August 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4COM1

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The Scholarship of Extension

Discusses Rice-Boyer concept of scholarship as it applies to Extension and suggests that the work of Extension occupies all four quadrants of the Rice-Boyer concept.

James S. Long
Extension Program Evaluator Emeritus
Washington State University
Roseburg, Oregon
Internet address:

Donald W. Bushaw
Vice Provost Emeritus for Instruction
Washington State University


For its 1992 annual meeting, Beta Chapter, Epsilon Sigma Phi, asked Don Bushaw, then Vice Provost for Instruction at Washington State University, to share his ideas about the scholarship of Extension. Bushaw's topic was "Just where does Extension fit today in the complex set of missions of the land grand university?"

Now that I have retired from WSU Extension and become increasingly involved in my local community, I have come to regard Don's perspective even more. I believe Don's point of view merits revisiting and discussion within the larger profession as Extension endeavors to contribute to good thinking for decisions and actions in our communities.

The Scholarship of Extension*

Have you ever attended a professional meeting where of the dozens of presentations, one really stands out and seems to set the tone for much of the rest of the meeting? I've had that experience several times. For example, in the spring of 1989 I attended the national conference of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) in Chicago. For reasons that I no longer remember, I attended a session at which one R. Eugene Rice was to speak. He spoke. He was not a dazzling speaker, perhaps, but what he had to say made very good sense. He suggested that the idea of scholarship was often interpreted too narrowly, especially when it came close to being identified with original research.

He went on to say, with viewgraphs and flipcharts, that the domain of scholarship could be divided into four complementary and approximately equally important parts: the scholarship of discovery (research), the scholarship of integration (compilation and synthesis), the scholarship of application, and, finally, the scholarship of teaching.

From that moment on I heard references to that talk everywhere I went in the conference, from the podium, from the floor, in the halls. I met Professor Rice and told him so; he was pleased.

At that time, Rice was temporarily at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in Princeton, and was working with the late Ernest J. Boyer, president of the foundation and prolific writer and speaker on higher education. It was Boyer whose name appeared a few months later as author of the slender book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate (Princeton University press, 1990), which presented an expanded version of the ideas we had heard from Rice in Chicago. In Scholarship Reconsidered, Boyer wrote:

"Here, then, is our conclusion. What we urgently need today is a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar--a recognition that knowledge is acquired through research, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching. We acknowledge that these four categories--the scholarship of discovery, of integration, of application, and of teaching--divide intellectual functions that are tied inseparably to each other. Still, there is value, we believe, in analyzing the various kinds of academic work, while also acknowledging that they dynamically interact, forming an interdependent whole. Such a vision of scholarship, one that recognizes the great diversity of talent within the professoriate, also may prove especially useful to faculty as they reflect on the meaning and direction of their professional lives" (pp. 24-25).

In this book and elsewhere, Boyer discusses in spirited detail the four scholarships and the rich relationships among them. In particular, he suggests that the longstanding and weary competition among teaching, research, and service is misguided-- that a scholarly community, and indeed a scholarly person, is able in suitable proportions to accommodate all three, along with a fourth dimension, integration. In particular the tension between teaching and research, in words of the title of a recent book on this subject, is "the wrong issue" [Leslie H. Cochran, Publish or Perish: The Wrong Issue (Step Up, Inc., 1992)].

The Rice-Boyer conception of scholarship has received a great deal of attention. Last year my colleague Robert V. Smith, Vice Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Washington State University, returned from a national meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools, where the resistance to the broadened conception of scholarship might have been expected to be most severe, and told us that everyone was talking about it with considerable enthusiasm.

And once sensitized to this point of view, you see it everywhere. Moreover, you see numerous kinds of interplay among the four scholarships. I'll offer you a few examples.

Teaching and research. As every Extension person knows, good teaching is based on research. But as those of you who are concerned with Education with a capital E well know, teaching is also the subject of much research. Research can also be used as a teaching device, as in the National Science Foundation's various undergraduate research programs. And now we see the widely adopted "classroom research," promoted especially by Patricia Cross and Tom Angelo, in which teachers use simple research techniques to improve their own teaching as they go along.

Research and application. Again, the idea of basing application on research-based knowledge is hardly news in this company. But application-based research is also of immense importance, in many ways. We all know that some of the most important research questions, and occasionally some very valuable research answers, are suggested in the course of doing practical applications of established knowledge. Donald Schn's idea of "research-in-action," also called "reflection-in-action," gives an especially provocative slant on this. "When someone reflects- in-action," Schn says in his book "The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action," (Basic Books, 1983), "he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and technique, but constructs a new theory of the unique case. He does not separate thinking from doing . . ." (p. 68).

Application and integration. Extension's "multidimensional approach to problem-solving" seems to me to be an excellent example of this. In Scholarship Reconsidered, Boyer mentions the Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890 and the Hatch Act of 1887, but surprisingly he does not mention the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. But those who are familiar with Extension will recognize a strong affinity between Cooperative Extension and the Rice-Boyer vision described in the passage I read to you a minute ago. It is a little awkward to use the term "professoriate" in the connection, but here at Washington State University, at least, the term "faculty" fits just fine.

I have not found an explicit reference to Cooperative Extension in Scholarship Reconsidered but listen to this language from section 2 of the 1990 version of the Smith-Lever Act:

Cooperative agricultural extension work shall consist of the development of practical applications of research knowledge and giving of instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices of technologies in agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and subjects relating thereto . . .

You noticed that I slipped in some emphasis there--emphasis on "applications," "research," "instruction," and on an interesting combination of subjects that certainly call for "integration" from time to time. So the law says that the work of Cooperative Agricultural Extension shall occupy all four quadrants of the Rice-Boyer conception of scholarship.

The same point can be made another way. In your own recent brochure WSU Cooperative Extension: Mission, Goals, and Accomplishments (1991), I found the following items listed under the heading "Strengths":

Unbiased research-based information.

Practical education to meet local needs and solve local problems.

Interdisciplinary approach to address human issues.

It is the same refrain with slightly different notes.

In the past few decades, a mystique has developed in universities, liberal arts colleges, and other institutions that tends to set the values of research for its own sake above all other values. As a sometime mathematician, I acknowledge the value of research for its own sake and hope that we will never stop doing it--if only "for the glory," as one famous mathematician put it, "of the human spirit." But study after study and survey after survey have shown that even in the research universities, the majority of faculty and academic administrators believe that we have gone too far in this direction, and that a better balance between the scholarship of discovery and the other kinds of scholarship is much to be desired.

(How we got into the present imbalance is a complicated and not entirely edifying story which I will not try to tell here, except to suggest that money and vanity may have had something to do with it.)

The Rice-Boyer vision of scholarship, as anticipated in the 1914 legislative charter of Cooperative Extension, provides a clear and sensible framework within which to achieve and maintain this balance.

* I am grateful to James S. Long for suggesting that I put together some thoughts on this subject and for his subsequent support.