Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // Futures // 2FUT1

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Cooperative Extension and the Land-Grant University: A Futures History

If we in Extension expect to transform vision into reality for a Cooperative Extension System in transition, we must more forcefully address the issue of Extension's relationship to the land-grant university.

Maria Maiorana Russell
Program Evaluation, Staff and Volunteer Development
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut-Storrs

If we in Extension expect to transform vision into reality for a Cooperative Extension System in transition, we must more forcefully address the issue of Extension's relationship to the land-grant university.

Four years ago, the Futures Task Force of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) recommended that "compelling issues facing people must drive the system" and "must constitute the basis upon which all decisions...are made" to "deliver issue-oriented educational programs." This would require the land-grant university system "renew its dedication to the tripartite mission," and for each member to "strive for comprehensive excellence in those areas which reflect the issues of concern to the state it represents." Commitment to that policy might allow the Extension System both access to and use of "all appropriate expertise related to relevant issues from throughout the land-grant university."1

A Dream-Vision

One dream-vision of what progress toward these goals might mean starts by imagining a national discussion emanating from congressional and educational circles that prompts land-grant universities to re-examine their missions. They see that the undernourished child called Public Service requires not only survival, but maturity. Both "Father Research" and "Mother Teaching" agree their purposes would be greatly served by the offspring Public Service mission.

My dream-vision continues as leaders of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), state legislatures, institutional administrators, and university senates ask whether the current situation reflects a true commitment to the tripartite mission mandated by federal and state policy. Land-grant universities are charged with abandoning their public sector mission.

Suddenly, I realize this isn't a current dream-vision. It's the year 2000 and the land-grant universities are reporting what they've done since this charge of abandonment:

  • Land-grant public service programs changed considerably since NASULGC initially embraced the policies proposed by Frank Newman in the 1980s as president of the Education Commission of the States.2 He advocated attending to the public service mission by expanding the university's effect on public discourse in the state it serves, and by identifying and addressing issues important to the state with public education programs using research results.3

  • Taking up this challenge, all land-grant universities reviewed their public service missions to create policies, plans, and budgets for meeting their objectives of addressing issues prominent in the state.

  • A NASULGC national committee established standards for public service and designed recommendations for institutional reward systems. Each land-grant university reviewed the reward systems to define the differences between paid consulting, institutional contracts, and nonpaid public service contributions, as well as noncredit programs provided by continuing education units for a fee. Professorial ranks in public service became valued equally with those in research and teaching, in most cases.

  • Several state legislatures encouraged university presidents to empower Cooperative Extension to pursue a more complete public service mission. In some states, Boards of Higher Education required biennial evaluation of the public service contributions of public higher education institutions.

  • In 42 states, a Center for Faculty Public Service or similar entity was created to match requests and defined community needs with university expertise.4 Evaluative data were reported to university-level administrators. Schools and colleges assigned at least one faculty member as the public service contact for their centers. Liaisons encouraged faculty to provide a minimum of 10 days annually to public service. Using these centers, faculty with Extension assignments gained access to expertise throughout the university.

  • Many institutions centralized access to university expertise by establishing an 800 hotline for public service requests.5

  • A revolving fund or similar budgetary mechanism, established by most of the institutions, allowed flexible funding to support specific projects of statewide public service.

  • Seventy percent of the land-grant universities established departmental awards for unique contributions to the institution's public service mission. A common pattern was to have the governor present awards at annual faculty-trustee dinners held at the institutions. Alumni associations offered annual individual excellence awards for public service at most institutions.

  • ECOP, ESCOP, and RCOP subcommittees of the NASULGC's Committee on Agriculture came to understand it was time to let their offspring (Extension) realize its mature role of coordinating issues-based public service programs best serves agricultural education by operating from a total university base.

  • In the following two years, 96% of the institutions presented accountable reports for the state legislative appropriations process, showing the intimate relationship between the main issues facing the state and the public service contributions of their land-grant institutions.

  • In many institutions, public service was coordinated by Cooperative Extension leaders, who were accountable to university -level administrators. Union with continuing education units wasn't uncommon. In seven institutions, the program was affiliated with the Department of Adult Education (or those of similar title), since they gave particular value to Cooperative Extension's roots in "interdependency models" of education, thereby accounting for both its research-base and adult education traditions.6 Some states reported some Extension field faculty were threatened by these new affiliations. In other instances, field faculty were so stimulated they extended their network to other institutions of higher learning.

  • By the fourth year of transitions, 27 state legislatures enjoyed, for the first time, university expertise for their committee work. Legislative committee sessions on campuses received research results with public policy applications, and stimulated contact between legislators and faculty. Two states reported excluding faculty from these efforts who "didn't have the capacity for public policy education," and developed recruiting standards and training programs.

  • Faculty with Cooperative Extension assignments were invited to affiliate with specific departments within the university, outside of the agriculture and natural resources arena. Many already had both formal and informal arrangements in areas such as human ecology, nutrition, and community development. Variations within institutions showed Cooperative Extension faculty now affiliated with departments of education, psychology, sociology, pharmacology, community medicine, and economics, to name a few.

  • Non-Extension faculty reportedly served on program development teams, wrote educational materials, and supervised student interns in public service programs. Deans in most institutions saw the affiliations as stimulating to the professional growth of faculty members, offering unique opportunities to both faculty and students. In 20 states, Extension faculty held training meetings for departmental faculty on educational methods for public volunteer audiences.

Waking Up...Dreaming On...Sharing Vision

When I wake up from dreams like these, I am both exhilarated and exhausted. My husband wants to know what my new affiliation means. I just say it doesn't mean anything yet...just dreaming. And he says, "What is this 1983...1983 you keep mumbling?"

And I say, "Oh, that's just the year somebody wrote a staff development report that said:

...Today's challenge for Extension is an expanded educational effort to effectively relate the total expertise and resources of institutions of higher education to the solution of complex problems of individuals and society in general.7

And he says, "You've been working too hard again. It's affecting your mind. Do you have any other dreamers in that organization?"

And I say, "Oh yes!" But I wonder if whoever wrote those 1983 words talked to the leaders of NASULGC, or the Urban Coalition in Congress, or the National Association of State Legislatures about what it would take to educate a people.8 Probably not. I wonder what would happen if all futurist dream- visioners in Extension finally shared their visions.


1. NASULGC, Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, Futures Task Force Report, Extension in Transition: Bridging the Gap Between Vision and Reality (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 1987).

2. Frank Newman, "The Public Service Mandate" (Notes from a keynote address at the President's Inaugural Symposium on the Public Service Mission, University of Connecticut, Storrs, School of Law, 1985).

3. Maria Maiorana Russell, "Proposal for Establishing a CES Critical Issues List, According to the Leadership of the Connecticut General Assembly" (Storrs: Connecticut Cooperative Extension Service, 1986).

4. Virginia Polytechnic Institute's Center for Volunteer Development serves this function for Cooperative Extension. It resulted from a pilot project funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

5. The University of Maryland has a hotline operated for this purpose; University of Wisconsin serves business and industry with a central access phone contact.

6. Claude F. Bennett, "Improving Coordinating of Extension and Research Through Use of Interdependency Models," in Foundations and Changing Practices in Extension, D. J. Blackburn, ed. (Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph, 1988).

7. Extension Service, USDA, National Policy Guidelines for Staff Development (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), p. 1.

8. Michael Quinn Patton, "To Educate a People," Journal of Extension, XXIV (Winter 1986), 21-22.