James H. Meyer
Chancellor Emeritus, Professor of Animal Science, Emeritus
1922 – 2002
James H. Meyer served with distinction as chancellor of the University of California, Davis, from 1969 to 1987, guiding it with a steady hand through a period of great turbulence during the early years and of unparalleled growth throughout. His service as a UC Davis administrator also included three years as department chair and six years as a college dean. His administrative career was preceded by a distinguished scientific career in animal nutrition and followed by more than a decade of service to the field of higher education and to the UC Davis Department of Animal Science – in total, a remarkable half century of contributions to the Davis campus, UC, higher education and agriculture. Dr. Meyer died on October 12, 2002, at age 80.
Jim grew up on a grain- and livestock-producing farm in Idaho, and his early agricultural experiences shaped his life in many ways. Colleagues became familiar with his comments on similarities between animal behaviors he had observed and human behaviors he encountered as an administrator. He had milked cows by hand on the farm and took pride in regularly winning the annual UC Davis Picnic Day cow milking contest on the Quad. In common with many who grew up on farms during the depression, he developed a very strong work ethic that stayed with him throughout his life.
Jim’s undergraduate studies at the University of Idaho were interrupted by service as 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946. Following completion of a B.S. degree in agriculture in 1947, he obtained M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in animal nutrition at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1951 he accepted appointment as instructor in the then Animal Husbandry Department at UC Davis, where he quickly developed an active research program and a reputation as an excellent teacher. He was always interested in establishing general principles, and in 1961 became one of the youngest scientists to receive the American Feed Manufacturers Award for Research in Animal Nutrition, the highest award in the field given by the American Society of Animal Science. He was cited for basic research studies ranging from fiber utilization by the rat to the influence of pelleting of ruminant diets on nutritional value. His method of evaluation of alfalfa, one of California’s most important agricultural crops, has been widely adopted. A 1959 paper by W. N. Garrett, J. H. Meyer and G. P. Lofgreen was the initial publication that led to a net energy system of feed evaluation. The paper made Science Citation Index’s list of most frequently cited scientific publications.
Jim was appointed department chair in 1960, and his noteworthy performance in that position led to his appointment as dean of the College of Agriculture in 1963. At the time, undergraduate enrollment in the college was about 800 students and had not increased for several years although total campus enrollment was growing rapidly. Jim set as one of his first priorities a thorough overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum. Faculty members were recruited to serve on numerous committees, and substantive changes were made in the college’s teaching programs. Evidencing the interest in management that became a feature of his administrative career, he had a major role in establishment of the very successful Agricultural Science and Management major, combining study of a technical agricultural field with courses in economics and management. During Jim’s six years as dean, undergraduate enrollment in the college doubled, and continued to increase for many years thereafter.
As dean, Jim recommended that the college change its name to Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Although support for the change was initially far from unanimous, as was often the case, Jim was well ahead of the curve. His recognition at that time that agriculture had significant impacts on the environment and that agriculture as well as the rest of society had an important stake in maintaining a healthy environment was a very forward looking step that has had major benefits for the college and for California.
As an example of Jim’s concern for the different constituencies on campus, he proposed the creation of the Academic Staff Organization (now the Academic Federation) to provide a forum and a voice for the many academic appointees who were not members of the Academic Senate. The organization was formed while he was dean, and he continued his strong support of it as chancellor. The Academic Federation’s annual Distinguished Achievement Award is appropriately named in his honor.
During his years as chancellor, Jim's interest in management continued and was strengthened. He read voraciously on the subject and worked intensively to apply appropriate concepts among his colleagues in the campus administration. His interest in the subject of effective management and its contribution to higher education led to the establishment of a systemwide management institute for young administrators that Jim organized and conducted at UC Davis during the early years of its existence.
Among his strongest commitments was a belief in the value of effective communication. Toward this end he began a series of annual fall conferences including representatives from all campus constituencies and devoted to important campus issues. This contributed greatly to the ability to communicate across constituencies during periods of campus unrest throughout the 1970’s. He established weekly informal luncheon meetings among deans and vice chancellors and the chair of the Academic Senate to promote communication among these campus leaders.
Despite the stringent budget conditions and the unrest that characterized much of the period of his tenure as chancellor, he was responsible for many changes. These included acquisition of the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, establishment of the Graduate School of Administration (now Management), many other new and innovative organizations including the Divisions of Biology and Environmental Sciences, the Work-Learn Center, and construction of Rec Hall without state funds. He constantly sought improved organization and better service to students and the public.
Perhaps his most noteworthy commitment as chancellor was his unstinting devotion to the cause of undergraduate education. He spent countless hours with student groups and maintained contact with a vast number of students after their graduation from the campus.
When he retired as chancellor, Jim returned to the Animal Science Department and came to work daily until early in the last year of his life. A particular interest during this time was Land Grant universities, or to use his term, institutions of higher learning whose roots were in agriculture. He documented their history and achievements, assessed their current status and, most importantly, suggested changes needed for them to remain relevant in a rapidly changing society. He continually stressed the need for these institutions to serve and obtain support from a broader clientele than had been their tradition.
During this time Jim also made important contributions to the Animal Science Department. He was instrumental in getting approval for the department, with its large student enrollment, to have a special campaign within the campus Students First fundraising program. He chaired the departmental effort, which brought in over $150,000 for support of undergraduate and graduate students. He followed up on a long-term interest by helping obtain approval of a professional Master’s degree program, the Master of Agriculture and Management, and chaired the committee that recruited the first director. He helped establish the Animal Science Development Board, whose members continue to provide valuable support for the department. His counsel was sought and given generously on many issues.
Jim was married in 1947 to Margaret Hickman, with whom he had five children: Stephen, Susan, Gary, Joan and Tracy. Margaret died in 1979 following a long illness. A few years later he married Mary Regan, a UC Davis faculty member. At the time of their retirements in 1987, Jim and Mary were looking forward to the years ahead, when tragically Mary became ill and died a few months later. His marriage to Virginia Woods, whom he had known in high school, did not last. He is survived by his fourth wife, Alice Bell.