Winter 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 4 // Forum // 4F2

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Philosophy Diversions-Which Road?

What is the land-grant philosophy? What is our Extension philosophy? How do these two philosophies fit with our goals for issues programming, staffing, finances, and faculty development? Are these philosophies congruent with what we're "doing" in Extension? More importantly: Are they on the same road or diverging?

Keith L. Smith
Associate Director, OCES
Professor, Agricultural Education
Ohio State University-Columbus

What is the land-grant philosophy? What is our Extension philosophy? How do these two philosophies fit with our goals for issues programming, staffing, finances, and faculty development? Are these philosophies congruent with what we're "doing" in Extension? More importantly: Are they on the same road or diverging?

From Mission to Philosophy

As written in 1862, the Land-Grant College Act says the purpose of the land-grant university is: " aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage application of the same." The key words are people, practical information, and application. The Smith Lever Act establishing the Extension System used the same key words.1 More than 128 years later, the 1990 farm bill states:

The basic objectives of food and agricultural research, extension, and teaching programs are to make the maximum contribution to the health and welfare of people and the economy of the United States through the enhancement of family farms, to improve community services and institutions, to increase the quality of life in rural America, and to improve the well-being of consumers....2

The mission statements for the Extension Service and the land-grant institutions of which they're a part express a philosophy of meeting the needs of the people by using the latest research, teaching for application, and practical problem solving.

Philosophical Diversions

The land-grant university, and to some extent our Extension programs, have strayed from the philosophy expressed in this legislation. Edward Schuh, a top official at the World Bank, has listed the symptoms of this philosophical diversion:

  • Publish or perish-sharing knowledge with peers rather than for practical purposes and application to the needs of the people.
  • Consultants serving the highest bidder and bending to private companies or government grants, with little loyalty to the institution and its foundation land-grant philosophy.
  • Private sector competition-the land-grant institutions are no longer in the business of meeting the immediate needs of people, but are leaving that up to the private sector and other institutions.
  • Failure to educate students to an international economy.
  • Movement away from the practical and into the esoteric.3

Carolyn Mooney, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, noted that:

With their growing dependence on private fund raising, campaigns to improve quality and attract better applicants, and aggressive national research efforts, many land-grant universities are looking and acting more like the private research institutions that once mainly educated the elite.4

Agricultural economist George McDowell argues that "the transformation of the Land-Grant University is so complete that today it is often the extension faculty who are considered 'out of step' rather than the other way around."5

Reasserting the Our Philosophy

The diversion from the stated land-grant philosophy is largely our fault, for Extension administrators and faculty have done little to help make our institutions aware of the problem and its implications. Extension educators must now respond by being more involved in the university. Norman Brown, president of the Kellogg Foundation, believes "unprecedented efforts must be made to tap the knowledge base of the entire university...."6

Myron Johnsrud and Roy Rauschkolb have suggested greater definition as a means of addressing the problem. "One critical theme pervades in all the critiques hurled at Extension-the challenge to better define our relevance, mission, priorities, and capabilities."7

Patrick Boyle, chancellor of Extension at the University of Wisconsin, further challenges Extension faculty to ask six critical questions:

  1. Who are we listening to? Are we listening to the real world needs?
  2. Are we focusing on relevant priority issues such as child care, the environment, and aging of America?
  3. Does Extension have a strong commitment from the total land- grant institution?
  4. Are we developing new coalitions and linkages?
  5. Does Cooperative Extension have a broad-based program both in terms of its focus and the discipline base for the program?
  6. Are we building an image of an organization that is credible, relevant, and effective?8

Action Agenda

As Extension faculty, we can realign ourselves and our institutions more with the stated Extension and land-grant philosophies. We must begin by making more inroads to top administration at our land-grant universities. Too many land- grant presidents are of the "ivory tower," publish-or-perish mindset. I believe that if the presidents truly understood what the Extension Service can do as an outreach in their states they would be more supportive. As Chase Peterson noted, "Public institutions (including land-grant) risk collapse from an eroding support base attributable to local dissatisfactions...."9 Now is the time to demonstrate how Extension programs build support for the university.

Second, we must expand issues programming. Some say issues programming is old Extension programming in a new package. Perhaps it is. But the "new package" forces us to look outward to the people before we look inward, address broader audiences, enlarge our circle of resources, and drop some sacred cows. We need to let go of a third of our programs to increase the percentage of issues programming.

Third, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water by eliminating traditional programming that forms our identity base. In most states, who will fight for us before the legislature? It won't be youth-at-risk kids and people who we've helped to balance their work and family.

Fourth, Extension must pursue bold new staffing patterns. We need to advocate clustering and its derivatives in which staff from two or more counties work together to conduct Extension programming efforts. Clustering supports agent specialization and issues programming, provides indepth knowledge to our more informed and educated clientele, enhances opportunities for agents to be teachers, and could increase applied research.

Finally, Extension needs leaders now and in the future who can be "trumpets that do not give an uncertain sound."10 Decisions must be made more rapidly and our leaders will have to see what needs to be done and adjust quickly.

Let us hope the Extension Service can lead the land-grant institutions along the philosophy less traveled and toward our true mission of making a difference by meeting the needs of people.


1. Warren Prawl, Roger Medlin and John Gross, Adult and Continuing Education Through the Cooperative Extension Service (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri-Columbia, Extension Division, 1984), pp. 240-42.

2. Farm Bill (1990), Title 7-Agriculture, Chapter 64: Subchapter I-Findings, Purposes, and Definitions. Chapter 13: Subchapter IV-Agricultural Extension Work Appropriation.

3. Michael B. Lafferty, quoting The Columbus Dispatch, October 4, 1986, Edward Schuh, "Colleges Urged to Re-Establish Relevance."

4. Carolyn J. Mooney, "Land-Grant Institutions Take a Fresh Look at How They Treat 125-Year-Old-Mission," The Chronicle of Higher Education, XXXIV (October 28, 1987), pp. A1, A30, A32.

5. George R. McDowell, "Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture: Renegotiating or Abandoning a Social Contract," Choices (Second Quarter, 1988), pp. 18-21.

6. Norman Brown, "Too Little, Too Late?" Journal of Extension, XXVII (Spring 1989), 5.

7. Myron D. Johnsrud and Roy S. Rauschkolb, "Extension in Transition: Review and Renewal," Journal of Extension, XXVII (Spring 1989), 3-4.

8. Patrick Boyle, "The Look of Extension in the Future" (Presentation at the Symposium on Research in Extension Education, Columbus, Ohio, May 18, 1989).

9. Chase Peterson, "Three Presidents Speak" (Presentation at 102nd Annual Meeting of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, November 19-21, 1989, Washington, D.C.), pp. 13-46.

10. Robert K. Mueller, "Leading-Edge Leadership," in Contemporary Issues in Leadership, William E. Rosenbach and Robert L. Taylor, eds. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1984).