Morrill Act, 150 years later

On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, creating a national network of colleges and universities that were meant to serve the higher education needs of farmers and laborers across the nation. This radical investment was also meant to foster economic development by stimulating the transfer of knowledge from research into practice on farms, in factories and in families. The uniquely American aspect of the act was the direct investment of resources into the creation of these institutions by grants from the U.S. government. And those grants came in the form of publicly owned land that was turned over to the state government, which in turn could use that land grant to house the university, to sell for capital to use in building the university or both. From that unique concept came the common name for this act and the institutions it helped to support: the Land Grant Act and land-grant colleges and universities.

On July 2, 2012, we will celebrate the sesquicentennial of President Lincoln’s historic endorsement, and given the spirit of the time (it’s only two days before July 4), I thought it would be fun to take some time during our biweekly Michigan State University Extension Update Webinar that day to share reflections about what the Land Grant Act meant and what it means today. From within our staff and among the stakeholders we serve, there are many differing expectations of what it means to be a land-grant university and how we realize those expectations. I think we would all benefit by hearing some of those ideas. We’ll foster dialogue and sharing of these perspectives in several ways.

First, you may want to do some research on the Morrill Act. You can read the actual wording of the law here. You can hear other perspectives on what land grant means today through a 10-minute video posted on the home page of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) here. And you may want to explore some of the exhibits and information associated with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which will feature the anniversary of the Morrill Act on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., June 27–July 1 and July 4–8.

Second, we have opened a discussion forum on the SharePoint site for MSUE All Staff where you can share your reflections on the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.

Third, we will have time for sharing via chat pods during our July 2 MSUE Update Webinar. If you would like to share your thoughts with your colleagues on the webinar verbally, please let me know and we’ll arrange access for up to five individuals to speak on the webinar and share their perspectives with the rest of us.

It’s inspiring to be part of a vision that was created 150 years ago and that is still alive, transforming and improving to meet today’s needs. It’s hard to imagine what President Lincoln’s or Vermont Senator Justin Morrill’s expectations may have been back in 1862. And it’s just as hard to anticipate how our organization and our mission may change and how it may remain the same 150 years into the future.

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