why i’m steamed: lane county extension, r.i.p.

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.)

5 thoughts on “why i’m steamed: lane county extension, r.i.p.

  1. Jennifer 2 September 2010 / 11:16 am

    amen sister!

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  2. Annette 2 September 2010 / 5:55 pm

    You’ve made a very eloquent point and I too am very sad that this has happened. As a child/teenager I learned so much in 4-H. If ever there was a time to expose and teach another generation about farming, gardening, food preservation and more, than it is now. Our farm will do all it can to educate, share knowledge, and provide another glimpse of farm life to future generations. Thanks Jennifer for all your hard work at Lane County Extension and your words of wisdom!!!

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  3. Veronica 3 September 2010 / 7:03 am

    I totally agree with you! It should not be the responsibility of the volunteers to keep the program alive. It definitely shows that the University did not care to keep Lane County Extension open. It also shows how passionate and committed the volunteers are. You are all wonderful!

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  4. Eugenia 3 September 2010 / 8:16 am

    Thanks, everyone. I’m trying not to be so heartsick, but it’s difficult, as we all know.

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  5. renee moore 29 November 2014 / 9:31 am

    Dear lane county extension, I learned so much from you when I was an Oregon resident in the early 80’s. Today, I’m canning tuna and I visited your site for a refresher. I’m saddened to hear that this resource has been devalued and defunded. I want to thank you publicly for the help you gave me with published materials in home preservation of foods. I still have the dogeared, stained material I collected from you from when I learned to filet, smoke and can fish!
    Thank you. Let’s never stop helping people. Sincerely, Renee.

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