Throughout a 40-year career marked by significant achievements as a scientist and administrator – 13 of which were spent as Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station – James Hunter has dedicated himself to better understanding plant diseases. Until his retirement in 2004, he was instrumental in creating connections between the Station and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, making it possible for HWS students to work and learn alongside researchers on the cutting edge of sustainable agriculture.
James Hunter graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in bacteriology and a doctorate in botany with an emphasis in plant pathology. He became an assistant professor of biology at California State Polytechnic University in 1964. He joined the University of Hawaii in 1966, where he remained for seven years conducting research on fungal diseases of tropical crops and teaching undergraduate courses. In 1972, he was hired by Cornell University as an associate professor and chair of the Department of Plant Pathology at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. He was promoted to professor and continued to serve as department chair for 10 years.
After returning to full-time research, he was named Associate Director of the Experiment Station and three years later he became the Director, a position he held for the next 13 years. During this period, the Experiment Station produced dozens of new varieties of fruits and vegetables adapted to withstand a variety of growing conditions. For the last three years of this period he also was an Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.
During his tenure at Cornell University he served as a consultant for the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations Development Program, with assignments in China and five countries in Africa. He also led a team of Cornell scientists to advise a university in Chile on the development of an agricultural college. James Hunter spent the last year of his career traveling throughout the eastern United States to assess the involvement of research universities in economic development.