Today, budget decisions are being made at all levels of government — federal, state and local – that will have lasting impact on our future success in CAHNRS and WSU Extension. These decisions are being made in an environment that reflects a new political reality for higher education, in general, and for CAHNRS and WSU Extension, in particular.
For all of us in higher education, we face a difficult transition: from a time when citizens and our political representatives valued higher education as an investment in the future and provided access by augmenting the budget with state and federal dollars, to a new political reality where higher education is expected to be much more self-supporting.
No longer can we assume that the voters or politicians recognize the value to society in general and to them as individuals of investing in higher education.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, an essential activity for all of us is to make visible the benefits to the state and its citizens that accrue from our research, teaching and extension activities. If we do not tell our story, it will not be heard. Especially as employees of a land-grant university, we have a responsibility to be articulate about what we do and why it is important. (Please note, however, that there also are strict restrictions on lobbying state and federal lawmakers.) Our traditional approach to explaining our programs must become more strategic and omnipresent.
So, what does this “strategic advocacy” look like for CAHNRS, WSU Extension and our stakeholders? First, a larger component of every administrator’s job — from the university president to the department chair — must encompass telling our story. For four years, we have focused on improving our visibility and relationships with stakeholders, particularly in agriculture. These activities certainly provide a foundation upon which we can build. In CAHNRS and WSU Extension, we have a great marketing and communication staff who work tirelessly to put out our story in a variety of forms and through a variety of media — Web pages, press releases, magazines, the popular press and social networking sites. These activities must become even more visible and robust.
Recent activities involving the integration of CAHNRS and WSU Extension will also assist us in delivering the message of university impact. By connecting all components of the university — from basic research to county extension — we will be able to better demonstrate the full value of our programs. The message we need to communicate is similar to those Verizon commercials where the one nerdy guy is supported by a network of thousands standing behind him. The same vision must occur when stakeholders and policy makers see our Extension faculty — a network of support involving thousands, including some of the world’s foremost researchers.
But all of these activities won’t get the job done unless every faculty and staff member engages in telling our story. Faculty and staff are the ones who work most closely with our stakeholders, and our stakeholders are the ones our elected officials at all levels listen to.
Again, the most important aspect of “strategic advocacy” is that it is not only about delivering the message, but it is equally important to deliver the right message. It is not enough to say we are doing good things. These “good things” have to be translated to outcomes and impacts. In today’s tough economic times, an important part of this message must be our contribution to economic development at the state and local level.