Sunday, July 12, 2009

Extension in Transition?

Any sizable review of Extension is ill-fated if it does not seek review and input from University leadership. The Smith-Lever Act formally established Extension in order to get University research out to the
people. At the time it was primarily for Agricultural research, which would explain the widely used term "Agricultural Extension." On the other hand, federal guidelines now require Extension to also provide education in other priority areas as well. If the Alabama Cooperative Extension System is to remain viable, it will have to improve its ability to educate in other areas. The current budget crises make it an appropriate time to address some critical problems related to this. The most critical is the lack of integration with the rest of Auburn University's faculty and mission. The lack of integration isn't isolated to Auburn and has led multiple authors to refer to Extension as the "Extinction Service." Lest anyone doubt that "Extension" is being pushed aside as a historical term, note our own Faculty Outreach Guide (http://www.auburn.edu/outreach/events/publications/faculty_outreach_guide.pdf) which describes Extension by saying, "This historical term reflects work performed in designated programs by faculty specialists affiliated with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System." This is not the only reference to Extension as a historical term within that document. In my view, "Outreach" is simply a new marketing term used to describe what Extension has been doing for nearly a century, yet multiple colleges have created departments and positions to focus on Outreach...instead of bolstering a system which works well, but has far greater potential than has thus far been realized.

Extension does a good job of keeping in touch with communities. Based on results of marketing studies it is clear that Extension could do a better job of identifying itself to the people, but it is already far superior to any other form of University Outreach due to the connections with county governments, school systems, businesses, and etc.

Extension is able to communicate with residents by breaking research and statistics down into real people terms and providing it directly to real communities to have a direct effect on lives. Academia is ill-suited for this task. Professors who deal with college students and other researchers on a daily basis have a very difficult time providing understandable training for the general public…especially children and the uneducated. Extension has the experience to make that connection.

Extension should be the primary conduit for Outreach, as stated in the "see also" section of Auburn University's Wikipedia page
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auburn_University#See_also). The term "conduit" is critically important because it defines what
Extension is...or should be. It should be the primary delivery medium for the research and knowledge of the Land-Grant system to the people. The terms Outreach and Extension need to become synonymous, since the missions are already the same.

In order to capitalize on the strengths of Extension, Land-Grant Universities must make clear our formal commitment to Outreach since 1914. It is also essential to eliminate the duplication of effort which has already begun. One way to promote this intrinsic cooperation is to provide Academic credit for Extension publications in the promotion and tenure process. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System will have to make changes to handle the workload, and I suspect Extension at other states would also, but it is the right thing to do. That makes it worth the effort.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the things which could be done to merge Extension into the mainstream of University activities. Some might even argue that we should not attempt cooperation outside of Agriculture. Nonetheless, I hope this sparks some thought into how Extension fits into University functions, and how to save money while providing a greater community impact.

2 comments:

hubersr said...

I thought this was a great blog. How can we raise awareness of Extension programming within the University?

Greg said...

Thanks!

I'm still working on the awareness part too. It will have to do with proper partnerships/relationships (on campus?) though, since doing more with less is simply "a tired old dog that just won't hunt anymore."