The Environment for Scholarship in Agricultural Economics Extension

Article excerpt

Although opportunities and challenges for the Cooperative Extension Service have been addressed in the agricultural economics literature, little attention has been paid to the extension scholar. This article relates Boyer's scholarship concepts and subsequent scholarship assessment articles to agricultural economics extension and describes some unique features of the extension scholar's operating environment. Organizational framework, leadership, staffing, funding, accountability, and evaluation are addressed. Data from a survey of agricultural economics department heads are used to supplement personal experience in describing the current operating environment and constraints for extension scholars.

Key Words: Extension, scholarship

JEL Classifications: Q16

In recent years, the literature on Extension in agricultural economics has focused on ways to improve it (Castle), its relevance and potential for long-run survivability (King and Boehlje; McDowell), its future (Bonnen; Wefald), and its value (Kalambokidis; Roe, Haab, and Sohngen). Hanson identifies opportunities and challenges in Cooperative Extension for agricultural economists, and Martin discusses extension roles in agricultural economics departments. E-Extension (or extension, as it is now labeled) and opportunities for electronic delivery of education and information have also received attention (extension). In his recent Western Agricultural Economics Association (WAEA) presidential address, Dana Hoag lays out economic principles that could help decide the fate of the Extension system, namely that Extension provides public goods and should focus on competitive advantages, privatize when appropriate, manage for the long run, follow good business practices, and be aware of the political economy (Hoag).

Within the larger academic community, the definition of scholarship and the need for engaged institutions have been and are being discussed (Hutchings, Babb, and Bjork; Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and LandGrant Universities). Ernest Boyer's book, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, initiated a national dialogue on dimensions of scholarship beyond the traditional research emphasis. The Journal of Extension has included a variety of articles applying his discussion to extension generally (Adams et al.; Alter; Bushaw and Long; Campbell; Norman; Smith; Weiser and Houglum). Smith encourages extension faculty to embrace evaluation to show work's impact, to share work with colleagues through presentations and papers, and to develop other partners on campus to share the Extension method of engagement and learn from them. Alter lists six challenges for extension workers: achieving a scholarly mentality; broadening the view of scholarship; understanding and conducting research on the scholarship of engagement; developing and implementing ideas for change; and assessing and documenting outreach scholarship. He calls for action on the challenges through leadership and graduate education reform.

The purpose of this paper is to relate the concept of scholarship to agricultural economics extension and identify unique features of the operating environment for agricultural economics scholars with significant responsibilities in outreach and extension. My review of the literature and personal experience is supplemented by information gathered in a survey of agricultural economics department heads at land-grant universities.

The survey was e-mailed to 86 agricultural economics department heads at land-grant institutions in late December. The request asked them to complete it to the extent they could in the time that they had by January 21. Twenty-seven survey responses were submitted via a website. In some cases, an Extension leader helped complete the survey, but department heads were the primary respondents. My intent is to document activities of extension with a little "e" to include faculty doing outreach without official Cooperative Extension Service (Extension with a capital E is used in referencing it) appointments and universities with outreach but lacking an official Extension affiliation. …