Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reshaping Extension

In a new article from The Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue of the economy and its impact on land-grant universities exposes the dramatic changes (cuts) being made to this arm of university outreach and engagement.

I don't have much to say about it except one should read this article.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When People Speak

Jim Fishkin has become famous in deliberative democracy circles for his approach to engaging citizens in a way that blends traditional polling with more deliberative practices. His angle--deliberative polling--has been used in many settings to measure what role deliberation plays in shaping and reshaping the minds of citizens.  

Here's a piece on Fishkin's new book as well as a project he's doing in Michigan.

There are many who have issues with this approach, but there are many things that deliberative polling does that we have difficulty doing otherwise; few others have figured out how to engage such large populations in a way that allows citizens to have a voice rather than simply answering poll questions that are structured in such a way that impedes one from actually representing what one thinks.

The challenge, from the critical perspective of deliberative polling, is that it still only draws from those who are able and confident enough to engage in such deliberations. These are serious concerns, especially when one is using deliberative practices to engage those who are marginalized by the politcal process.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dismantling Extension in Michigan

Dismantling Extension. It's hard to believe that the institution that served as one of the models for what would become the land-grant colleges and universities of the United States would find itself on the brink of non-existence. What this says about the current economy is that aspects of society that we have come to expect are now being called into question when budgets must be cut. But more than that, Extension has been pulled in different directions and thus wore many hats. Additionally, there has always been tension about what Extension was and should be. We can see that in the rich history of land grant universities. Scott Peters, in his introduction to Catalyzing Change, notes that Extension is more than simply the dissemination of information. 

What, I would argue, is the most important work of Extension has been marginalized and sidelined. If Extension is cut, I think an important player in democracy will be ushered off the stage for good.

So here's an article from Michigan quoting Frank Fear. He asks about the results of closing Extension and the impact on rural America. I think this is a very legitimate concern, but there is cause for concern about what this means for America when citizens lose resources that are vital to living in community with one another.

I can hope that these cuts don't occur to Michigan State University Extension, but it seems something will happen. I wonder what other states might follow down this path.