Lane County Extension closes its doors today after 96 years of service. We’re seeing this kind of thing happen all over the country because of the deterioration of the funding structure that requires financial commitments at the local, state, and federal levels. It’s also happening because of deep, continuing budget cuts to personnel and programming at the land grant universities (often the “State” university system, like Oregon State U.) that were created specifically to disseminate agricultural research into rural areas.
As someone who grew up in a semi-rural area and spent most of her life in school, the loss of this educational structure is devastating. The particular loss of our little Extension service outpost in Lane County is deeply shameful. I haven’t said much about it here, mainly because I’m so angry that we lacked the leadership at the university level to pull off the stopgap bond measure, and I’m angry that we lack the leadership at the university level to protect the remaining programs we have.
Volunteers and faculty should NOT be doing the work of university administrators in trying to find ways to move around money, write grants, negotiate the Byzantine system that universities always have. And quite frankly, they don’t have the time, resources, or training to do this kind of work.
These programs can’t be saved by volunteers, even the wonderful volunteers we have at Lane County Extension — some of the finest people with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to serve. We’re happy to continue to give our time to teach the community necessary skills, even with barely functioning equipment in a crumbling building. And to do so, we need dedicated, trained university faculty to do horticulture and food safety education, not fundraising. Full faculty, not 0.2 FTE bodies that have to run themselves ragged among several offices. I’ve never seen tenured faculty work as hard, for so little money, in such fractured, displaced, and exiled positions, to keep teaching (and I’m speaking as a former English composition instructor — we know from miserable teaching conditions). They simply can’t do another job, too.
From my vantage point, no one in OSU administration — and I am shocked to discover there is a whole team of people working on our Extension programs in higher administration — got their hands dirty in trying to save the flagship county office in Eugene. The only communications that moved quickly were the ones that said we couldn’t do this or that, and that the end was near. This sent a clear message that the University wasn’t interested in keeping Extension alive in Lane County.
Is this reality, or just my impression? Is it just the current leadership, or a systemic failure? I’m not sure — all I know is that as of today, Lane County loses its ability to train generations of regular people in gardening, animal care, and food safety. It’s a dire loss.
So that’s why I’m steamed. Good thing I’ve learned how to vent.
(ETA: I’ve received many private replies to this post, and I deeply appreciate the response. Some point out that there are adminstrators who have worked hard to secure the tentative Master Gardener partnership with LCC. This is a good point, and I stand corrected. Many, many thanks to them! I wish others had been willing to be as creative and diplomatic and forward-looking.)