Pulitzer Winner Art Cullen Warns of Wintersteen Presidency

In a letter to the editor of the Iowa State Daily student newspaper, Storm Lake Times editor Art Cullen slammed Iowa State University ag college dean Wendy Wintersteen, one of four finalists to be the university’s next president, labeling her a “proprietor” of the “agri-chemical complex.”

Cullen criticized Wintersteen for not doing more to prevent the state’s defunding of ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and for “set[ting] back sustainability” by building “opacity around the college of agriculture and its association with corporate paymasters” Monsanto, DuPont, and the Koch brothers.

He then took aim at Wintersteen’s ex-officio position on the board of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, “which represents the seed and chemical industry and runs this state.” Earlier this year, Cullen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at the family-owned Times for taking on corporate agricultural interests. Specifically, he fought three rural counties over their refusal to disclose donors to a legal defense fund against the Des Moines Water Works, which unsuccessfully sued the counties for polluting the city’s Raccoon River drinking supply. (Read his prize-winning editorials here.)

Eventually, with the help of the Des Moines Register and Iowa Freedom of Information Council, Cullen was able to determine that AAI, whose CEO is Ames resident Joel Brinkmeyer, was the main donor to the counties’ legal defense fund.

“This was the land grant school,” Cullen wrote in the Daily letter. “The people’s college. Where academic freedom is paramount and untouchable. Where research would be done for research’s sake, and always for the betterment of Iowa, and free of financial influence or consideration. Where natural resource protection was supposed to be a priority.”

Instead, he added, ISU “faculty is nervous if not afraid” of deviating from the corporate ag line. “They call us and tell us they cannot be identified, even when tenured. The non-tenured research staff surely knows its limits.”

In the 1980s, Cullen was an editor of the Ames Tribune, which has yet to publish a single word about Wintersteen’s controversial ties to corporate ag interests since she was announced as a finalist for the ISU presidency a week ago.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.