By now the news has probably reached you that Cooperative Extension has returned to UW–Madison, and I would like to discuss why this is a positive development for CALS. First, though, some background.
In November 2017, the UW System Board of Regents voted to close the central administrative organization called UW Colleges and UW–Extension and redistribute its two-year campuses and Extension units to the four-year campuses. This statewide restructuring was initiated in response to declines in state funding and student enrollments.
As a result, four UW–Extension units transferred to UW–Madison effective July 1, 2018. Cooperative Extension and Wisconsin Public Media (Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television) now comprise the UW–Madison Division of Extension and Public Media. The new division reports to the Office of the Provost.
Cooperative Extension’s move to UW–Madison represents a homecoming: Extension began at UW–Madison in 1907 and continued until 1965 when several UW–Madison programs combined to create University Extension as a separate UW System “campus” in 1971.
Since the earliest days, our college has had a strong partnership with Extension. While several colleges at UW–Madison, UW–River Falls, and UW–Stevens Point have active partnerships with Extension, we have always had the highest number of statewide specialists — and that includes 48 faculty and 38 academic staff with Extension responsibilities today. Their research is at the core of several of Extension’s evidence-based educational programs. In fact, you can read about one fine example of this work, the Applied Population Laboratory, in this issue of Grow. We expect these partnerships to continue to be a cornerstone of UW’s work, and I believe that the transition will improve opportunities for faculty in other schools and colleges to partner with Extension educators around the state.
As public funding models have changed, overall funding for Extension has decreased. As a result, CALS has lost 45 percent of its Extension faculty positions over the last two decades. Doug Reinemann, associate dean for extension and outreach, and other college leaders will continue to work with Extension leaders to grow the number of Extension-funded faculty positions so that we can keep pace with changing needs of agriculture and rural communities. This includes staying on top of trends like changing rural demographics that impact the available workforce and create a need for more automation and technology. The increased availability of data is generating potential for more effective livestock and landscape management (as long as the necessary expertise in analytical tools is available).
Consumer preferences also continue to change — whether in dietary trends or concerns about animal welfare and environmental quality — and we want our agricultural industries to be able to rely on a strong research base when making decisions about their futures. As we have opportunities to hire Extension faculty, we aim to add expertise that will serve needs such as these for Wisconsin’s tomorrow.
It has always been a CALS priority to serve the state’s agricultural industries and local communities with applied research expertise and continuing education. Strong Extension programs and a forward focus will continue to be central to that effort. In a recent op-ed, Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote, “I am confident that this transition will be win-win. Both entities are better together, and this merger will allow us to do even more in service to Wisconsin residents.” I agree completely.