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George McDowell

Professor Emeritus

George Robert McDowell retired from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and was awarded the Emeritus status in January 2005.

During his life of work George essentially had two careers: one in agricultural development in developing countries (1963 – 1971) and one as an academic with a primary extension appointment on the problems of rural communities in Massachusetts (1974 – 1987) and in Virginia (1989 - 2005). After becoming an academic, he mixed his work in rural development in the US with interludes of international work assignments in Zambia (1987 – 1989) and Albania (1994 – 1996).

Working under the auspices of International Voluntary Services (IVS) in South Vietnam, George learned of the immense difficulties of improving agriculture at the grassroots level and of engaging foreign volunteers in such efforts. Because IVS was a precursor of the US Peace Corps, he took his Vietnam experience to Peace Corps in supporting and developing programs for Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) in Kenya and in Malaysia. Rather than engaging PCVs in agricultural production issues, he used volunteers with business education or experience in the operation and management of farmers’ cooperatives and farmers’ associations. The Land Settlement program with which he worked in Kenya (1965 – 1968) was considered the best Peace Corps program in the world at that time.

After eight years working in Vietnam, Kenya, and Malaysia, George earned a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University. He then took Extension positions working on the problems of rural communities, first at the University of Massachusetts (1974 – 1987) and then at Virginia Tech (1989 – 2005) as noted above.

All academics have an obligation to write, even those with primarily extension or classroom teaching appointments. 

“The Agricultural Establishment – Giving Farmers Too Much of What They Want and Not Enough of What They Need.” CHOICES, March 2004.

Engaged Universities:  Lessons from the Land-Grant Universities and Extension.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Volume 585. January 2003.

Land-Grant Universities and Extension into the 21st Century: Renegotiating or Abandoning a Social Contract. Ames, Iowa. Iowa State University Press.  2001. (See free access to read or copy this book or portions thereof.) 

“Some Communities are Successful, Others are Not: Toward an Institutional Framework for Understanding the Reasons Why.” Twice published. Chapter in Rural Development Strategies, Sears and Reid editors. Nelson-Hall Publishers. 1995; Chapter in The Transfer of Power: Decentralization in Central and Eastern Europe. Kimball editor, Soros Foundation Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative, Budapest, Hungary. 1999.  (Translated into multiple Eastern European languages)

How Far from Central Planning to a Market Economy? A View from Albania.” CHOICES, June 1997.

“Tribal Ritual Among the Agecon.” Review of Agricultural Economics, December 1997. (With J.H. Bahn)

"Paying for Schooling in Virginia: A Citizen's Guide to School Finance."  REAP Publication   R007, Virginia Tech, 1992. (With Elias and Driscoll)

The State of Rural Virginia: A Graphic Representation.  Virginia Cooperative Extension Service and Rural Economic Analysis Program (REAP), Department of Agricultural Economics, Virginia Tech., Blacksburg, VA.  November 1989.  (With Austin, Elias, Stallman and White).

"The Political Economy of Extension Program Design: Institutional Maintenance Issues in the Organization and Delivery of Extension Programs", AJAE, November 1985.

"The Role of Economic Analysis in Local Government Decision-making - A Public Choice Perspective," Journal of the Northeastern Agricultural Economics Council, Spring 1980.

The Federal Granting System - A Guide for Local Governments in Massachusetts, 56 pages, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Massachusetts, May 1978.  (With D. Donahue, D. Levitan and C. Newell), Second print run November 1978. (Publication describes the system of US Federal largess available as embodied in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. At the time of writing this guide the CFDA was over 400 pages in a huge ring binder. After publication of our “guide” the CFDA referenced it in its introduction as an aid to users seeking to use information from the Catalog. The Catalog is now fully computerized.)

Public Writing in Retirement:

The following are published letters or commentaries to the editor the Roanoke Times over the last several years:

  • When We “Pledge Allegiance” What Does That Mean? Oct 3, 2022
  • McDowell: Has ‘Big Arma’ made us ‘Gun-sick’? Sept 4, 2022
  • Governance and Politics in a Multicultural Society Aug 3, 2022
  • “Oh, Oh Freedom, Oh, Oh Freedom” Apr 21, 2022
  • When Racial Profiling Reveals Lies. June 15, 2021
  • What if I was a Black man? May 27, 2021
  • Open Letter to Rep. Morgan Griffith. May 2, 2021
  • A Failed Coup. Mar 14, 2021
  • Thinking about Schools and the Economy – Complex Issues. Mar 5, 2021
  • “Click it or Ticket” vs. “Mask it or Casket – for Someone” Dec 12, 2020
  • What’s the Risk? Seat Belt or Mask? Nov 11, 2020
  • The Problem of the Police is an Attitude of Policing by Force and Not by Consent. July 6, 2020
  • To Successfully Reopen the Economy, You Must First Know How It Works.  May 31, 2020
  • An Economic Story About What is and What Isn’t Socialism.  Mar 13, 2020
  • Is America a Cultural Melting Pot or a Fruit Salad?  Oct 15, 2019
  • On the Removal of Confederate Symbols from Public Display.  Dec 22, 2017

Land-Grant Universities and Extension into the 21st Century

Since the book is out of print, McDowell has reclaimed its copy right. Those who wish to copy it in whole or in part may do so with the normal requirements of scholarly attribution in use of the material or ideas.

Review by Richard J. Sauer:

“I spent 33 years working in or in partnership with the Land- Grant University System and the Cooperative Extension System. I have never before seen anyone analyze the strengths and weaknesses, contributions and future potential, as eloquently or candidly as Dr. McDowell. Land-Grant University leaders -- presidents, deans, directors and faculty -- should read this book and take the message to heart. Most importantly, they should use it to rise to action, making the bold changes that could make this public university and extension system as valuable to this country in the 21st century as it was in the first half of the 20th century. It is the action that is so needed; it is overdue and needs to be bold. Dr. McDowell's analysis can guide such action.”

Sauer is former President and CEO of the National 4-H Council, Interim President of the University of Minnesota, Vice President of the U of Minn. Institute of Agriculture, Forestry, and Home Economics, Director of the U of Minn. Agricultural Experiment Station, Professor and Head, Department of Entomology at Kansas State University, Acting Agricultural Experiment Station Director and Associate Professor of Entomology at Michigan State University.

Please be sure to read the Forward to the book by Paul A Miller, for a larger context to it. That may be better than the book itself for some scholars.  Dr. Miller was an extension agent in West Virginia from 1939-1942; professor and extension specialist in sociology at Michigan State University, 1947-1955; Deputy Director and Director of Extension, Michigan State University, 1955-1961; Provost, Michigan State University, 1959-1961; President, West Virginia University 1962-1966; Asst. Secretary for Education, HEW, 19661968; President, Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology, 1969-1979; among other positions.