the future. He’s done a great job of reaching out to leaders in the agriculture community and building important relationships. It’s very exciting.”
“Marc’s experience has been invaluable for CAFNR over the years,” Daubert added. “I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with him during my transition as vice chancellor and dean. I appreciate how he kept CAFNR running smoothly in the interim and how he continues to help us drive toward distinction.”
“We’ve had a lot of laughs together,” Payne added. “We’ve gone through a lot of personal things together. I miss working with him. We certainly didn’t agree on everything, but the respect for each other was always there. Retiring has been a whole different animal for me, and I’m sure it will be similar for him. Our work is our life. We both enjoy scotch, but I don’t think we’ll be able to just sit around and drink scotch all day.”
“This job has provided me with so many opportunities,” Linit said. “I’ve been able to meet so many great and interesting people. I’ve been able to travel the world. I’m going to miss it.”