Looking for an answer: Cooperative Extension Services seeks support to continue

Voices of the State

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007

What do Land Resources, Home Economics, Youth Development, Buildings and Energy, Nutrition, and Agriculture Technology all have in common?

Where can you find reliable information related to food safety, food preservation, food preparation, child development, human relationships, economic development, invasive plants, housing, energy efficiency and renewable energy?

All of the above and much more are available free or at little cost through the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Mandated through agreement with the federal government to serve the public at Alaska’s land grant university, Cooperative Extension is the premier organization in university outreach and engagement. The Cooperative Extension Service has a statewide citizen advisory council that is made up of 11 volunteers from around the state. Bethel, Nome, Juneau, Anchorage, Palmer, Gakona, Homer, Kenai and Fairbanks’ interests are represented on the council. It meets six times a year to guide Extension in its public outreach mission.

CES is an organization with such breadth and depth that it is difficult to describe. From questions about animal husbandry to testing pressure cookers to economic development to indoor air quality to building energy efficiency to forestry and fisheries, an Extension agent or specialist can provide the answers for you.

In fact, answers to most aspects of our modern lifestyle are available to you, as an Alaska citizen. And your questions will be answered by a person with a university degree in an associated field. This is real educational benefit. This is where education rubber meets the public citizen road. All this is provided at minimal or no cost to you. In addition there are other groups that benefit from Extension, such as the Master Gardeners, Alaska Association of Family and Community Education, 4-H youth development and the Grange, to name a few.

In December 2006, a decision was initiated by UAF’s administration to remove the director and associate director of Cooperative Extension. Unfortunately, no plan was in place with respect to their replacement. An interim director was installed and later two committees were created and charged with specific tasks. The first was a Vision Group that was to provide a vision of what Extension should look like in the future. The priority recommendation by that group was not accepted by UAF’s administration. Second was a Director Search Committee formed to write the job description for the new director. Because the Vision Group recommended creating a position of a different title that was then discounted, the search committee has been unable to begin their work. And remember, this was all precipitated with the removal of Cooperative Extension’s two top administrators in December, more than four months ago.

I suppose you are asking, so what? Here is what: Problems produced by management at UAF have created an oppressive work environment and fostered a quagmire of inefficiency in the CES. Numerous personnel are making plans to find work elsewhere, retire early or go on sabbatical leave until normalcy returns. Progress on programs has slowed, agents and specialists have quit and employee morale is at an all-time low.

By informing you of these problems the advisory council hopes to receive help from supporters of Extension. We need to prompt others in the university administration and our state government to scrutinize the management that has imposed this burden on an agency that embodies the crucial extension outreach and research benefits which directly improve quality of life in Alaska.

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service deserves your support. We feel it should be placed at the same structural level within the University system as are the academic and research missions. Life-long learning is how to best describe Extension. We bring to you the important results of applied research, and we instruct adults and pre-college age youth in those living skills necessary to excel in our culturally diverse and spread out state.

We had more than 60,000 contacts with you last year, and we would appreciate assistance from you now. That assistance will elevate, empower and strengthen the Cooperative Extension Service so as to better serve the Alaska public.

To answer many of you who have called and written to us asking whether you should be concerned about what has happened, the advisory council unanimously states: Yes. Be very concerned.

Please e-mail AKCES@hotmail.com or call (907) 474-5807 and ask to receive our two briefing papers and learn more about what you can do to save your Alaska Cooperative Extension Service.

Philip Loudon is the chair of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service Advisory Council.

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