Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // To The Point // 4TP3

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Beware Overgeneralizations


John T. Woeste
Dean for Extension, Florida Cooperative Extension
and Professor, Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
University of Florida-Gainesville

Tompkins provides an important ingredient for continued success of Cooperative Extension programs - ideas for movement of the organization as we approach the 21st century. Her six points offer useful content for debate, hopefully leading to a more defined consensus on where to position Cooperative Extension for the years ahead.

A theme of the article suggests that constraints exist on the scope of content incorporated into the Cooperative Extension program. We find no such constraints. Perhaps the perception of constraints is generated by specific organizational arrangements within a state or by the economy and demographics of the state or historical traditions of the land-grant university within the state.

From our perspective, we recognize that the size, diversity, complexity, and relative importance of the food, agriculture, and fiber industries in Florida are different than many other states. Consequently, the clientele demands and pressing public issues may be different. Also, we observe that the structure of land-grant universities varies widely by state and thus the scope and mix of subject matter contained in the "College of Agriculture" is highly variable. Further, some Cooperative Extension organizations are structurally a part of colleges and schools other than the "College of Agriculture." In summary, we place a different priority than Tompkins on the constraints to the knowledge base for Cooperative Extension programming.

For sake of debate, we want to link Points 2 and 3 together. We agree that chemical engineering expertise is needed to address some food, agriculture, and fiber industry problems. We've invested Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension funds to bring chemical engineering expertise to bear on selected critical problems in Florida. As a result, we agree with Tompkins in terms of the need for such expertise from time to time.

On the other hand, we wonder why cooperative research and Cooperative Extension should direct sustained research and Extension funding into chemical engineering and away from the areas of inquiry and expertise that have been supported by the public through the Cooperative Extension and research budgets. Why don't the consumers of chemical engineering knowledge and technologies support public funding for their needs? If public funding was expanded to those areas of expertise, the Cooperative Extension System would have a much greater knowledge base, just as chemical engineering and related activities draw on the knowledge base created by the Experiment Stations where and when it's needed.

Currently, Congress is debating Senate Bill 103 creating an Engineering Extension Service. To date, there doesn't seem to be a large number of stakeholders or a broad base of constituents supporting the proposal. The legislative and academic leaders advocating the idea must unfortunately feel lonely. In the same vein, the Energy Extension Service (EES) has survived thanks in all likelihood to the existence of the oil recovery dollars. There doesn't seem to be a sizable community of interest articulating the need for the program or aggressively advocating support for it. With rare exception, we've experienced skeptism if not criticism for our EES program in Florida. The Sea Grant program, research and Extension, has survived 20 years thanks to a fairly aggressive constituent base. Some feel the constituent base should be shifted since it's narrowly constituted. Regardless of the choice on that issue, it too has taken its cuts and struggled for public support. Such experiences don't suggest for me that some untapped base of substantial support for Cooperative Extension remains on the horizon and undiscovered.

We fully agree with Point 6. We wrestle with how to acquire the time and support dollars that will be required to do the task. The mix of content remains an issue.

Hopefully, the debate will help us sharpen the statement of problem. With a defined and understood problem statement, we're better positioned to boldly chart our course for the 21st century.