I hate to be the downer this week, given Bert and Holly’s inspired posts, but reality continues to hit – or bite. The budget crises in Washington state continues to gut higher education, and one of the hardest hit areas at WSU is Extension. Land-grant institutions have a federal mandate to provide Extension services, and this sets WSU and similar universities apart from other state schools. Unfortunately, Extension generates relatively little in terms of outside grants and contracts. Land-grant universities like WSU tend to put their dwindling faculty resources into hiring those who can bring in multi-million dollar grants. And as we’ve bemoaned in past posts, that isn’t in gardening or urban horticulture or arboriculture or any of those great topics that you all love to hear more about.
Let’s look what’s happened with Extension specialists at WSU. Before I came in 2004, the Extension plant pathology specialist had retired. The position was refilled with someone else. The Extension entomology specialist retired last year. His position will be refilled with someone to work with the structural pest control industry (there is some money there). The questions that come from the public are shuffled around among other faculty, who may or may not have some partial appointment in Extension. In any case, the public outreach and education aspect of land grant universities everywhere is taking the back seat to bringing in grant dollars and teaching college students. That means fewer Extension Bulletins published or updated and more reliance on well-funded companies to provide their versions – good or bad – of agricultural sciences.
I’m not going to rail about the idiocy of letting public higher education fail in this country through lack of state funding – I’m sure you can see that for yourselves wherever you live. Instead, I want to point out an effort to gather the remnant state forces to have a national impact.
This year I’ve become associated with eXtension (a national group of Extension personnel) in the Community Horticulture Community of Practice. This is a fledgling effort to construct a national web presence containing relevant, current, science-based information on all things horticultural. If you check out the link above, you can click on Garden Myths, where you’ll find information from…Jeff Gillman and myself.
It’s going to take a long time to get this web resource organized and populated with good information – but it’s a start. If you, or someone you know, is interested in helping, be sure to post a comment or email Karen Jeannette, our intrepid coordinator in Minnesota. (I can provide her email if you are interested.)