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Home > News > Agriculture > Mixed Reactions Face UNR’s Cooperative Extension Merger

Mixed Reactions Face UNR’s Cooperative Extension Merger

By Bob Conrad
Photo courtesy University of Nevada, Reno.

Photo courtesy University of Nevada, Reno.

Constituent groups around the state have mixed reactions about the University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) move to reintegrate University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) back with the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station (NAES).

The three were separated technically in 1993 but had different leadership in 1998 under then President Joe Crowley, whom, it was alleged, was not happy with Ag. Dean Dale Bohmont’s popularity and high level of influence around the state. (Bohmont chronicled his version of events as dean in his book, “The Golden Years of Nevada Agriculture.”)

UNR’s current administration has been mulling the reintegration of the units for a few years. It was announced in a staff email in August that the three would once again be reunited under the leadership of CABNR Dean and Experiment Station Director Bill Payne. (EDIT: UNR said that “the correspondence from Provost Carman was a recommendation or proposal of the consolidation, not an announcement. More discussion around the proposal is still happening.“)

Reactions over the merger are mixed. Ag. groups in the state are for it, but counties are mounting protests and are even proposing to withdraw from partnering with the university.

Nye County has already done so.

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Opposition

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, said the association has concerns about the merger.

“Several counties, or a number of counties, are opposed to the merger, and we have concerns about it as well,” he said. “The concerns have to do with the reason for the merger; we’re not sure what needs to be fixed here.”

An issue for counties is funding: Counties contribute a significant amount of money to operating county extension offices, especially after the university drastically cut its ag units’ budgets during the recession.

“Cooperative Extension took disproportionate and very large cuts during the recession years,” Fontaine added. “(Its) budget was cut by 70 percent, and very little of that was restored.

“How does combining it with another college fix that? Counties are largest funders of Cooperative Extension, and they feel like they should have input into that decision.”

Fontaine said that counties are weighing their options.

“One county has already pulled out — Nye County,” he said. “That decision was made awhile ago. They have some serious budget problems in Nye County. I don’t think this helped. They stopped funding Cooperative Extension programs entirely.” (A request for comment was emailed to Nye County’s manager.)

Fontaine said that options being looked at by counties are to have Cooperative Extension report directly to the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) or to move its operations to Las Vegas.

Support

The Nevada Farm Bureau supports the merger with some conditions.

“We support the proposal for consolidating CABNR, Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension under a single dean at the University of Nevada, Reno,” said Jessy Fagundes, the Farm Bureau’s director of communications. “We also believe that Extension specialists should be stationed in the field, as opposed to being required to be based on campus and removed from day-to-day contact with constituents.

“To promote the values of outreach programing, we believe that the faculty who are involved with outreach should retain Cooperative Extension as their academic home.”

As well, the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) also supports the merger with some caveats. NCA President Ron Torell, a former extension faculty member, wants the merger to also refocus extension’s mission on rural Nevada. Too much of extension’s work, he said, focuses on Nevada’s urban cores, Clark and Washoe counties.

“As long as they are separate colleges, Cooperative Extension will not address rural Nevada issues,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been broken up in the first place.”

In late October he sent a pointed letter (read it below this article) to UNR President Marc Johnson, the counties, the chancellor and the NSHE Board of Regents.

We support this merger provided there is a commitment from the highest level of UNR administration to rebuild lost UNCE agriculture positions and re-establish the rural support that has been lost over the past two decades. NCA opposes any further reductions in funding to these colleges within UNR and supports budget increases. NCA opposes redirection of funds in support of on-campus activities which do not address the spirit of the law.

“Since 1993, as a separate college and certainly since 1998, under the direction of a separate Dean, UNCE has dramatically and undeniably reduced staffing and support for Agriculture. Through attrition and as Agriculture Extension positions became available, full time employee positions were replaced primarily in Urban areas dealing with societal issues, not Agriculture. Case in point is the 2015 staffing level of Clark and Washoe counties in relation to Agriculture positions in 1993 in urban versus rural counties.”

The university is proposing the merger for what it calls increased synergies.

“A proposed administrative consolidation of three entities, UNCE, CABNR and NAES, would enhance administrative support and foster collaboration,” said UNR Provost Kevin Carman. “A combined administrative structure is also intended to foster communication and collaboration across programs. The intent is to create a structure that allows our faculty and staff to do their very best work, in service to the citizens of Nevada.

“We will continue to discuss this concept with constituents in the months ahead.”

While the merger looks likely, what remains to be seen is how counties will ultimately respond. Indeed, there is likely to be pushback and ire before the units are together again.


NCA’s Letter

October 29, 2015

University of Nevada Board of Regents
2601 Enterprise Road
Reno, Nevada 89512

To Whom it May Concern:

Working in harmony to fulfill the true mission of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, the Hatch Act of 1887 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association is writing in support of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR), Agriculture Experiment Station (AES), and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) to be administered as one unit. We support this merger provided there is a commitment from the highest level of UNR administration to rebuild lost UNCE Agriculture positions and re-establish the rural support that has been lost over the past two decades. NCA opposes any further reductions in funding to these colleges within UNR and supports budget increases. NCA opposes redirection of funds in support of on-campus activities which do not address the spirit of the law.

A land-grant college or university is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The University of Nevada, Reno is Nevada’s designated Land Grant University and is partially funded by this act. The Hatch Act of 1887 authorized direct payment of federal grant funds to establish an agriculture experiment station (AES) in connection with the land-grant institution. The University of Nevada, Reno College of Agriculture and Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) administers the AES and AES is partially funded by this act. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created Cooperative Extension Service to disseminate information gleaned from experiment station’s research. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) is a separate college from CABNR and is partially funded by this act.

In 1945 the College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension were united under one dean and director, Cecil Creel, bringing Cooperative Extension closer to its research base. They remained united under a succession of long-serving leaders, such as Dale Bohmont and Bernard Jones, until 1993 when Cooperative Extension was given its own status as a university college. In 1998, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) received a separate dean’s position and Karen Hinton was named dean/director. Granted, UNCE now serves a variety of constituents, however, these societal issue services and staffing are at the expense of Agriculture.

Since 1993 as a separate college, and certainly since 1998 under the direction of a separate dean, UNCE has dramatically and undeniable reduced staffing and support for Agriculture. Through attrition and as rural Agriculture Extension positions became available, full-time employee positions were replaced and reassigned primarily to urban areas dealing with societal issues, not Agriculture. Case in point is the 2015 staffing level of Clark and Washoe counties in relation to Agriculture positions in 1993 in urban versus rural counties.

Due to dire financial circumstances, University of Nevada, Reno administration and Board of Regents have implemented huge budget reductions to CABNR, AES and UNCE which has forced major structural changes to these colleges and these changes have forced additional reduction in research, education and teaching to rural Nevada and Agriculture.
The original mission of these acts was to focus on the teaching, research and education needs of rural Nevada, agriculture, science and engineering. UNCE may meet the letter of the law as a separate college from Agriculture, however, their track record does not meet the spirit of the law. When housed and managed as one college, Nevada’s land grant university more than fulfilled its mission in teaching, research and education and assisting agriculture in Nevada to succeed by addressing the true needs of rural Nevada and agriculture.

The bottom line is UNCE has a track record of meeting the needs of Agriculture and rural Nevada when it was under the same roof and leadership as the College of Agriculture. Conversely, UNCE has established a track record of redirecting faculty positions and funds to societal issues and away from Agriculture when administered as a separate college.

It is for these reasons the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association support CABNR, AES and UNCE to be administered as one unit, working in harmony to fulfill the true mission of these three acts. NCA opposes redirection of funds in support of on campus activities, which do not address the spirit of the law.

Respectively,

Ron Torell
Nevada Cattlemen’s Association President

C.C. Nevada Association of Counties (NACO)
System of Higher Education Chancellor
UNR President Marc Johnson
College of Agriculture Dean and Director
UNCE Dean and Director
All State County Commissioners


Nevada Farm Bureau’s Policy

POLICY 147: CABNR/Cooperative Extension Proposed Consolidation
We support the proposal for consolidating CABNR, Agricultural Experiment Stations and Cooperative Extension under a single dean at the University of Nevada, Reno. Within the context of our support, we maintain the necessity of budget integrity for Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Station system to avoid inappropriate expenditure allocations from these budgets to fund CABNR financial requirements. We also believe that Extension specialists should be stationed in the field, as opposed to being required to be based on campus and removed from day-to-day contact with constituents. Arrangements developed for finalized consolidation need to take into account appropriate evaluation systems to deal with improved incentives for applied research/development projects. To promote the values of outreach programing, we believe that the faculty who are involved with outreach should retain Cooperative Extension as their academic home. This will recognize that there are differences in the University criteria and allow for proper rewards and encouragement for those who engage in educational outreach and research programs aligned with needs of customers and communities who Cooperative Extension serve.


UNR’s Complete Statement

Here is comment from Kevin Carman, Executive Vice President and Provost:

A proposed administrative consolidation of three entities, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, and the Nevada Agriculture Experiment Stations, would enhance administrative support and foster collaboration. Each would maintain its own identity, budget and operational autonomy. They would report to Dr. Bill Payne, who is presently dean of CABNR and director of AES, and would take on the additional title of director of UNCE. Bill comes to us from Texas A&M and brings considerable experience in and passion for Extension.

In recent years the University has allocated additional funding to both UNCE and CABNR, to build on the impressive work and expertise of faculty. Time and again, we have seen this kind of investment is all-the-more successful when supported by a structure that provides effective, foundational services such as information technology, web support, human resources, accounting and reporting. A combined administrative structure is also intended to foster communication and collaboration across programs. The intent is to create a structure that allows our faculty and staff to do their very best work, in service to the citizens of Nevada.

We will continue to discuss this concept with constituents in the months ahead.

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