Gardening information worthless to universities – unless someone else pays for it

Gardening information worthless to universities – unless someone else pays for it
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Gardeners and garden communicators know Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott as a myth-buster, and as the Extension educator for Washington State. We know her as the author of How Plants Work and the GWA award-winning Informed Gardener, as co-founder of Garden Professors, the go-to blog for accurate information, with its 4,900-member strong Facebook group, which I recommend to people as THE most interesting plant-growing discussion on the Web.

But there’s more. In 2015 alone she also spoke at 26 seminars, wrote her next book, now in press, Gardening with Northwest Native Plants, created a curricular module for Master Naturalist certification, wrote articles for and was a contributing editor at Fine Gardening and associate editor for the peer-reviewed journal Horticulturae, and was cited in Science Citations 89 times (adding to her lifetime total of 904 – a big deal in academia).

So what a shock to learn from her that she’s being investigated for incompetence and is fighting for her job since receiving this notice on December 15 from her provost:

That’s especially surprising since she’s clearly being found failing at someone else’s job, not the one she’s under contract to perform:

Position Description: Position is 100% Extension. Rank and salary are open: assistant, associate or full rank depending on qualifications. The appointment will be with tenure or tenure track as appropriate. WSU Extension Specialist in Environmental Horticulture will provide educational programming in environmental horticulture throughout the state. (Excerpted from this position notice).

How could this happen, with a job description so contrary to the job they’re saying she’s failing to perform? Not to mention that she has tenure so can only be fired for gross negligence?

Linda is doing and has done more to further the mission of Extension (providing accurate gardening information to the public) than any other Extension person in the U.S. – no contest! That’s in addition to work at the state and campus level that we don’t hear about. (Source: this list of her accomplishments in 2015.)

So why the apparent witch hunt? Linda suggests two possible reasons.

  • Many land grant universities have reduced their commitment to Extension education unless it’s funded from outside the university (by, for example, a commodity group). When traditional Extension faculty retire the position is reclassified for another purpose – one that brings in lots of grant overhead dollars. But this is a case of termination due to supposed incompetence – not a retirement issue.
  • In Linda’s case, she heard directly from one administrator – more than once – that “she must have really pissed someone off” to be put into this situation.

It surprises me not one whit that Linda might have pissed off her employer in her 12 years in the job. After all, when it comes to advocating for evidence-based gardening information, she can be tough. She fact-checks anyone and everyone, including Martha Stewart and even her friends. (I know because she once corrected me, and in blunt terms, something that needed to be done.) But this is why academic freedom at universities exists: to express one’s informed views openly and without fear of retaliation.

How to Help
So now’s the time to show your support for Linda and the cause of evidence-based learning by protesting this outrageous move on the part of Washington State University.  Here’s how:

Send a letter or email to Dr. Austin (contact information below). Universities do not like bad publicity, and this is the time to let WSU know that the gardening world is watching. And if you didn’t already know, Washington State University was the birthplace of the Master Gardener program. What an ironic and sad statement that they now seek to terminate a faculty member whose expertise is crucial to these and other gardeners.  Please do it before the end of February, or it may be too late.

Also, contact any media outlets you think may be interested in the issue, especially any in Washington State. Thank you!

Dr. Erica Weintraub Austin
Interim Co-Provost
PO Box 641046
Pullman, WA 99164-1046

Posted by

Susan Harris
on February 2, 2016 at 8:00 am, in the category What’s Happening.


    • Jodi
    • 21st July 2016

    I was appalled to read this, Susan. Linda provides an enormous service to not just gardeners in the US, but far beyond, including here in NS (me, among others). I am contemplating what to do next, but probably a letter and a blog post, given that I reactivated my blog after taking most of last year off from it. Thank you, as always, for all you do.

    • admin
    • 26th August 2016

    Academic freedom does not exist at universities. Those days are long gone. They are businesses now.

    • Layanee
    • 31st August 2016

    Unbelievable! LCS is a maverick in her field and perhaps that is the problem that WSU has with her work. Universiities are driven by politics. I too am appalled at WSU’s reaction to her commitment to accurate and thorough information.

    • Leigh
    • 22nd October 2016

    Linda is one of the best speakers and researchers I’ve heard in recent memory. Her current treatment at WSU is nothing short of appalling and speaks to a corrupt and incompetent administration looking to demonize those with whom it disagrees. I’m familiar with this type of lowbrow, mean-spirited excuse for management by small minded individuals with no concept of actual higher education than their own limited experience. Thus they resort to defamation and outright fabrication to support their own short sighted agenda. I hope some individuals with integrity and intelligence will step up and replace the administration official(s) who find this behavior appropriate and responsible (as it is neither). Linda is an extremely valuable asset to your institution; you are making a huge mistake that all other members of your organization and the public are bearing witness to. An embarrassment to yourselves.

    • Billy Goodnick
    • 26th October 2016

    Just sent email off to Dr. Austin…
    Dr. Austin: I found it jaw-dropingly disturbing to read about the situation that Linda Chalker-Scott currently finds herself in with regard to her position with WSU Extension. I have known Linda professionally for a half-dozen years and can think of no one who does a better job of disseminating useful, factual, scientifically vetted information in a way that lay gardeners can understand and put to use. What higher work could someone in Extension perform?

    • Vas Sladek
    • 30th October 2016
    • Hollywood Palms
    • 6th November 2016

    My email:

    • Ellen Zachos
    • 15th November 2016

    Just sent:

    • Eleanor Altman
    • 5th December 2016

    Dear Susan,

    • Susan Harris
    • 7th December 2016

    Hope this post will help!

    • Susan
    • 7th December 2016

    I also have to wonder if there isn’t someone on the faculty with a personal axe to grind – as in, someone who’s just plain jealous of Linda’s success, both as an educator and as an author. But rather than go to the hard work of carving out their own path to success, it’s much easier to torpedo someone else. I experienced a similar situation in my former working life, and it’s very unpleasant. Hopefully reason will prevail.

    • David Demers
    • 8th December 2016

    AUTHOR’S NOTE: This news release from the American Center for Civil Liberties was sent to 196 professors, administrators, news reporters, free speech advocates and law professors across the country.

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