March 18, 2016

U.S. agriculture secretary to speak at SIU

by Pete Rosenbery

Tom VilsackCARBONDALE, Ill. -- U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will present the Morton-Kenney Public Affairs Lecture next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Vilsack, the last remaining member of President Barack Obama’s original cabinet, will speak at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 23, in the Student Center Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public. The Department of Political Science and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute sponsor the lecture. 

David Yepsen, institute director, said he expects Vilsack will discuss USDA’s work to build stronger rural communities, improve access to healthy and nutritious foods, and economic opportunities for rural regions, such as Southern Illinois. 

“His agency touches American life in so many ways, especially in a region as rural as Southern Illinois,” Yepsen said. “We’re honored to have a sitting member of the cabinet visit SIU and have the opportunity to meet with some of our students interested in public service, rural policy and agriculture law.” 

Vilsack, a former two-term Iowa governor, was confirmed by unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate to be the nation’s 30th agriculture secretary on Jan. 20, 2009.  The Obama Administration and USDA “have made historic investments in America’s rural communities, helping create ladders of opportunity for rural people and building thriving rural economies for the long term,” according to the agency’s website. 

Vilsack is chair of the first-ever White House Rural Council, which looks to strengthen services for rural businesses and entrepreneurs “by finding new ways to make the connection between the demand for investment in rural areas and the financial community.” The agency, under Vilsack, has also worked to improve the health of America’s children by combatting childhood hunger and obesity under the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.” There have also been efforts to improve safety of the nation’s food supply and to conserve our natural resources. 

Yepsen said Vilsack, who began his political career as mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in the late 1980s, “has dedicated his life to public service.” Vilsack also served in the Iowa State Senate prior to becoming governor in 1999; he was the first Democrat to hold that office in 30 years.

Vilsack has a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in New York, and he earned a law degree in 1975 from Albany Law School. 

Vilsack is the 39th lecturer in the series that began in 1995.  The Morton-Kenney lecture series brings speakers to campus in the spring and fall of each year. Jerome Mileur, originally from Murphysboro, is a professor emeritus in political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, retiring in 2004 after a 37-year teaching career there.  Mileur established the series in 1995 in honor of two of his political science professors -- Ward Morton and David Kenney -- who inspired him as a student.  Mileur earned his bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1955, and a doctorate in government in 1971, both from SIU Carbondale.  

For more information on the program, contact the institute at 618/453-4009 or visit