Tag Archives: association of public and land-grant universities

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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Thanks and giving

On the eve of our annual feast, I am reminded of the close connection between this holiday and 4-H. One of the capstone events available through 4-H is the National 4-H Congress, and it begins on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ends on the following Tuesday. National 4-H Congress used to be held in Chicago, and although I wasn’t in Michigan at that time, I can imagine that quite a few Michigan 4-H youth participated in that event. Today’s National 4-H Congress has changed considerably. It has moved south, presented in Atlanta, Georgia, each year instead of Chicago. And the event has taken a turn towards service, recognizing youth for their service in 4-H, and then reinforcing that with speakers and events that give great examples of others who have served their clubs, their communities, their country or their world. Eighteen 4-H youth from Lapeer, Shiawassee, Ingham, Monroe, Hillsdale, Branch, Menominee, Marquette and St. Joseph counties will represent Michigan, this year. They will be joined by Pat Waugh, Michigan State University Extension 4-H youth educator from Lapeer County, and Frank Cox, 4-H youth educator from Muskegon County, as leaders and chaperones.  Chelsea Carl, 4-H youth from Branch County, was selected from a national application pool to serve on the 2012 National 4-H Congress Youth Leadership Team. I serve on the Board of Directors for National 4-H Congress and will join the group in Atlanta early next week in time for the board meeting, which follows the closing of the event. Monday is the highlight of the event from my perspective. That is the day when all of the youth, gathered from across the nation, go into the schools and neighborhoods of Atlanta to carry out service projects. Youth also raise funds to help pay for the construction of a new home through Habitat for Humanity. So as many of us are tempted to sleep in on Friday morning (or go shopping), keep in mind those youth from Michigan and elsewhere who will be heading out for Atlanta.

 The connection between 4-H and Thanksgiving reminded me of a story I posted just a few weeks ago about a youth from Kent County, Nate Seese, whose service is the subject of a video contributed as part of the 4-H Revolution of Responsibility campaign. Nate tells the story of deciding to donate the meat from livestock he raised as part of his 4-H project to a local food bank to help ensure that families facing budget challenges would still have access to protein in their diets. Nate’s desire and commitment to give is inspiring for all of us. And as is so often the case, his generosity draws out generosity from others – the bidders at the 4-H auction agree to make the livestock available for the food bank, a local meat locker agreed to donate their butchering and preparation services, and the food bank volunteers help to distribute the meat. National 4-H Council hosted Cooperative Extension directors and administrators from across the country at a luncheon in San Francisco recently, a part of the program at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Convention. During the luncheon, Andy Ferrin, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at National 4-H Council, showed Nate’s video to the entire group gathered for lunch. I was humbled to see Nate’s story told again – humbled by his generosity and inspired by his leadership. Ultimately, the Thanksgiving holiday is a holiday that reminds us that we depend on others around us in so many ways. Those who grow crops and livestock, those who get food to the store or market where we buy it, those who help us understand how to prepare food safely, and on and on. The best way to express thanks is to give. And Nate reminded me of that with his story. Enjoy this unique and special holiday as many 4-H youth will in Atlanta this weekend – by giving to others.


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Anyone for chestnuts?

Whether you roast them on an open fire or grind them up to make a distinctive beer, chestnuts are highly prized and hard to find. The American chestnut was one of the most common and economically important tree species in the forests of eastern North America up until the early 20th Century. Its demise is attributable to the introduction of a fungal disease, the chestnut blight, caused by Cryphonectria parasitica. Over the past 30 years, a team of scientists from 16 U.S. universities, the U.S. Forest Service, the American Chestnut Foundation and the Ontario Horticultural Research Institute has been collaborating to develop varieties of American chestnut that are resistant to the disease and new management practices to reduce impacts of the disease on stands of chestnut trees, and to better understand how a virus that infects the fungus can be used to protect chestnut stands. The team members’ integrative and collaborative approach earned them the Excellence in Multi-state Research Award from the United States Department of Agriculture recently at the annual conference of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Michigan State University has been involved in the project from the outset and has provided leadership for the group in the work of Dr. Dennis Fulbright, professor of plant pathology. The official name of the group is NE-1033, Biological Improvement of Chestnut Through Technologies that Address Management of the Species, its Pathogens and Pests. Congratulations to Dennis and the team for their recognition, and thanks for working to ensure that one day these majestic trees will be restored as the “Redwoods of the East” in Michigan and other eastern forests.

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Land-grant leadership in the 21st century

At an early stage in our Michigan State University Extension redesign process, I had the opportunity to ask President Simon to share her vision for what our change process should achieve. She told me that she expected to create a model for Cooperative Extension that is relevant to and addresses the needs of Michigan in the 21st century. That vision has been at the center of my thoughts as we have gone through this process. That she chose the word “create” has been especially significant for me. To create suggests that we really are making something new and not just adjusting what we’ve been. It’s a more radical concept of change and suggests that we’re doing much more than “moving the chairs around on the deck (of a sinking ship).” It also calls for a new culture in MSUE, refocusing us on program delivery in ways that we would adopt if we were just creating Extension in today’s times with today’s technologies and today’s understanding of organizations.

 Just as the clients our Product Center innovation counselors serve are going through the start-up phases of their enterprises, we in MSUE are going through the startup phase of an enterprise. The main difference is that ours is an enterprise with many years of experience and insight and achievement that can inform our change process. But we really are feeling many of the uncertainties and anxieties that go along with an individual or team going through the process of creating a new business, farming operation, community organization or family.

 I heard a somewhat similar perspective on our role in the 21st century at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) meeting in Dallas, Texas, this week. Dr. Gordon Gee, president of The Ohio State University (twice), and former president of other land-grant and private universities, spoke about the role of land-grant universities in the 21st century. The motivation for his address was the fact that in 2012, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passage and signing of the Morrill Act that engaged the federal government in the experiment that pioneers in Michigan had begun seven years earlier. President Gee spoke to the importance of access for all and economic development at the farm and business level in the case that was made for creating land-grant colleges and universities in 1862. Like President Simon, he pointed out that those needs are still great in our communities, our nation and the world, and he challenged the U.S. to recommit itself to this great land-grant university experiment into the future. He called for legislation that would reenact the original Morrill Act. What a provocative idea! Although the words he used are slightly different from President Simon’s, President Gee’s intent was clearly in the direction of creating the land grants anew, rather than simply perpetuating them as they were at their outset. A recommitment should accomplish more than perpetuating. It should achieve a new model for access to university resources and should address the big economic opportunities of our times.

 At another session at APLU, our own Dr. Rick Foster, Greening Michigan Institute director, was asked what land-grant universities need most in order to address the most challenging aspects of America’s economic revitalization. His answer was not what audience members expected. He said that the singular most important asset for a university was to have a president who could articulate and lead towards a vision that propels land-grant universities to create new economic opportunities and enhance the quality of life. Some of those visions will take decades to achieve. But if other land-grant universities have leaders like MSU and OSU, I think we can all succeed in creating something new that will have lasting impacts on the people we serve across the nation.


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