Barry H. Dunn was named the 20th president of South Dakota State University in April 2016, the fourth alumnus chosen to lead the institution. He assumed office May 23, 2016.
Dunn has been instrumental in a number of key initiatives during his time as president, including the implementation of Imagine 2023, the university’s current five-year strategic plan. The plan sets the strategic direction for the university and infuses a set of core values around people-centered leadership, creativity, integrity, diversity and excellence.
Development of the plan started in January 2017 and included a collaborative and extensive process, reaching to all corners of South Dakota and renewing the values of the 1862 land-grant mission that founded South Dakota State University.
Dunn has been instrumental in promoting the plan and living its core values of being people-centered, promoting creativity, acting with organizational and personal integrity and achieving excellence through continuous improvement. Each core value is critical to living the plan’s vision of being a premier land-grant university.
Success behind the plan was seen early in its implementation. Several programs have been nationally recognized, including a top 20 ranking for SDSU nursing in terms of best value programs and a top 10 ranking for being a best college for education majors. A New York Times analysis showed SDSU ranks among the nation’s best for exceeding graduation rates nationally, surpassing many public land-grant universities.
A signature moment for Imagine 2023 and the infusion of being people-centered came when the university was ranked second in Forbes’ Best-in-South Dakota Employers for 2019. Forbes also ranked SDSU among its top 11% of colleges and universities in the United States.
Early in his presidency, Dunn launched a program aimed at creating greater access to higher education for Native Americans in South Dakota. The Wokini Initiative has increased programming and support to enrolled members of the state’s nine tribal nations, while enhancing research and outreach collaborations and programs with tribes, tribal colleges and other tribal organizations in the state.
Funding for the Wokini Initiative has come through private donations to the SDSU Foundation and revenue generated by land as part of the South Dakota Permanent Trust Fund. Much of the land was claimed by the federal government in 1887 as part of the Dawes Act, assigning 160,000 acres to South Dakota to support its new land-grant college and agricultural experiment station.
As part of the initiative, Dunn and others created a Land Acknowledgement that serves as a reminder that before SDSU, the land the campus occupies was once home to Native Nations indigenous to its location—a bold and unprecedented move in higher education.
Generous donors have helped fund more than $300,000 in Wokini scholarships and provide a $4 million lead gift on a new American Indian Student Center that will open in 2020. Altogether, more than $7 million has been raised for the Wokini Initiative under Dunn’s leadership.
Working with congressional leadership in Washington, D.C., Dunn and SDSU leadership led efforts to include the New Beginning for Tribal Students initiative in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill to provide grants, on a matching basis, for land-grant institutions.
In additional to the American Indian Student Center, two other major facility projects are the result of Dunn’s leadership. The South Dakota Legislature approved a $58 million project for the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory that includes an addition to the current structure and a Biosafety Level-3 space, the only level-3 security facility in the state.
Dunn was also instrumental in gaining approval for a $55 million Precision Agriculture Facility that will be built on campus. He led efforts to secure $22 million from the South Dakota Legislature and a lead naming-rights gift of $5 million from Raven Industries. SDSU is currently the only university with both a precision ag major and minor as part of its academic offerings.
During his first three years as president, Dunn has raised more than $150 million in private funding.
Dunn’s time at SDSU dates to the mid-1970s when he received a bachelor’s degree in biology at SDSU and subsequently completed two graduate degrees in animal science—a master’s in 1977 and a Ph.D. in in 2000. He became the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council endowed dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences in 2010. He also served as director of SDSU Extension and as a professor of animal science.
As dean, Dunn led a college with approximately 550 faculty and staff, 2,800 graduate and undergraduate students, and a $78 million annual budget, including more than $20 million in grant and contract awards, fundraising and development. He shaped the academic and strategic direction of eight departments, spanning 18 degree programs, one regional research and outreach center, six research field stations and 14,500 acres of Agricultural Experiment Station research land.
As SDSU Extension director, Dunn administered and set the vision for five program areas across two colleges and nine departments, as well as eight regional extension centers with a $12 million annual budget. He led a team of approximately 150 faculty and staff members and 3,500 adult volunteers.
Dunn spent six years at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (from 2004 to 2010) as executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Range Management. He worked in Brookings as an Extension livestock specialist and as an assistant professor in SDSU’s Department of Animal and Range Science from 1997 to 2004.
From 1979 to 1996, Dunn was a successful rancher, managing his family’s cattle ranch in Mission, South Dakota. In 2015, he was appointed to the South Dakota Habitat Conservation Fund by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and to the Governor’s Pheasant Work Group in 2014. He served as an ex-officio member of the ag advisory board for the First Dakota National Bank in Yankton, South Dakota, from 2011 to 2016, and was a member of the board of directors for Padlock Ranch in Dayton, Wyoming, from 2009 to 2017.
Dunn has a rich academic background, was a successful rancher and farm operator and is a published author and researcher. He is a nationally recognized expert in beef production and ranching systems, and is a member of several professional organizations, including the Society for Range Management, the American Society of Animal Science and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He has a deep historical and cultural knowledge of South Dakota and South Dakota State University, and strong, statewide relationships with industry influencers and stakeholders, including government officials, business leaders, university administration, faculty and staff.
Dunn and his wife, Jane, maintain her family’s original homestead north of Brookings where they raised their two sons.