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
THE BASIS OF THE UNIVERSITY
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
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
MORE DECISIONS BY AGENCIES
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
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
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
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
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
PUBLIC POLICY EDUCATION
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
EXTENSION TO THE FARM,
HOME, AND YOUTH
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ma ke Extension a visible force in
helping your state achieve its defined
and accepted goals. Team with other entities
with parallel purposes.
- 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
- 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
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.