Lawmakers consider Extension options
Actions could include $8.7 million for programming
ST. PAUL -- Lawmakers are considering several options in response to the University of Minnesota's latest revamping of the Extension Service.
Sen. Steve Dille of Dassel is planning to take several actions when the Legislature reconvenes in January. The Republican said he will introduce a resolution calling on Extension and University of Minnesota leadership to change the organization's direction.
More tangibly, Dille said he will seek $8.7 million in extra funding for Extension and 4-H programming. The money, the equivalent of $100,000 for each county, would be allocated to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for disbursement. Finally, Dille said he would like a legislative discussion on changing the state's constitution to remove the university's decision-making autonomy it has held since statehood. This would give lawmakers more control over U of M policies. Other lawmakers say they are considering taking Extension and 4-H money away from the university and giving it to other agencies -- perhaps the MDA or the Minnesota State Colleges and University system.
Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar said both agencies have staffers with plenty of agricultural expertise. Juhnke, who has been a strong supporter of Extension, said he is disgusted that the organization is losing the talents of so many ag production specialists and that he is also unhappy with the process by which the university made its decision.
"It is not professional,'' he said. "This is our university, an institution that I have been so proud of throughout the years. I just don't see a light at the end of the tunnel on this. We need to find out where we are going and need to look at our alternatives.''
Juhnke said the university's actions over the past two years prove they lack a directional attitude and vision. Both agriculture and the university are paying a price.
"The university is losing political capital at an alarming rate out here,'' he said.
That, Juhnke said, may cost the university legislative support and reduce monetary support from alumni. Dille said he's heard similar complaints about the university -- that ExtensionDean Charles Casey and university of Minnesota vice president for agriculture policy Bill Musoplat aren't fighting hard enough for production agriculture.
Dille said that the university needs to understand that Extension and 4-H are important to rural residents.
"It is part of our culture and the fabric of our lives,'' he said.
Legislative hearings will be held by the higher education and agriculture committees to try to better understand the situation, said Sen. Dean Johnson, a DFLer from Willmar.
"This battle isn't over yet,'' he said. "We are going to make every effort to make a difference.''
Johnson and Dille agree that the issues need to be discussed and that the concerns are bipartisan.
"This isn't about Democrats and Republicans," Johnson said. "It's about providing resources for the ag community.''