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



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
[email protected]


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

    I drew attention to her work for my national reading audiences when I blogged and wrote a column for Fine Gardening Magazine for many years and use some of her published material in my landscape design curriculum at the community college where I teach. Students gobble up the information, and her clear, engaging communication style makes it that much more accessible for beginning students.

    I strongly support Linda’s continued work in her position as it is not only a boon to gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, but to anyone who appreciates real, verifiable science-based information over mass commercial advertising and the hearsay that passes for good gardening information.


    Billy Goodnick
    landscape architect :: author :: educator

  5. My email:

    Dear Dr. Austin,

    In reference to :

    I am not in the habit of communicating to out-of-state vice-provosts in defense of tenured professors, but I am compelled to contact you and to ask you to better explain to the larger gardening community why you are considering dismissing Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. I am avid reader of Dr. Chalker-Scott’s excellent research, books and web postings.

    As a co-founder of the Southern California Ti Society and Vice-President of the Southern California Hibiscus Society, a member of of the Southern California and International Palm Societies, I heartily recommend her work to others, highlighting its science-based, well-written and approachable horticultural stance. In a world of gimmicks, questionable marketing schemes and folk remedies, Dr. Chalker-Scott stands head and shoulders above so many other available resources.

    And as a professor media studies, why on earth would you target a women scientist above the age of 40 who has a great reputation, both in and out of the academy? Your stated research areas are, “Uses and effects of communication in decision making and social development, particularly in the areas of politics and health.” Seriously? You and your staff efforts at communication appear to be failing. To cut you and your staff off at the pass, replying to the community that this is a “personnel matter” will not quell the uproar. I, and many others, are sharing this concern through social media.

    The work of an extension office is not county or state wide. As gardeners, horticultural professionals and consumers, we use the research and data from extension offices and their affiliated staff through out the world. How wonderful that WSU has such a fine ambassador as Dr. Chalker-Scott. I urge you to reflect upon your support of Dr. Chalker-Scott, her mission and standing. I hope to hear that you are giving her a vote of confidence, more funding and a wider portfolio.

    Most sincerely

  6. Just sent:

    Dear Dr. Austin,

    I am writing in support of Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott and in opposition to your current investigation of her qualifications and job performance.

    As anyone who knows Dr. Chalker-Scott can attest, her work is intelligent, thorough, and accessible. The implication that she might be either incompetent or negligent would be hilarious if it weren’t so distressing. I suspect the motivation for this investigation to be anything but science-based; it reeks off politics.

    The horticultural education community is a small but well-connected one, and as word of your behavior circulates it does not reflect well on WSU. Dr. Chalker-Scott is an ambassador for both WSU and extension education in general. Her superlative work as a speaker and author speaks for itself.

    As a former instructor and Coordinator of the Gardening Department in Continuing Ed at the NYBG, I have high standards when it comes to horticultural education. There are few people whom I recommend without hesitation; Dr. Chalker-Scott is one such person. If I see her name on a program, I attend that program. If I see her name on a book, I recommend that book. I hope that upon reexamination you realize that without Dr. Chalker-Scott, the department may be known more for letting her go than for any actual achievement. Please do not let that happen.

    Ellen Zachos

  7. Dear Susan,

    Can’t thank you enough for this excellent post about the plight of Linda Chalker-Scott. Obviously it is a witch hunt and if one dug deeper, I suspect one would find violations of federal discrimination law. As soon as I calm down, I will also compose a letter of support for Linda. OMG! How can this happen to someone who exemplifies academic professionalism and a tireless commitment to public outreach based in science? Stupidity!

    Again, thank you, Susan.

    Eleanor Altman

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    February 3, 2016

    Academics, Gardeners Outraged at WSU’s Attempts to Fire Popular Extension Professor: WSU Accused of Violating American Association of University Professors’ Guidelines

    Some gardeners and academics are reacting with outrage to the news that Washington State University administrators are trying to fire a highly popular tenured extension professor, especially because they are doing so under a policy that violates guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors.
    The target of termination is Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture who has written several popular books on gardening and is co-founder of Garden Professors, a 4,900-member Facebook group.
    “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!” posted gardening administrators at “That’s in addition to work at the state and campus level that we don’t hear about.”
    “I was appalled to read this,” posted Jody, a GardenRant user. “Linda provides an enormous service to not just gardeners in the United States, but far beyond, including here in NS (Nova Scotia) … .”
    “Unbelievable!” a gardener named Layanee posted to the site. “LCS is a maverick in her field and perhaps that is the problem that WSU has with her work. Universities are driven by politics. I too am appalled at WSU’s reaction to her commitment to accurate and thorough information.”
    “Academic freedom does not exist at universities,” Benjamin Voigt wrote in defense of Chalker-Scott. “Those days are long gone. They are businesses now.”
    According to documents and information posted at the GardenRant website (see link at end of this article), Dr. Erica Austin, interim co-provost and a professor of communication at WSU, accused Chalker-Scott of failing to meet performance expectations, including failing to develop an applied research program, failing to generate enough research grant monies, and failing to publish in refereed journals.
    However, information posted at the GardenRant website shows that in 2015 alone, Chalker-Scott spoke at 26 seminars, published two refereed journal articles, got a third refereed article accepted for publication, wrote and obtained a publisher for another book titled 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 Horticulture. In addition, Science Citations reported that in 2015 her work was cited 89 times by other scholars, bringing her lifetime total to 904 citations.
    Chalker-Scott told GardenRant that she believes the university is trying to fire her in part because it wants to hire a faculty member who will generate more grant money. Chalker-Scott’s original job description did not require her to raise grant funds; however, in 2015, she nonetheless brought in nearly $90,000 in grant, donation and contract money and submitted three more grants totaling more than $130,000. The university’s attempt to punish Chalker-Scott may violate contract law.
    But even if the evidence somehow showed that Chalker-Scott was failing to perform adequately, the university is still violating guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors, according to Dr. David Demers, director of the American Center for Civil Liberties and a former WSU professor.
    “AAUP has made it very clear that it is inappropriate for university administrators to terminate tenured faculty through annual reviews and especially to do so without the assistance of a faculty-elected committee to oversee the administrative process,” Demers said. “WSU is violating both of those guidelines, even though the WSU Faculty Manual specifically says the university ‘subscribes to’ AAUP principles on academic freedom and tenure. What’s more, you’d think the university would know better after a federal appeals court two years ago chastised it for trying to argue that faculty do not deserve free-speech rights when criticizing administrators on public matters related to teaching or scholarship.”
    Demers was the plaintiff in that case; Austin, the interim provost, was the lead defendant and, at the time, interim dean of the Murrow College.
    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Demers v. Austin et al. (2014) that a 7-Step Plan Demers had created to improve the quality of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication was protected speech. WSU President Elson Floyd’s administration, Austin and three other defendants tried but failed to convince the court that faculty do not deserve First Amendment rights when speaking in their “professional” or service-related roles. Floyd died in 2015.
    “WSU has a history of violating First Amendment rights of students and faculty,” Demers said. “That history was posted at the university’s Wikipedia listing until sometime in 2015, when someone deleted it.”
    “Administrative bullying doesn’t happen at the University of Washington or the University of Oregon because those universities have a strong commitment to academic freedom and free speech,” Demers said. “But at WSU, administrators who lack that commitment seem to be the ones who are promoted. Let’s hope the next president of WSU will demonstrate a real commitment to the First Amendment and eliminate the regressive termination policy and install administrators who respect the principle of academic freedom.”
    University officials have refused to divulge the numbers of tenured faculty they have fired during the past decade. In 2010, a high-ranking WSU official acknowledged that it was somewhere between five and ten.
    Demers resigned from his position in 2012 to spend more time writing. He dropped the lawsuit in 2014, after the Appeals Court issued its ruling and after the university paid his attorneys $120,000.

    For more information about the Chalker-Scott case, see

    For more information on WSU’s efforts to stifle faculty speech, see

    Dr. David Demers, Director
    American Center for Civil Liberties
    16421 North 31st Avenue
    Phoenix, Arizona 85053
    [email protected]

  10. I’m not anyone in the gardening world, but I sent an email. My daughter was a 4-H member throughout her childhood, and the support of 4-H by county extension offices is vital. I hope that things will be resolved satisfactorily.

  11. I just discovered Susan’s post when I explored the 2016 SF Garden Show roster of speakers and saw Dr. Chalker-Scott on the list.

    I’m shocked. I have 33 years experience as a professional maintenance gardener. Dr. Chalker-Scott’s information posted on The Garden Professor’s Blog has allowed me to bring a critical level of integrity and horticulture expertise to my business!!!

    Just sent an email to Dr. Austin.

  12. If you are not familiar with what WSU Extension faculty do, here is the list of criteria that we are expected to meet. Note there is no mention of a research program or acquiring grants, which are the reasons being used to find me incompetent in my job. (From the WSU faculty manual, page 62:

    (2) Criteria for Extension Faculty

    Extension faculty represent the University within the state. Primary criteria for evaluating extension faculty for possible advancement in rank and tenure follow:

    (a) Effectiveness in analyzing problems of individuals, groups and communities, and in planning necessary work.
    (b) Ability to organize and utilize the resources of the people, the University, and government agencies in carrying out programs.
    (c) Ability to speak and write effectively and to communicate research findings, new applications, problems and ideas to others.
    (d) Service to the institution and public.
    (e) Professional development, professional achievement and professional recognition.

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