September 3, 2019
On Strange Times and Volunteerism
We live in strange times. People disagreeing with people is not new, but it is sad that some people seem to only accept one perspective, their own. Some people are quick to argue and quick to violence. They may be mad at themselves, a person, the world, or even something as simple as a ribbon placement.
Extension’s mission is all about people (participants, volunteers, and professionals) learning and working together. The vast majority of our volunteers are great human beings and excellent, respected unpaid representatives of K-State Research and Extension, adhering to an agreed upon Program Code of Conduct. Other volunteers leave us shaking our heads. They may be too obsessive, argumentative, volatile, and/or scary. This article addresses the latter type of volunteers. It is time to stop shaking our heads. In fact, it is long overdue.
This past week we had a situation where a supporter of a just dismissed volunteer issued what I interpret as a death threat to the staff of a local unit and its Extension Board. Luckily, the local unit was prepared. The local unit and its Extension Board were concerned about the aftermath of the dismissal proceedings. They notified and coordinated with local law enforcement prior to the proceedings. Police officers were on duty within earshot and promptly arrested the individual when the threat was made. No one was hurt – physically.
Extension professionals often want to give people the benefit of the doubt. We will work with a volunteer despite their behavior pattern. We may believe we can fix them. We may not want to replace them because they are too good at what they do. We turn a blind eye to their indiscretions.
Volunteers are unpaid representatives of K-State Research and Extension assisting in the delivery of a variety of our Extension programs. People do not have an inalienable right to volunteer for us. From now on, if a volunteer behaves inappropriately, write them up. Notify your local unit leader, your board, and regional director about the issue and the corrective steps you have taken. The regional director will notify the Director for Extension, our Associate Directors and, depending on the volunteer’s program area, either the 4-H Youth Development Program Leader or the appropriate Program Leader Coordinator.
If the volunteer behaves inappropriately again, it is time for the Extension Board to consider dismissal. At any time, if a volunteer tries to intimidate others verbally and or emotionally – document it and move straight to dismissal. If at any time a volunteer inflicts or threatens to inflict (no matter how vague) physical violence, get law enforcement involved, and have the board start dismissal proceedings.
Let me be clear. The protocols in the previous paragraphs are not aimed at volunteers who exhibit poor performance issues. We will provide training and mentoring to help them become better performing volunteers. These protocols are also not for volunteers who want to disagree with us in a professional manner. The above protocols are targeted to volunteers who respond to situations in unprofessional and uncivilized ways that should not be tolerated in civil society and will not be tolerated by K-State Research and Extension.
Local unit Extension professionals, please share this Tuesday Letter article with your Extension Council members.