Proposed Position Reclassication and Salary Increase

for Dr. Dwayne Estes

Executive Director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative


Executive summary

 Dr. Dwayne Estes, Executive Director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, Professor of Biology, Principal Investigator for Center of Excellence for Field Biology, Director & Curator of the APSU Herbarium.

Dr. Dwayne Estes, Executive Director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, Professor of Biology, Principal Investigator for Center of Excellence for Field Biology, Director & Curator of the APSU Herbarium.

Dr. Dwayne Estes is a tenured, full professor of biology at Austin Peay State University and this fall 2018 begins his 11th year at APSU. In his role as a professor, Dwayne teaches courses ranging from general biology to graduate courses in botany and natural history. He also manages a lab of a four to six graduate students at a time. These students are supported on numerous grants and contracts, ranging from small contracts with state agencies to large National Science Foundation grants. His success in acquiring grant-funding and work with a large team of graduate students, along with conduction of his own personal research, has largely been done in his capacity as Principal Investigator with the Center of Excellence for Field Biology, a position he has maintained for a decade. His third role at APSU is director and curator of the APSU Herbarium, now the largest botanical research facility in the Mid-South U.S. For the period July 2013-December 2016, Dwayne also held a joint appointment with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth, a internationally renowned botanical institution, for which he served as Biodiversity Explorer. Finally, since January 2017, Dwayne, along with co-founder Theo Witsell, has worked tirelessly to launch a new conservation organization based out of APSU and has guided the meteoric rise of this organization as acting Executive Director. The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI) now stands as one of the fastest growing conservation organizations in the eastern U.S. and is garnering the attention and financial support from private philanthropists and philanthropic foundations, major corporations, and government agencies. Now, a large percentage of his time is spent fundraising and many of his day-to-day responsibilities are more in line with what would be expected of a fundraiser with the Office of University Advancement than the Department of Biology.  Still, Dwayne's evolving position demands that he keep one foot firmly grounded in fundraising and the other in his role as an educator and researcher.  In developing SGI, Dwayne's position and duties have evolved but his official job description has not and his pay does not reflect the significant increase in responsibilities and level of productivity. This paradox was recently brought to the attention of APSU's administration by former Vice President of University Advancement and Public Relations, Derek van der Merwe. Discussions among Vice President van der Merwe, President Alisa White, Karen Meisch (Dean, College of STEM), Kris Phillips (Director of University Advancement), Dr. Steve Hamilton (Director, Center for Field Biology), and Dr. Don Dailey (Chair, Dept. of Biology) have led to a request for Dr. Estes to prepare a proposal to reclassify his present position and seek a pay increase commensurate with his newfound role.


the numerous roles dr. Estes plays


Professor, apsu department of biology 

 Dwayne, in his role as a Professor of the APSU Dept. of Biology, teaching a botany class during a fieldtrip to a prairie remnant in Coffee Co., TN.

Dwayne, in his role as a Professor of the APSU Dept. of Biology, teaching a botany class during a fieldtrip to a prairie remnant in Coffee Co., TN.

Dwayne was hired as Assistant Professor in August 2007 and progressed without delay through the various promotional steps to Associate Professor (2010) and Full Professor (2015), receiving tenure in 2013. Contractually, in his duties for the Dept. of Biology, he is required to teach 2 courses and associated labs per year, which is reduced from the typical faculty teaching load due to a one-course buyout from the CFB. From 2014-2016, while Dwayne was employed in a joint capacity with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), Dwayne shifted to teaching his two courses in the fall semesters with a release in spring for focused research. During this time, BRIT also contributed money to assist in some of Dwayne's course buyout.

In May 2016, after organizing and hosting a impressive 3-day regional conference, the Mid-South Prairie Symposium, Dwayne's passion as an educator, researcher, and conservationist was "discovered" by Clark Mitchell who attended the Symposium. In the summer of 2016, Clark, whose family has a $78 million philanthropic foundation (BAND Foundation), asked Dwayne and a colleague from Arkansas (Theo Witsell) to "dream big" about developing a new conservation program. By the fall semester, this led to major opportunities including a projected donation from BAND Foundation of $750,000 - $1.5 million. By the mid-term of October 2016, Dean Jaime Taylor and Dr. Don Dailey (Chair, Biology Dept.) arranged for Dwayne to immediately be relieved from teaching one of his two courses that fall so that he could focus efforts on developing the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI). The Department, College, and University have continued to support Dwayne's efforts and he was allowed to continue working full-time on SGI during all of 2017 and the spring of 2018 to focus on SGI. In fall 2018, he resumes his duties as a faculty member and will teach one upper-level 4-credit biology course (Field Botany, Biol. 4050/4051). 

As an educator, he has taught a variety of courses, mostly Principles of Biology, Field Botany, Botanical Diversity, Plant Systematics, and has developed one new course, Field Studies in Biogeography & Biodiversity.  Although he has been allowed to step out of the classroom for the past three semesters, Dwayne has continued to fulfill a significant portion of his academic assignment by serving as thesis advisor to a robust team of graduate students, usually carrying 4-6 at a time, and by serving on graduate committees of several other students in the department.


principal investigator, apsu center of excellence for field biology

Dwayne was invited to join as a Principal Investigator in the Center of Excellence for Field Biology in 2008. As a PI in the CFB, he and his fellow PIs receive a course-release. In exchange for this buyout, they have been expected to have higher levels of productivity when it comes to research, generating publications, advising graduate students, and writing for and acquiring funding from grants and contracts to support their work and the Center. 


director & curator, apsu herbarium & botanical garden

Since being hired, Dwayne has served as Director and Curator of the APSU Herbarium, a collection of preserved plant specimens similar to a botanical library, and in 2010 he established the APSU Botanical Garden to hold living collections for teaching and research. Under his direction, the herbarium has tripled in size from 37,500 specimens in 2009 to more than 125,000 specimens today. It is now the largest herbarium in the the entire Mid-South, in an area spanning from the Univ. of Tennessee on the east, Univ. of Arkansas on the west, Southern Illinois Univ. on the north and Florida State Univ. on the south. The botanical garden is also the largest in the region, in terms of numbers of species, dedicated exclusively to native flora.

Dwayne has been successful in procuring funds to support and grow the APSU Herbarium. In 2013, he teamed up with fellow CFB colleagues Dr. Rebecca Johansen and Dr. Chris Gienger and secured a $309,000 NSF grant which allowed for the installation of compactors and significant upgrades. In 2016, Dwayne individually secured a $389,000 NSF grant to adopt and incorporate the Western Kentucky Univ. Herbarium. 


executive director, southeastern grasslands initiative

In October 2016, Estes co-founded SGI with his colleague, Theo Witsell. For the past year-and-a-half, Estes has worked full-time as acting Executive Director of SGI and has worked to strike a balance between his role as ED for SGI, Professor for the Dept. of Biology, PI, and Director of the Herbarium for the CFB. In order to facilitate his work to lead the development of SGI he was fortunate to receive a release from teaching between October 2016 and August 2018, plus leniency with respect to missing faculty meetings and other university functions as needed when SGI work called him away almost weekly for fundraising, meetings, networking, etc. During this time he supervised the work of more than 20 team members, including a team of 4-6 graduate students (number has fluctuated during this period) who serve as SGI graduate research associates and are funded by grant dollars he secured.

In his capacity as acting ED of SGI, Estes worked closely with former Vice President of University Advancement, Derek van der Merwe, and the APSU Office of University Advancement (OUA), and much of his work to grow SGI classifies as development/fundraising and he has worked to develop connections and connection with donors to whom APSU has previously not had access. Prior to leaving the university, Vice President van der Merwe recommended that Dwayne be promoted to a joint position within the University. This proposal is being negotiated with APSU administrators and will involve Dwayne being officially reclassified in his position as Executive Director of SGI. As part of this re-classification, he will likely join the staff of the OUA and would be assisted by a supporting cast of team members to aid in fundraising for SGI. In this capacity he would report directly to Kris Phillips, Director of the OUA.

It is a testament to the flexibility and support of APSU that they are willing to consider this novel arrangement that presently does not exist within the University in order to support SGI by ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is present to support the director position.

The eventual configuration of Dwayne’s position will be determined in the coming weeks prior to the start of the fall semester in August, but his position will be split by his affiliation with the Dept. of Biology, CEFB, OUA, and SGI. In his role as Professor he will maintain connection to the classroom through a much-reduced annual teaching load equivalent to one 4-hour course per year. He will continue to mentor and train graduate students who may also serve as SGI graduate research associates. He will maintain his appointment as Principal Investigator with the Center of Excellence for Field Biology and these duties will be fulfilled by his mentoring of student research, his continued personal research (e.g. Mt. Cuba Project), grant-writing, and directing the activities of the APSU Herbarium (though not physically performing curation). In his role as ED of SGI, he will prioritize his work on fundraising. This is now made possible by the fact that he has clerical support from JJ White and Jean Langley, and has the support of a growing staff of SGI core team members (Theo Witsell, Reed Noss, Gregg Elliott, Alan Weakley, and a new incoming SGI coordinator), to whom he will be able to delegate more of the day-to-day tasks. Fundraising/networking will likely encompass 50% of his work during the next year.

 Dr. Dwayne Estes during a recent trip to meet with four philanthropists in Austin, Texas to help garner support for the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative. Four of the five are pictured here including Tracy Frist (just right of center), Carolyn Long (4th from right), Bob Ayres (3rd from left).

Dr. Dwayne Estes during a recent trip to meet with four philanthropists in Austin, Texas to help garner support for the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative. Four of the five are pictured here including Tracy Frist (just right of center), Carolyn Long (4th from right), Bob Ayres (3rd from left).

Dwayne Estes’s current base salary is provided by APSU at a yearly (9 month) salary of $80,535 with an additional $41,073 in benefits (calculated at 51%). As a tenured, full professor, this pay is for 9 months of salary only, as is typical of university professors. He is requesting an increase in base 9-month pay from APSU from $80,535 to $100,000. This increase would come from the budget of the Office of University Advancement. Dwayne would supplement his 9-month earnings by receiving summer pay from grants. He is allowed to draw 1/3 of his 9-month salary, so for a $100,000 9-month salary he could draw $33,000 in summer pay.


Dwayne’s duties/responsibilities:

  • Leading fundraising/networking activities on behalf of SGI (traveling to meet with donors or potential donors) and also working to develop partnerships
  • Presenting at a variety of conferences and public speaking events from local to national meetings
  • Frequently contributing to SGI and APSU’s social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Setting the vision and providing leadership for SGI and the APSU Herbarium
  • Leading role in the development of materials on behalf of SGI, including written materials, videos, website contents, etc.
  • Teaching one upper-division (Field Botany) or graduate-level (Plant Systematics, Natural History and Vegetation) biology course per year in the Dept. of Biology
  • Serving as graduate thesis advisor to 3-6 graduate students per academic year
  • Writing numerous grant proposals to support research, on-the-ground conservation, herbarium curation, student support, and staffing needs
  • Managing and coordinating a team of approximately 20 people
  • Planning and visioning for the growth and long-term development of SGI
  • Advocating on behalf of SGI, including visiting with national, state, county, and city political leaders to build political support
  • Reporting directly to APSU university administrators, including Director of the CFB, Chair of the Biology Department, Dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, Associate Provost, Director of the Office of University Advancement, Vice President of University Advancement, Development, and Public Relations, and the President.
  • Interfacing monthly with SGI steering committee members and special advisors
  • Conducting research and supervising research of graduate students
  • Directing the management and curation of the APSU Herbarium and Botanical Garden

Plan for fundraising

The Final Chart.png

During Phase 2, we plan to match BAND’s $350,000 challenge grant by spring 2019 with $250,000 single or combined match acquired from philanthropic or corporate sources to provide core support for SGI. The combined $600,000 will allow SGI to implement its core goals and put into place essential staff. However, to build capacity and grow our organization to make the kind of impact on grassland conservation that we envision, we will need to greatly escalate fundraising activities.

Starting in August 2018, Dwayne will switch his focus to dedicate more time in the pursuit of major fundraising. For starters, APSU’s administration recognizes the need and importance of this aspect of SGI. The administration has recommended Dwayne to join the APSU Office of University Advancement (OUA). This means he will join the development team and will have greater access to resources and additional team members to help develop his knowledge and approach to fundraising. Dwayne will report directly to OUA’s director, Kris Phillips. In his new post, he will also have access to various fundraising software and databases to assist in researching potential new donors. Having additional partners will also enable Dwayne to help initiate some smaller fundraising drives from the university’s alumni and other contacts that presently have not been explored. While this may or may not contribute to the kind of core support that BAND requires as externally acquired match, it will still be crucial to help provide at least small-scale funding for the myriad small-scale needs that SGI has (e.g. certain types of equipment, internships, travel, vehicles, etc.).

Beginning August 2018, Dwayne will allocate 50% of his time to fundraising and will embark on an ambitious schedule to meet with existing contacts Dwayne has established in the past year-and-a-half and to pursue opportunities to explore funding directly with some of these individuals (e.g. Cathy Stewart Brown) or to have them serve as connectors or champions. Another major component of his work this fall will be a systematic and focused effort to develop new relationships and embark on the necessary travel schedule needed to form and cultivate those relationships.

Additionally APSU President Alisa White is making plans to take Dwayne to Houston and Tyler, Texas to meet with a top fundraiser with whom she is a personal friend. The purpose of the trip is to be mentored and get some tips and connections to enhance our fundraising efforts for SGI and to build connections within Texas and elsewhere. He has held numerous posts as a fundraiser, including at Yale University, Baylor, and the University of Texas-Tyler.

Establishment of “Special Advisory Panel” to the SGI Executive Director

 A significant amount of effort will be spent trying to develop a “Special Advisory Panel to the Executive Director.” These are influential and very well connected individuals whose influence and connectivity alone can help elevate SGI to a new level and open doors to new opportunities. These would be people that for now might not necessarily agree to serve on the SGI Steering Committee but would be people that Dwayne could go to on a frequent basis for one-on-one conversations, phone calls, or email. And these would be people who would take the time to learn enough about SGI to serve almost as ambassadors and who would agree to advocate and be a champion for SGI. The members of this committee might or might not work together. Those dynamics will be sorted out and those who are like-minded might be introduced together to create greater synergy. Some may not be compatible with each other and may prefer to be engaged individually on their terms. Their participation would be kept confidential and would not be advertised on SGI’s website, as would the SGI steering committee. Some of these individuals may eventually be recruited for serving on the future SGI Board of Directors.

Some potential candidates for this “Special Advisory Panel” include those listed below with brief biographic information.

  • Mrs. Tracy Frist (Blacksburg, VA) – Owner and operator of Sinking Creek Land & Cattle Co., philanthropist, writer, teacher, and wife of retired Senator Bill Frist, and board member of the Frist Foundation, Nashville, TN.
  • Sen. Bill Frist (Nashville, TN) – Retired Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee and retired heart and lung transplant surgeon and board member of the Frist Foundation, Nashville, TN.
  • George Lindemann Jr. (Miami, FL) – Billionaire philanthropist, art collector, and conservationist from Miami, with residences in TN and CO. President of the Board of Directors for the Bass Museum of Art in Miami. 
  • Tim Sweeney (Cary, NC) – Founder and CEO of EPIC Games, one of the world’s leading video game corporations including the extremely popular game “Fortnight.” Mr. Sweeney is a major conservationist and is the largest private landowner in North Carolina with holdings of more than 40,000 acres. He is well informed about grassland ecosystems and is managing some of his properties for grassland conservation. He occasionally moves very quickly and puts forth large sums of money to buy large, important properties. He could be instrumental in SGI’s desire to plan the acquisition and establishment of several large conservation corridors and preserves.
  • Ed White (Clarksville, TN) – Entrepreneur, large landowner, farmer and retired US Army helicopter pilot from Clarksville, TN. Mr. White owns/co-owns in excess of 50,000 acres of land. He is interested in developing a large prairie preserve near Clarksville. He has a lot of influence within the local and regional community and is business partners with billionaire Gaylon Lawrence Jr. He could be instrumental in continuing to garner local supporters.
  • Cathy Stewart Brown (Nashville, TN) – Mrs. Brown is wife of Martin Brown, Jr., part of the Jack Daniels Brown-Foreman family. The Brown’s are a philanthropic family. Mrs. Brown attended the SGI Summit of Nov. 2017. She could be a supporter, donor, and potential board member.
  • Cathy Mayton (Little Rock, AR) – Mrs. Mayton is an influential Little Rock socialite and active member of the Garden Club of Little Rock. She is a trustee of the Stella Boyle Smith Trust. She has been very excited about SGI and could be important for opening doors and cultivating relationships in Arkansas. Her trust might be a potential source of funding for SGI.
  • Tom and Lynn Meredith (Austin, TX) – The Meredith’s are among the top philanthropists in Austin, TX. Mr. Meredith is on the global board of directors of The Nature Conservancy and is in his last year of service on that board. Mrs. Meredith is on the board of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. They could be a source of philanthropic support and could help in developing relationships in Texas.
  • Tara Armistead (Nashville, TN) – Tara is a landscape architect from Nashville and has been very supportive of SGI. She has taken an active role in helping SGI to gain a foothold in Nashville and to establish solid connections with potential donors or supporters. She has helped build the relationship between SGI and TNC. She introduced SGI to the Frists, the Longs, and the Merediths.
  • Sam Shine (Louisville, KY) – Mr. Shine is a resident of the Louisville, KY area and lived for a long time in Florida as well. He is a major donor with gifts of $1 million to support an arboretum in Louisville. He was formerly a supporter of Reed Noss’s work. In 2017, he gave $10,000 to SGI. He could be a future donor and connector.
  • Cary and Amanda Fowler (Memphis, TN) – The Fowler’s are natives of Memphis, TN. Mr. Fowler was former director of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic and is credited with helping to raise a half billion dollars to support that initiative. His wife, Amanda Goldman Fowler, is of the Goldman-Sachs Family and has published a book on seeds. They could be potential board members given their interests in seedbanking, potential connectors, and potential donors.
  • Chip Morgan III – Mr. Morgan is a resident of the Atlanta area and is a trustee of a trust. He has pledged a donation of $25,000 in support of SGI for 2019 and is very interested in grassland conservation and is eager to learn more. He is an engineer and could be instrumental in connections within Georgia and elsewhere.
  • Carolyn & Jack Long – The Longs are residents of Austin, TX but lived for many years in Nashville. Mr. Long is on the board of the TX chapter of TNC whereas Mrs. Long is on the board of the TN chapter. She also serves as a docent/board member for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. They could be important connectors/potential donors.

Engaging the SGI Core Team & Steering Committee to Assist More with Fundraising/Networking:

 Dwayne will work with certain members of the SGI Core Team (Theo Witsell, Reed Noss, Alan Weakley, Gregg Elliott, Clark Mitchell) to explore fundraising opportunities. Reed Noss will be tasked with leading efforts to acquire funds from government agencies.

Certain members of the Steering Committee (John Noel, Larry Richardson, Cayce McAlister) will be tasked to develop and cultivate new relationships, though some of them are associated with existing NGOs and have their own fundraising needs and may be limited due to conflict of interest issues.

Additionally, at the beginning of 2018 we launched a campaign to recruit hundreds of volunteers and asked volunteers to identify one of 10 roles they wanted to play to help SGI, one being serving as a connector. We have now had about __ people who have identified themselves as a potential connector. We will be calling on these volunteers and enlisting their help.

Cooper Breeden, a current graduate student of Dwayne’s, has just be hired as State Coordinator for the Tennessee Plant Conservation Alliance, an organization also based out of APSU and will work jointly with SGI as they share very strong overlap. Cooper will assist Dwayne with joint-fundraising opportunities within Tennessee. He brings experience to the team given previous small-scale fundraising in his previous work duties for the Harpeth River Conservancy and in Washington, DC.

 Embark on an Ambitious Networking Tour in August 2018:


I will work with my colleagues in APSU OUA, including Vonda St. Amant, Kris Phillips, and the new Vice President of OUA who has yet to be hired, to determine a desired number of contacts that need to be established and number of meetings that need to be conducted in order to maximize fundraising potential.

Dwayne's Time & Salary Allocation



 Prior to 2013, when Dwayne began working for BRIT, his appointment was split between the DOB (51%) and CFB (49%).

Prior to 2013, when Dwayne began working for BRIT, his appointment was split between the DOB (51%) and CFB (49%).

 From 2013-2016, Dwayne held a hybrid position with BRIT, who contributed to a portion of his course-buyout.

From 2013-2016, Dwayne held a hybrid position with BRIT, who contributed to a portion of his course-buyout.


 Dwayne's current position is split by the Dept. of Biology, who picks up 49% of his position, and the CEFB, who accounts for the other 51%.

Dwayne's current position is split by the Dept. of Biology, who picks up 49% of his position, and the CEFB, who accounts for the other 51%.