Winter 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 4 // To The Point // 4TP1

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Extension Is Not Just Service


Emmalou Van Tilburg Norland
Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Education
Ohio State University-Columbus

I'm opposed to the precarious practice of equating the Cooperative Extension Service to the service component of the triad mission of the land-grant university: teaching, research, and service. Nowhere in the original legislation or amendments that established the land-grant institutions, their experiment stations, and their Cooperative Extension Services, does the language indicate that Extension constitutes the service part of the land-grant mission.

The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 made possible the "on-campus" teaching component of the land-grant mission. The Hatch Act of 1887 operationalized the research component. Then, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 extended the teaching and research activities of land-grants into the community with the creation of the Extension Service. Teaching and extending research-based information off campus and into the community doesn't equal the service component of the land-grant mission.

The clear message for me, as I read the latest edition of the United States Code, Title 7,1 was that the entire land-grant philosophy is one of service-service involving the discovery and dissemination of knowledge to the members of the community in which it resides and serves. This process of discovery and dissemination takes place on and off the campus, involves recipients attending and not attending the university, and is the responsibility of all faculty.

Understanding the Service Component of the Land-Grant Mission

    Teaching, research and service constitute the underpinnings, indeed fundamental missions, of the American university. Universities, and particularly land-grant institutions, historically have provided American society with expertise and resources that have had immeasurable import.2

Thus begins a discussion of the third component of the land-grant mission-professional service-by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, Division of Urban Affairs, in its 1985 publication on professional service and faculty rewards. To try to help universities clarify their understanding of and importance given to professional service, the authors continue:

    Faculty...are engaged in and should be encouraged to become further involved in the creation, assimilation and dissemination of knowledge.... Industry, business, and government are becoming increasingly dependent upon faculty to apply their expertise in providing understanding of and solutions to a variety of complex problems and issues. In essence, there is increasing pressure for faculty to become involved in the "service" domain of academic work.3

Authors of this publication have defined professional service this way: " that draws upon one's professional expertise and is an outgrowth of one's academic discipline."4 They carefully gave credit to the agricultural model as it was implemented in a variety of forms (including Cooperative Extension Service work) but don't define professional service only as Cooperative Extension Service work or vice versa:

    The relationship between the land-grant university and the nation's agricultural community is an example par excellence of the way in which the creation and dissemination of knowledge have been effectively linked and in which the service/extension role has been given high visibility and reward.5

These authors haven't confined professional service activities to Extension faculty, but indicated that service is an important responsibility of all. The challenge is to extend "an old concept - the use of academic and professional expertise of university faculty to serve the community, the state, and the nation."6 The "old concept" they propose extending is that all land-grant faculty should serve the community.

Disservice of Extension's Service Image

We do ourselves no justice and potentially great harm when we perpetuate the practice of referring to the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) as the service component of the land-grant university mission. Not only do we sell short the importance and impact of the roles and responsibilities of the world's largest adult education organization (CES), but we also narrow the notion of land-grant university service to specific faculty in specific arenas.

What happens to those of us who "do" Extension work when we align Extension to the service component of the land-grant mission? Evidence of one impact can be heard in many university faculty promotion and tenure committee discussions. Faculty who are considered "Extension" are looked at differently. Excuses are made for their lack of productivity in "the scholarly activities of teaching and research" when in fact their dossiers usually overflow with teaching and research in the Extension arena.

So why do we continue to use the words "professional service" and "Cooperative Extension Service work" interchangeably? At the heart of the confusion for many may be the fact that faculty at many land-grant institutions can receive support from, potentially, a combination of three budgetary sources: general funds (resident instruction), Experiment Station funds, and Cooperative Extension Service funds. These funding sources, however, should be viewed as nothing more than that: sources of monies to support individuals doing the work of the land-grant university. If we believe in the mission of the land-grant university and its contemporary translation, all land-grant faculty are responsible for teaching, research, and service- regardless of budget support.

The distinction should lie in where and how those responsibilities are conducted. For those "doing Extension work," their teaching may be in the field (literally) and their research may be more applied (as in program evaluations). For those "doing resident instruction," they will most likely teach in the classroom and lab and conduct research in their subject matter. And, for those "doing research," their teaching may take the form of written publications translating research findings or special seminars and their research will perhaps be more basic. Service for all, however, should be "those [activities] which utilize the academic professional expertise of the individual faculty member...composed of the same activities as traditional teaching and research but directed toward a different audience..., directed toward knowledge for society's welfare."7

It seems to me that this broad and universal definition of service is what the authors of the Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever Acts had in mind: institutions of higher learning that would not only serve those "destined to pursue the so-called learned professions,"8 but would "promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes..."9 on and off the campus, for the welfare of society at large.

The Challenge

Lest we get confused again about just what "Extension" means, let's refer to Title 7 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 64 - Agricultural, Research, Extension, and Teaching, Subchapter I - Findings, Purposes, and Definitions, paragraph 3103, which says:

    (7) The term "extension" means the informal education programs conducted in the States in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture.10

Even though this definition was given to help in the interpretation of specific legislation, it clearly represents the philosophy of purpose behind the Smith-Lever Act: To provide funds to extend, off the campus and into the community, the opportunity for education and ultimately the improved quality of life. This is a teaching function, not service.

All Extension employees are members of an 1862 or 1890 land-grant institution and share, along with other colleagues at those institutions, all responsibilities of the mission: teaching, research, and service. As Extension employees and faculty, let's believe in the trilogy of that mission and profess it with confidence. Let's challenge ourselves to:

1. Believe we're faculty and staff of the land-grant university; thus our responsibilities include teaching, research, and service.

2. Speak and act as we believe. Never suggest that the service aspect of the land-grant mission is our only responsibility.

3. Educate others to what we know to be the correct view of Cooperative Extension Service faculty and staff.

4. Encourage and support administrators and others whose actions indicate clarity in understanding the trilogy of the land-grant mission; continue to gently prod the thinking of those who don't.

5. Employ our intellectual and academic capacities to teach, research, and serve in the arenas which are called "Extension" with the same fervor and quality as do those in the "teaching" and "research" arenas.

6. Demonstrate our commitment to our responsibilities by carefully balancing our workload to represent the totality of the land-grant mission.

7. Help develop and implement performance appraisal systems that encourage land-grant faculty/staff to do quality teaching, research, and service, regardless of location, type of student, subject area, or community and profession.

These seven challenges are the product of my quest for truth about Extension's mission and a quest that led me to conclude that Extension isn't just service. The greatest challenge may be to change how we ourselves think about what we do. Only then will others change how they think about what we do.


1. United States Code, 1988 edition, Volume 2, Title 7 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).

2. Sandra E. Elman and Sue Marx Smock, Professional Service and Faculty Rewards (Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1985), p. 11.

3. Ibid., p. 11.

4. Ibid., p. 12.

5. Ibid., p. 13.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., p. 12.

8. William B. Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1924), p. 263 and Working with Our Publics-Module 1: Understanding Cooperative Extension: Our Origins, Our Opportunities (Raleigh: North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service, Department of Adult and Community College Education, 1988).

9. George P. Sander, ed., Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, Vol. XII (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), pp. 503-504.

10. United States Code, p. 1064.