Dogged by a controversy surrounding one of his former employees, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a no-show at a rural education summit Wednesday morning.

Vilsack had been scheduled to speak at the National Rural Education Summit today, alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough.

Instead, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan showed up in his place.

A spokesman for the USDA said Vilsack was in Ohio earlier this week, and had originally planed to fly back last night to make Wednesday’s hearing.

But “due to a scheduling conflict he had to come back this morning instead of last night,” the spokesman said.

The Ag secretary announced this morning that he would review the firing of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA’s Georgia director of rural development. Sherrod was forced to resign this week after video surfaced of her telling an NAACP audience that she once gave less-than-complete assistance to a white farmer due to race.

But it later became clear that the incident took place more than 20 years ago, before Sherrod was employed by the USDA. The unedited video of her speech revealed that she regretted her actions and viewed the incident as a lesson that race doesn’t matter.

Several conservative commentators have called for Sherrod to be re-hired by the department.