In an effort to cut costs, improve efficiency, and better serve production agriculture, Washington State University is merging Extension into the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. For the past eight years, Extension has been a separate department under Dean Linda Kirk Fox. She will still head Extension but not as a dean.

The reorganization is part of WSU’s budget-cutting strategy for the next biennium. The university is facing serious cuts in the funding it receives from the state of Washington. In December, Governor Christine Gregoire called for a 12 percent cut in the state allocation for WSU, but as the economic situation has continued to erode, deeper budget cuts may be needed, according to WSU administrators.

Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, told the Good Fruit Grower that the reorganization should allow the college to better integrate and coordinate its research and extension activities. The university has county extension faculty whose role is exclusively extension, but it also has extension specialists whose jobs involve both research and extension. Having extension separate from the college of agriculture was somewhat confusing to stakeholders and was cumbersome at times because people in agriculture had to deal with two different departments, he said.

"I actually think this is a positive development for production agriculture."

Budget cuts

Though the reorganization should create efficiencies and cost savings long-term, Bernardo said it doesn’t eliminate the need for cuts in the CAHNRS budget.

The university has been developing a plan to deal with an 18 to 20 percent shortfall in state funds, which is about $50 million, Bernardo said. Although CAHNRS will have to share some of the burden, the cuts won’t be straight across the board, and he expects that the college will not have to take such draconian cuts. Interviewed in late March, Bernardo was unable to say which areas of his college would be cut, but he did not think the cuts would affect county extension offices in any large measure. The final plan was expected to be announced in April.

The university was trying to protect what it considers its areas of excellence, such as plant science, while eliminating programs, academic departments, and subject-matter centers that contribute the least to its strategic objectives, Bernardo said. University President Elson Floyd had mandated that the university continue the positive trajectory it is on in terms of serving production agriculture.

"President Floyd is very serious about our mission to serve production agriculture, both in terms of research and extension," he stressed.

"Everybody in the organization will be affected by reductions. There’s no question, and there’s no way around this," he added. "It’s going to affect everything we do. We’re going to look different. But we’re going to try to use it to actually cull ourselves of some programs that might have served their purpose, and position ourselves better in the long term."