Fall 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 3 // Forum // 3FRM1

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Extension Work by Contract: A Proposal

A new strategy is needed to enhance Extension specialists' opportunities for promotion and tenure, upgrade their stature in the department, ensure department chair support, and maintain flexibility for emerging issues. One approach would be to contract with departments for specialists' services for a specified percent and period of time.

Henry M. Bartholomew
Extension Agent, Agriculture
Associate Professor
Ohio State University Extension-Hocking and Athens Counties
Logan, Ohio
Internet email address: hock@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

Susan Hodson Rinehart
Extension Agent, 4-H/CNRD and
Assistant Professor
Ohio State University Extension-Hocking County
Logan, Ohio
Internet address: hock@agvax2.ag.ohio-state.edu

The U.S. Extension System has encountered more than its share of challenges in the past several years with increased personnel turnover, reduced budgets, increased administrator turnover, and personnel cutbacks. The boat rocking from the "permanent whitewater"1 has left many Extension staff seasick.

The Extension System appears to be headed down the same path as the European Extension Services with dwindling resources and increased emphasis on Extension users paying for services.2 In 1985, J. Michael Sprott, former Extension Director in Ohio, foretold of taxpayer revolt, because Extension and the land grant system have placed too much of the criteria for tenure and promotion on research and too little on meeting taxpayer needs.3 The revolt has started in several states, including Massachusetts, Illinois, and Georgia. Which state will be next? It seems to us that among the problems causing this reduced support are tight budgets for local and state governments, and loss of prestige in the university system for Extension. This article focuses on the Extension prestige issue.

County staff face many challenges, including fewer co- workers on both the local and state level. The remaining Extension specialists also find their roles changing as much of the research generated isn't useful in Extension programs. The shift to more basic research by many scientists requires Extension specialists to conduct an increasing amount of applied research,4 resulting in a lack of back-up support from Extension specialists for Extension agents. Further, funding is limiting replacement of specialists with either no support for certain areas or remaining specialists being spread thinner to cover the gaps in program support. Even when new specialists are hired, the promotion and tenure treadmill endangers specialists who do too much Extension work.

Extension is denigrated in many departments. Department heads and administrators in the agricultural colleges are more than willing to accept Extension funds, while discouraging Extension work. Even though Extension funds support a portion of the position, young faculty are told to get on with their research and limit their Extension activities if they want to be tenured. In theory, excellence in research and teaching or service are all required for tenure and promotion, but in reality it's the number of journal articles and amount of outside funding that drives the promotion machine.5

Dealing with real-world problems in rural communities isn't academic enough for peer committees that literally hold life or death over Extension specialists. This inequity is further compounded by the fact that the promotion and tenure committees don't adequately balance research expectation with the percent of research appointment. It seems that a faculty member with an 80% or 90% Extension appointment is held to the same standard for research and publications as the faculty member with an 80% or 90% research appointment. In Ohio, even county agents who hold faculty rank, but have no research appointment, are expected to publish several articles in peer-reviewed journals to advance in rank. The result is Extension gets less than its money's worth from new specialist efforts for many years while they strive to attain full professor rank. County agents engaged in programming efforts then must find resource people from within their ranks of specialized agents or industry experts from outside the organization.

What strategies can Extension use to secure the most resources for the dwindling dollars available? Sharing specialists across state lines has been discussed in many states and accomplished in a few (most notably Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas who share a EPA liaison position),6 but unless the shared specialists are full professors and supported by the department chair in both states, results will be less than satisfactory. It's likely the specialist serving in a multistate capacity will work harder, be more frustrated, and all partners will feel short-changed.7

A new strategy is needed to enhance Extension specialists' opportunities for promotion and tenure, upgrade their stature in the department, ensure department chair support, and maintain flexibility for emerging issues. One approach would be to contract with departments for specialists' services for a specified percent and period of time.8 The contracts would be in varying lengths from perhaps as short as a few months to as long as three or four years. Some multiyear agreements would be necessary for program continuity. Contract extensions or renewals could also be negotiated when deemed appropriate by both parties.

The contract should be looked at in a similar manner to a research grant, in that outside funding is being attracted to the department because of the talent and expertise residing therein. Promotion and tenure committees should recognize Extension activities as an outside funding source that enhances the department's reputation as do research grants. This funding arrangement could work for departments within or outside the traditional agricultural colleges but within the land grant university, or with other universities both in and out of state. This would increase the flexibility in expertise Extension could draw on for program resources, while greatly increasing interdisciplinary issues programming.9

Specialists and department chairs would feel more accountable for Extension time since funding could be withdrawn at the end of the contract period or earlier if Extension administrators don't see adequate return for their investment. Extension should receive more value for its dollar. Accountability should be built into the agreement for the specialist's services, so that it would be obvious to both parties that the agreement is being fulfilled.

Extension would have increased flexibility in resources as Extension specialists are gradually replaced by faculty on contract as specialists. As this approach is implemented, only a few positions would be involved, due to the slow turnover in tenure track faculty. Some of the faculty may be contracted only for short periods of a few months, for a particular program or project, while other faculty may give leadership to major program issues such as water quality, and would need multiple-year contracts. Some faculty for core programs may even need to be placed on tenure track, but perhaps appointed to an Extension department rather than an academic one. As new state and National Initiatives evolve, resources could be redirected rapidly from one program to another in response to those changing needs. The flexibility would be much greater than is currently available with tenure track professionals.

The current system is broken. This proposal hopefully will spark debate on new and creative staffing alternatives to meet clientele needs for information. New solutions are necessary for today's and tomorrow's challenges.


1. Peter B. Vaill, Managing As a Performing Art (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989).

2. Richard C. Funt and Julian A. H. Nicholson, "Comparison of Grower Advisory Systems in Europe," Horticultural Science, XXVI (February 1991), 103-105.

3. J. Michael Sprott, "Restructuring Agricultural Economics Extension To Meet Changing Needs: Discussion," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, LXVIII (December 1986), 1316-18.

4. John M. Gerber, "Extension Specialists: A Self-Analysis," Journal of Extension, XXIII (Winter 1985), 8-11.

5. Thomas A. Fretz, "Reflections in American Society," Horticultural Science Newsletter, VII (September 1991), 3-4.

6. Ron C. Power, survey response, October 28, 1991.

7. Henry M. Bartholomew and Keith L. Smith, "The Stresses of Multi-County Agent Positions," Journal of Extension, XXVIII (Winter 1990), 10-12.

8. Michael Quinn Patton, "Tomorrow's Extension Professionals," Journal of Extension, XXV (Fall 1987), 40-42.

9. Keith L. Smith, "The Future Leaders in Extension," Journal of Extension, XXVIII (Spring 1990), 26-28.