Board reviews outreach plans, U Extension Service funding

Liz Kohman

Women over age 60 generally do not perform gymnastic feats, but Georgina Jerricks, a 62-year-old University Extension Service employee, did the splits to prove a point Tuesday.

Jerricks teaches a nutrition class every Tuesday to women recovering from chemical addictions, and she showed off her flexibility to demonstrate the life-long benefits of healthful eating. The class is one of many programs run through the University Extension Service.

“(This class) will help me a lot,” said Genell Fletcher, a graduate of the class. Fletcher said the class taught her how to take care of her body – something she didn’t do before.

The University Regents Ad Hoc Committee on Outreach met Wednesday to discuss the future of University-wide outreach programs and University Extension Service’s plan to cut $4.5 million from its $35 million budget.

The regents reviewed the University’s new technological system called a portal, which allows users of the University Web site to personalize their Web connection to the University.

University administration is examining the use of portals to increase and improve the University’s extension and outreach activities. Vice President Robert Kvavik said the portals should be running by June.

“We can reach out to the community in ways we’ve never thought of,” Kvavik said. The Regents discussed using the portals for providing up-to-date information about meat and crop prices to farmers or offering classes to volunteer firefighters and emergency technicians in rural Minnesota.

University Extension Service Dean Charles Casey also presented an outline of the Extension Service’s efficiency and effectiveness report, created in response to a request by the Minnesota Legislature. The report will be approved by the regents and is due to the Legislature on Feb. 15.

The Regents Committee also supported $4.5 million in budget cuts to the University Extension Service, which were announced last week.

The department plans to make the cuts by 2004, resulting in an estimated 50 to 60 layoffs for extension employees, Casey said.

“It’s always difficult when you have really good people,” he said. The cuts will be made across the system, affecting administration, faculty and field educators.

Barbara Overlien works for the Extension Service. She has taught nutrition and financial planning for the past 12 years. She said she doesn’t fear losing her job, but she worries about how the budget cuts will affect the Extension Service.

“I do think it will hurt Extension Service,” Overlien said. “We are really not covering all we could now. I don’t know why it’s the good programs we’re cutting back on.”