Agricultural Economics Professor and former Departmental Chair Leigh Maynard will be retiring February 14th, 2020. We couldn't skip an opportunity to share Leigh's wit and wisdom, so we asked him to reflect on his time at UK.

Q: Who were your heroes or role models when you first began teaching? Have they changed?
Geez, I don’t know, I had more anti-heroes at that time.  I know many outstanding teachers, but imitating another’s teaching style is hard and often futile.  I had more research heroes, especially Richard Thaler.  I knew him because I was on a darts league team with his son, and because Tisha babysat his daughter.  Only years later did I realize that (a) he was an economist, and (b) he thinks more clearly about human decision making than other economists.


Q: How has technology most impacted your life?
In most ways, not much.  Technology often brings major advances to minor needs.  Texting keeps our family closer by letting us share the minutiae that is the real glue of relationships, YouTube videos allow us to fix things despite profound ignorance.  Airbags are super handy, as is movie theater butter microwave popcorn.


Q: What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
I had a high school social studies teacher who looked like Walter Mathau.  He was the first person to connect schoolwork to where I lived, specifically the neighborhoods and socio-economic issues of Syracuse, the “big city” to us rural and small-town louts.  He’s mostly why I ended up in the social sciences.


Q: What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?
I was a total idiot when I was 20, which helped me be a better teacher and advisor.  Realizing that people are rarely paying as much attention to you as you think takes a lot of pressure off, as does realizing that you can rarely change people’s behavior.  I think a goal of becoming less self-absorbed over time is a satisfying one, and sometimes it leads to success as a by-product.


Q: What are you most excited for in retirement?
Being outside, getting in shape again, doing physical work with tangible results, building expertise in a few things rather than near-proficiency in many things, being witness to one of the most eventful times in human history, reconnecting with family in far-flung places, making dinner while Tisha brings home the bacon (really? french toast – again?)   


Q: What is the most meaningful part of working at a university?
Universities are a great place to meet extraordinary people, some of whom are academics.  Attempting to help students keeps one connected to society across generations. The international nature of academia is enlightening. I was always a Land Grant idealist, and bought into the idea of doing practical research, outreach, and teaching to deliver public goods.  Being chair and being part of the Food Connection gave me access to the whole College’s activities, which was rewarding. The Southeastern Grain Gathering back in September was a specific example of the Land Grant mission at its best.


Q: What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?
All the usual ones that fall out of a Puritan family tree: pull your weight, don’t be a burden, don’t waste stuff, kill your TV, dance with the one that brung ya, measure twice cut once, use your damn turn signals, etc.    


Q: If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?



A copy of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic essay

The ancestral family musket from the Revolutionary War

The ski hat I found in the schoolbus line in fourth grade (winter is coming)


Q:  As you look back over your life, do you see any turning points - a key event or experience that changed the course of your life or set you on a different track?

Taking graduate classes in international ag after returning from a year-long study abroad program.

Deciding to get married instead of accepting a Peace Corps assignment in Africa.

Believing two faculty-who-will-not-be-named in the summer of 2010 when they said they would leave if I didn’t put myself up for the chair role.

Realizing in 2013 and 2014 that there’s no time to waste.


Q: What is your favorite class you have taught over the years?
Hard to say, since teaching is such an emotional roller coaster.  Ag futures markets had the most impact on students’ professional opportunities.  Environmental and resource economics had the most meaningful material.  The PhD-level ag marketing course and MS-level price analysis course were the easiest since they’re most aligned with our training and research.  The France / Switzerland course contained the most intense experiences.  The quantitative methods capstone was the most hands-on and practical.  And the quiz bowl / consulting course was the most fun.