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Seaman A. Knapp Lecture

National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges Annual Meeting
November 16, 2003, New Orleans, Louisiana

Knowledge, Wisdom, and Freedom - - The Role of Extension
Dr. Duane Acker
President Emeritus, Kansas State University and
Former Assistant Secretary for Science and Education, USDA

I express sincere thanks to the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, USDA, and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges for the privilege of being a part of a series that honors Seaman A. Knapp, a visionary person recognized as the founder of Extension.

You, your staff, Association President Peter McGrath, and the predecessors of each, have given me unlimited support in my tasks on several land grant university campuses, in this great association, and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For that, I thank you and, through you, those many predecessors.

Now, I am primarily a client of Extension. My respect for Extension, always high, has even grown! That respect is not only for the quality of help it has provided my neighbors, my community, and me. It is for the very concept of Extension. It is for the proven techniques of Extension education.


Wisdom is strength; knowledge is power. (Carter Burgess, Chairman of American Ma chine and Foundry, at the dedication of new baking equipment his company provided the Grain Science Department at Kansas State University about 1965)

University faculty in the classroom, in the laboratory, or in the extension educator role is responsible to “seek the truth and teach the truth as they see it in their discipline of training.” (Sidney Hook's definition of academic freedom)

You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

The whole basis of the university is to help free individuals and society as a whole from the constraints of limited knowledge, the constraints of limited concepts, and the constraints of limited vision. That makes Extension education a critical resource in any society that believes in human freedom.

Most university presidents and faculty want their university to be “world class.” A loyal alumnus of such a world class university recently cautioned, however, that a university may be that, as perceived by the academic community, yet not be relevant to its state's goals or citizenry. A comparably strong Extension program will help insure that relevance.

I need not pay tribute, in this lecture, to all the great work and all the impressive social and economic impacts of the Extension Service and/or Extension Division of the land grant university. These are self-evident.

Rather, it seems incumbent upon me, in 2003 and with the valuable time you are investing to listen to or perhaps read my comments, to suggest some tasks and roles for Extension education in the years and decades ahead. My thoughts have been both sharpened and strengthened this past year as I have co-chaired an Extension Futuring Committee comprised of clientele and staff of Iowa State University.

I will focus largely on Extension as related to the total university, Extension as related to all business, societal, and governmental sectors, Extension as related to the decision-makers, and Extension as related to public policy. I speak as a resident of a rural community who wants a viable Rural America, who wants his relatively rural state to achieve to achieve its stated societal and economic goals, and who believes Extension is vital to these aspirations.

Whereas the Cooperative Extension Service developed in or alongside the college of agriculture in most land grant universities, some universities have moved it to a central university spot and combined it with other extension/continuing education programs. Some universities have several extension units; Cooperative Extension may be but one.

I'll not debate the university structure. As a user, the university structure is not my priority concern. Clientele needs are without regard to university structure.

Early in my deanship at SDSU, we combined the departments of Poultry Science and the larger department of Animal Science. The poultry industry was relatively small, but it had strong leaders. Though I had sought program input from a few key poultry industry leaders, I worried about how they would react when I made the decision.

A few weeks later, those leaders were on campus to see the construction underway on our new poultry research unit, and I joined them in their car to drive to the site. They said nothing about the department consolidation, so I brought it up. They changed the subject!

They knew the poultry faculty was strong, that they'd have new facilities, and that they would deliver industry needs. The organization structure was my problem.

Regardless of where in the university structure Extension headquarters or a director or dean reports, I want Extension to tap the top university talent, wherever it is, to serve my rural community needs. And, I want my county extension council to recognize Extension's access to that university talent.


The primary audience for the Cooperative Extension Service in the early years was, except for youth in 4-H, the individual decision maker - - largely the farmer or homemaker. Knowledge extended was for those individuals' decisions and actions on crops rotations, animal rations, tillage practices, fertilizer rates, food preservation, clothing choices, household finances, or other. Most decisions regarding either the farm business or the farm family's life were made by the individual, perhaps influenced only by their spouse, their parents, or their banker. Most Extension education programs were so designed.

Now, more decisions that affect my farm business - - or any business - - are made by an agency or a policy group, such as a zoning board, a board of health, the county commissioners, state department of environment or natural resources, a state department of economic development, the state legislature, EPA, OSHA, USDA, Congress, or even the World Trade Organization.

And, many factors affecting my quality of life and local community vitality - - recreation facilities, school system, libraries, cultural amenities, church sustainability, local health system, governmental services, and perhaps resultant community vitality - - are largely determined by boards and commissions.

The decisions made by these boards and commissions are influenced, in turn, by demographics and economic and social circumstance - - - numbers, educational level and leadership qualities of the people in the community. In most rural communities, key farm and ranch families play key roles, but there just aren't enough key farm and ranch families to play all the key roles!

Rural America needs multiple businesses that are strong and successful, farm businesses and a wide spectrum of others - - - manufacturing, services, and retail. All businesses need to be well managed with high quality products or services and high volume sales. The university, especially through Extension education, can help many, especially the new and developing businesses.

We need efficient and well-managed government services. Extension education programs can be of help.

Extension in many states has responded to these needs. Directors have put money on or helped staff members in many disciplines obtain money to carry out educational programs needed by both traditional and non-traditional audiences. I can cite many examples, will cite but a few.

In the 1960s, a couple of our Kansas State Extension economists developed a trade area survey technique, worked closely with retail chambers of commerce across Kansas.

Current Kansas State staff have extended and refined that work; developed pull factor calculations to demonstrate the extent to which certain retail communities draw trade volume and other lose trade volume. The goal is to help them build trade volume.

Alabama Extension programs for its citizens involve the colleges of Pharmacy - - asthma and skin cancer, Engineering - - small manufacturers, and Forestry - - urban and community forestry, and it has cooperative efforts with state health, education, and other agencies.

The Nebraska system led in helping communities develop high-speed Internet systems.

The Iowa Ma nufacturing Extension Partnership fostered by Extension but involving community colleges and the private sector, focuses on enhancing the global competitiveness of Iowa manufacturers. Staff members at five regional centers work with about 250 clients in an average year. Of those clients with measurable impact, sales, profit and investment increases have been in the millions of dollars.

Ma ny Extension services or systems have long provided rural and community leadership programs; many work with state agencies to encourage and recognize forward thinking and forward-acting communities; and most have some form of agricultural value-added program.

I commend these endeavors, this broader role and responsibility of Extension. As an integral part of a broad, multi-discipline university, this broad role should be expected of Extension.


The educational programs I have just cited are politically safe. They focus on issues with little public controversy. Educational content is directed to helping people do what they are now doing or have decided to do, so they can do it faster, more efficiently, or more effectively.

This leaves an extremely important arena for Extension education, that of public policy.

At all levels, from the school district or the town, to the state and nation, policy is established by groups of people - - the school board, the church trustees, the zoning board, the county commissioners, the legislature, and the Congress, or agencies to which these groups have delegated responsibility. In some cases, citizens in the voting booth decide the policy issue.

I believe Extension should play an increasing role in policy education! Policy decisions generally have wide and long-term impact. They may have far more impact on the success - - even on the continuation - - of a business, that does any decision that might be made by the business owner or manager.

These group decision-makers must be well prepared for their decisions. Their judgments should be based on the best and most complete knowledge.

About 1970 the South Dakota legislature authorized a citizens' commission to consider a reorganization of the executive branch of South Dakota state government, whether to continue or to modify a system that had dozens of constitutional agencies guided by independent boards. I had the privilege of serving on that commission and, after many hearings and much study, we recommended consolidation of the executive branch into a small number of departments. Because change would require several amendments to the state constitution, there was need for a statewide education program.

That appeared to me to be a logical task for the Extension Service. The legislature had no education arm. The existing agencies were not the logical units to do the educating - - many current agency staff and commission or board members were suspicious of the proposed changes. Only Extension, in my opinion, had the credibility, the distance, the statewide structure, and the access to expertise - - University talent - - to develop the educational materials. The task fit clearly into the Extension education model for public policy - - outline the alternatives and the likely consequences of the alternatives, and let the public (the voters) decide.

Several of my colleagues were reticent. There were risks. Some of the recommendations of the citizen's commission have raised the ire of some legislators and other important people. Should Extension take this on?

My president, Hilton Briggs, Director John Stone, and I were convinced we could do it right. We tapped a respected member of the political science department, put him on part-time Extension funding and he worked with the citizen's commission staff and our extension economists and supervisors in developing informational pieces and visuals for public presentations. In most counties, our home economist took charge of the program; in some cases the agricultural agent. We missed some counties - - just didn't have the staff equipped for the job or where the county extension council had no interest.

How did we do? Our measure was not whether or not the constitutional amendments passed. It was the percentage of voters who went to the polls on Election Day to vote for state and county officers and who voted on or did not vote on the constitutional amendments!

In those counties where our staff had carried out the educational program, a much higher percentage of people who entered the voting booth marked their preferences on the constitutional amendments. In counties where the educational program was not provided, a high percentage of voters chose to not vote on the constitutional amendments.

Another anecdotal measure, much appreciated. The chairman of the joint appropriations committee attended an educational session in Moody County. President Briggs later asked him his impressions? His response: “Good. But, at the end of the session, I couldn't tell whether your staff was in favor or opposed to the amendments.”

Policy issues abound in and about Rural America, policy issues where the decision-makers, whether local, state, or national, need to have the benefit of thorough, objective, alternative/consequences education. In many cases, only Extension has the credibility and the educational technique that is needed.

There is rural zoning, including the rights of cities to annex or control land now outside the city limits. And, this may include more farm issues than animal operations, such as noise of grain driers, dust from tillage, and night operation of farm equipment.

There is county consolidation, or city-county consolidation.

There is the future school structure for the county or region. And, how about the churches, some with mostly empty pews and empty coffers? Decisions on change are often based more on emotion than on knowledge. Neither the congregation nor the parent denominational bodies may have the capability, unaided, to structure and provide objective educational programs for the decision-makers and the decisions they will make.

There is the issue of welcoming or not welcoming a new business or industry to the community

You can add to the list.

Does Extension have a role in policy issues decided at the state level? In a number of instances, I believe it does!

Where zoning for agriculture may be outlawed at the state level, should that be changed? Should zoning authority be given to the county, or to a multi-county region, or held by a state agency or board?

Should out-of-state hunters be encouraged, by revision of law or regulation, to come to the state (private hunting businesses encouraged and given a quota of licenses so out-of-state hunters will make reservations, for example)?

Should state environmental or animal welfare regulations be established, in addition to those at the federal level?

And there is national policy - - agricultural, environmental, trade, conservation, and other.

Extension in most states has maintained strong agricultural policy staff and programs, to help producers implement programs wisely and so they may be better equipped to lobby members of Congress.

There are component agricultural policies now on the table. Should ISO or other certification be required for agricultural exports? Should animal and animal product identity be required for trace-back? Are there other agricultural or rural policy issues under the heading of homeland security that need to be considered?

It seems to me that Congress, through allocations to and consultation with university research units and Extension policy specialists, has made good use of the land grant universities. And, many faculty, through the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, have played a constructive role in providing science-based documents - - data, thought and judgment - - for national policy making.

In general, I believe Congress has made better use of the universities and university staff, both experiment station and Extension, than have most state legislatures.

I assume, of course, that in any of these policy issues in which Extension is asked to or chooses to play an educational role, that role will be constructed and based on the concept of outlining the alternatives and the likely consequences of each alternative - - so the public or the decision making body can wisely decide. It is this well-established educational concept, where the educator takes or plays no advocacy role, which gives Extension special value to society.

In most states and in most counties, there is no other entity that has the credibility, the experience, nor the back up talent, to do that job. Try as they might to be objective in their presentations to decision makers, most individuals will be “for” or “against,” or perceived as such, by the audience.

The proven effectiveness of Extension's alternative/consequences system of policy education, the respect with which Extension and the land grant university are held, and the lack of equally credible and established entity that can effectively play the role, strongly suggest that, for the long-term benefit of Rural America, Extension must be willing and available to play the role.

And, for certain issues, the entity facing the decision may just have funds that could be assigned to Extension for that needed educational program.

I certainly recognize that Extension cannot and should not try to take on all issues. Differential and priority judgments need to be made and the local and state Extension councils and other advisors have good judgments. One must determine if the talent needed on the issue is, in fact, available in the university - - or in another university in the state - - or can be borrowed from another state.


The dollar investment and sales volume of commercial farm and ranch units in Rural America continue to increase. Consolidation has not slowed. Though the Census of Agriculture reports more than 800 farms in my county, probably fewer than 300 are viable businesses. Less than 20 sell fed cattle and less that 30 sell finished hogs in significant numbers. We have one dairy of 2,700 cows plus a couple with less than 100. We have two egg production businesses, with 250,000 and 650,000 hens, plus one or two small organic producers. Most of the animal operations and some of the crop operations are integrated into a food/product chain by long-term product specification and pricing arrangements.

This fact, replicated throughout U.S. agriculture, has brought large changes in Extension staff and programs. My neighbors and I deal with private consultants, area and state specialists, and we have access, through the web and phone and in multi-state extension programs to top specialists in other states.

By no means do these comments suggest a downgrading of our Extension animal science, soil fertility, human nutrition, food safety, or other talent. On the contrary, Extension staff in those disciplines and programs must be exceedingly strong. The knowledge they do convey will impact more acres or more animals; and they compete with other providers for credibility and respect.

These specialists are especially vital in public policy education related to their subject specialties.

I believe it very important for Extension to maintain a county or local office presence, a physical presence and identity for the University and the base for a strong focus on 4-H and youth programs.


I offer a few recommendations.

  1. Recognize and fully respect the unique and valuable resource that you and your state have in Extension, its credibility, its experience, its effective educational techniques, and its University home base.
  2. Tap the talent/knowledge base of your total university, and perhaps your university system. Engage your president and provost in that endeavor. Don't let your organizational spot in the university prevent that.
  3. Have impact on your university's research agenda. Extension's link with statewide clientele is a two-way street. Joint research/Extension faculty appointments, in any and all disciplines, are a seamless way of helping do that.
  4. Especially recognize the value of Extension's public policy education model, that of outlining alternatives and the likely consequences of the alternatives. Policy decisions have broad and long-term impact; they should be based on knowledge. Don't back away from controversial policy issues where objective education is sorely needed.
  5. Respect and protect academic freedom. In any issue there is potential for criticism and even contention. Society gave the concept of tenure to universities in order to protect academic freedom. (I'll not debate lifetime vs. term tenure here; both are options. And there are other forms of job security for Extension staff, especially the support of the director, the dean, and others of the university administration.) Extension faculty, as other university faculty, has the responsibility to “seek the truth and teach the truth in their discipline of training as they see it.” Holding to that and protecting that is vital to the continued credibility of Extension.
  6. Ma ke Extension a visible force in helping your state achieve its defined and accepted goals. Team with other entities with parallel purposes.
  7. Don't let your Extension Service or Division become “just another social service agency.” Extension has much to offer to service delivery agencies - - competence in disciplines and in delivering education, credibility, and that statewide presence. Extension should be a partner whenever there is an education need, where it can be financed, and where Extension is the logical partner. But be sure to keep education as the core Extension role!
  8. Maintain strong county, multi-county, and state Extension councils, well briefed on their responsibilities and representing their clientele spectrum.


Seaman A. Knapp's rationale for Extension was obviously to extend the knowledge base of the university to rural people. That rationale is even more valid today.

Wisdom is strength; knowledge is power - - in every business sector, in every societal sector, and in every government sector.

Extension is the land grant university's link to those sectors; it should employ the total university in educational service to those sectors.

In all of rural America , Extension education for the decision-makers, individuals as well as groups, in both sector operations and public policy, is a major key to rural community and industry vitality, business volume, business success, and human growth.

And, Extension helps keep its world class university relevant to its state!

I thank you for the privilege of presenting the 2003 Seaman A. Knapp lecture.