Tag Archives: land-grant university

Gratitude for privilege

I have spent my entire career studying and working in academic institutions. The academic life comes with many privileges and a great deal of flexibility. To me, one of the greatest privileges has been the opportunity to pursue my curiosity. In developing a course syllabus, I had complete independence in determining what information was most important to include in a course of study, how best to present it and how to evaluate student abilities to learn and use that information. My research program was free to range as widely as I wanted, provided I was able to convince someone or some agency that it was worth funding that research.

Others look at an academic career and see the tenure system as the ultimate privilege. Created to protect faculty from undue influence on their pursuit of knowledge, tenure is viewed by some as a form of job security that is rare among professions. It is a privilege with few checks, though many of my colleagues actually consider it a call to duty as much as a license for self-direction.

One of the greatest privileges of this academic life is to have tenure at a land-grant university. That unique privilege grants security in the context of a mission of service. We’re free not only to pursue our curiosity where it leads us, but we’re also charged with a mission to apply that curiosity to knowledge that will help to improve people’s lives, strengthen family integrity, build community vitality and enhance economic sustainability. I think of it as privilege with a mission.

I was reminded of that privilege last night as I visited with the chair of the Menominee County Board of Commissioners, Charlie Meintz. Mr. Meintz is a farmer, and after gaveling the board meeting to adjournment at 7 p.m., he was preparing to go back to work on his farm. The year has conspired to grant him one of those many dilemmas farmers face: he grew a bumper crop of forage and grains, only to have weather conditions stymie his ability to get the bounty out of the field and under cover of barn and bin. Unless the snow was flying, he was planning to climb back into his combine to continue the corn harvest. To turn a twist on the famous Robert Frost poem, he had “acres” to go before he slept.

As I hurried through the bitter wind to my car, I first thought of how grateful I was NOT to be climbing back into a combine like Mr. Meintz. Reflecting on his predicament and admiring his resolve, I came to realize that what I like most about the privilege of my job, of my profession, is that I get to work with and for people like Charlie Meintz.

I get to work at Michigan State University, an institution that strives to assist people like Ralph Wilcox, a commercial fisherman from Brimley who shared with me earlier this year his frustrations over the low water levels in Lake Superior and the challenges those have brought to his fishing efforts.

I get to work at an institution that comes up with innovative ways for a mother in Flint to improve her ability to have a healthy diet on very limited financial resources.

I get to work at an institution that is called upon to help people understand and work through complicated changes such as how to navigate a new system for obtaining health insurance or how to hold on to a home after family finances have been decimated by an economic downturn.

I get to work at an institution that takes pride in admitting a high number of students who are the opposite of “legacy” students: those who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree.

I get to work at an institution that chooses as its tag line something as simple as “Spartans will.”


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Starting a new century

On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that extended the land-grant university concept beyond university campuses to reach into communities across the United States. That legislation is one that created the Cooperative Extension System (CES) as a partnership between the federal government, state governments and county governments. That legislation continues today as the key authorization legislation for the work of Michigan State University Extension. The legislation, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, carries the names of its two primary sponsors, Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia and Representative A.F. Lever of South Carolina. The act’s stated purpose was “. . . to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and to encourage the application of the same, there may be continued or inaugurated in connection with the college of colleges in each State, Territory, or possession . . .”

The Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), which serves as the governing body of the land-grant university Cooperative Extension System, has commissioned an ad hoc committee to plan celebrations of the Smith-Lever Centennial in 2014. At the Galaxy IV Conference in Pittsburgh last week, several sessions and a reception took place to launch the year-long celebration. Some of the highlights of the national celebration can be found at the 100 Years of Extension website and will include a Capitol Hill Reception in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 5 (hosted by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan). This is scheduled to occur at the conclusion of the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) Conference so that citizen delegates to that conference can celebrate the centennial with senators, representatives, congressional staff, administration officials and stakeholders of the national CES network. Then on Thursday, May 8, ECOP will host a convocation of speakers to celebrate the history of Cooperative Extension and to articulate visions for the next century of Cooperative Extension. You can also follow the celebration on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Extension100Years

Although it’s great to have celebrations in our nation’s capital, it seems just as important to celebrate the centennial of Smith-Lever at the state and county levels as well. With that in mind, I’d like to invite your thoughts on how we might celebrate this milestone event. I’m particularly interested in highlighting some of the history of Cooperative Extension in Michigan with our future vision for MSU Extension in the next century. Please take some time to reflect on how we might celebrate Smith-Lever locally and statewide in the first five months of 2014. Share your thoughts with others, and if you’d like to share them more widely, please do so through my blog. Thanks for giving this some thought and for sharing your great ideas with the rest of us. I welcome recommendations from staff, retirees and stakeholders!

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Agriculture Hall rededicated as Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture

On August 29, we had a large turnout of people for the rededication of Agriculture Hall as the Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture. As I wrote in a previous Spotlight, the original Morrill Hall (named “Women’s Dormitory” when first built, and named Morrill Hall only in 1937) was recently torn down due to its deteriorating condition.

The renaming allows the name of Morrill to continue to be honored. Justin Smith Morrill was a U.S. Representative and then Senator who sponsored the Morrill Act, commonly known as the Land Grant Act, which established federal funding for public colleges and universities. Senator Morrill had a vision of providing education to working class families. Michigan State University is the pioneer land-grant institution, becoming a land-grant institution shortly after President Lincoln signed the act into law in 1862. You can view a replica of the act on display in the Kellogg Center on campus.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 expanded the Morrill Act, creating a system in which the land-grant universities oversee our nationwide Extension system. Therefore, we are indebted to Justin Morrill for both the university and our MSU Extension organization.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon spoke to the crowd of about 150 that included current and former faculty and staff members and graduates of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Included were about 40 members of the Morrill family who each received a brick of the original Morrill Hall engraved with the date of the dedication ceremony of the Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture. Several lucky attendees won a raffle to receive commemorative bricks.

President Simon, CANR Dean Fred Poston and members of the Morrill family took part in an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

If you walk past the original Morrill Hall site, you can’t help being surprised by the empty space where once stood a stately structure. President Simon announced that MSU will complete the construction of a plaza on the site, and the plaza will be named Morrill Plaza.

Read more here.

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Happy Birthday to us: The 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act

By Kurt Schindler

This week I’d like to welcome guest author Kurt Schindler, Michigan State University Extension land use educator. Please read our colleague’s reflections on the Morrill Act below:

On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law, creating a national network of colleges and universities 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 (agriculture, home economics, public policy/government, leadership, 4-H, economic development, natural resources, coastal issues and many other related subjects). 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. Michigan State University is Michigan’s land-grant institution, which is why Extension in Michigan is part of MSU, and why Extension provides service to Michigan residents.

We at Michigan State University like to point out MSU was the first land-grant university to be formed (although Penn State wrongly also makes that claim). (Hey, we are supposed to have this particular bias.)

The Morrill Act was expanded with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which created a nationwide Extension system and directed the nation’s land-grant universities to oversee its work. This resulted in an Extension office in virtually every county in the United States. MSU Extension work began before the system was officially organized (and one might say the idea of Extension was copied from the idea born in Michigan). Michigan State College (now MSU) hired its first livestock field agent in 1907. In 1912, the Michigan Legislature authorized county boards of supervisors (now county commissioners) to appropriate funds and levy taxes to further teaching and demonstrations in Extension work. Eleven agricultural agents were named that year. Today, Extension is still funded through Smith-Lever federal funds, state matching funds, county funding, grants, contracts and fees for service. That three-way partnership, federal-state-county, is still a vitally important cooperative effort.

With the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, the first statewide home economics and 4-H youth Extension workers were appointed in Michigan; county home economics agents were appointed beginning in 1915. In the early years of Extension, “demonstration agents” showed or demonstrated new farming or homemaking techniques. Today, Extension agents use a wide variety of information systems to deliver educational information.

The land-grant and Extension idea worked. Many other countries copied the popular concept with India now supporting the largest Extension-like system in the world.

It is 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.

To view a copy of the Morrill Act and to find out more about it, visit the following websites:

Copy of the Morrill Act: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=33&page=transcript

Ten-minute video posted on the home page of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU): http://www.aplu.org/page.aspx?pid=2190

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, 2012: http://www.festival.si.edu/2012/campus_and_community/

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Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most

President Lou Anna Simon provided testimony to the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee yesterday and articulated a 21st century vision of what a land-grant university – THIS land-grant university – needs to do. Our mission is still rooted very much in our service to our state, helping to prepare our residents and our institutions for the challenges and opportunities we will face in the years ahead.

 I hear President Simon quite frequently, and occasionally stakeholders will assert to me that they think Michigan State University has abandoned the land-grant mission. It’s always hard for me to hear those comments, and I respectfully disagree when people make that assertion. I’m grateful for her leadership, and now I have her testimony to refer to for those who disagree with me. I encourage you to read her testimony when you have an opportunity and to pass along what she said by sharing this link with others: http://president.msu.edu/documents/2012_House_Higher_Ed_testimony.pdf. You can find a summary and this link on President Simon’s home page as well.

 So that was nice to hear. What blew me away was a brief video that the president insisted on showing to the committee members. It’s title is MSU: Impacts Across Michigan. Sounds pretty straightforward, I know. The shock for me was the lead story – it was a testimonial from Gordon Berkenpas, CEO of Greendorr Greenhouses, Inc. of Dorr, Michigan, who told of the importance of MSU research and Extension for his business’ success. This was the president’s show, and what she chose to feature was our work. Tom Dudek, senior Extension educator, is shown in the video, and Tom was contacted by the president’s office to arrange for a stakeholder who could tell the story of our impacts in a compelling way. Tom, you succeeded! View the video: 
 What added frosting to the cake was to see that the second impact story featured Dr. Carl Taylor, professor of sociology and a resource for our youth development programs. It shouldn’t be a surprise that MSUE would be tied to stories of impacts from MSU. It’s just nice to have the recognition, and I wanted each of you to know about this as well. Tom Dudek’s work with Greendorr Greenhouses and Dr. Taylor’s work with youth are representative of all that we do to help people improve their lives across Michigan. It’s a proud day to be a member of Team MSU.


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Charging for one-on-one programming

During our September 26 Redesign webinar, we shared information about the draft policy that is being developed on cost recovery for programs in our new structure (you can advance to this section of the September 26 webinar by moving to the 31:50 time mark in the webinar). During the webinar and afterwards, colleagues have shared questions and concerns that are quite welcome and helpful as we think through this policy and design it well. One of my greatest concerns is that we apply this policy consistently throughout the organization. As with any policy, we ultimately must rely on the judgment and integrity of everyone in Michigan State University Extension to apply the policy consistently and yet remain consistent with our other values and policies as well. We are still refining the policy and communications about the policy, but I thought it might be helpful to share a perspective that I didn’t share during the webinar.

 Some see the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and some see MSUE as the stewards or safeguards of the land-grant mission at MSU. My personal opinion is that President Simon holds that responsibility, and having listened carefully to her speeches and having read her communications over the past six years, I am convinced as ever that she is not only committed to our land-grant mission, but she is its chief advocate and proponent. Still, some see changes such as our move to apply fees for repeated education and visits with individuals – whether farms, businesses, families or communities – as an erosion or even abandonment of the land-grant mission. I would argue that this policy is not about the mission. We are stewards of public investments to have access to the resources, experts, research and extension programs, that equip us to translate research into practice. This remains at the core of what we’re doing in our programs – whether we are delivering to one individual or to a group of hundreds through online programs. The issue is about applying those public investments fairly and judiciously to public needs and then applying private investments to the application of these publicly funded resources to private interest needs.

 Reflecting back a few decades, the education mission of MSU was highly subsidized by public funds. In the 1960s, the state of Michigan appropriations covered 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs. Private funds – tuition and fees – covered the other 35 percent. As public investments have weakened in the past four decades, the burden of that funding has shifted more and more to the private interest that benefits from education – the individual students. Today, tuition and fees cover 65 percent of the cost of MSU’s academic programs and public funds cover the remainder. That has been achieved through a series of increases in tuition and fees. If the Board of Trustees had not increased tuition over that time, the ability of MSU to fulfill its education mission and to deliver the quality of education expected from the state’s land-grant university would have been undermined. From the perspective of someone who paid tuition in 1965, the university seems to have moved away from its principle of remaining accessible to the children of all of Michigan’s mothers and fathers. From the perspective of someone paying tuition in 2011, the university seems to be operating like other universities, trying to balance accessibility to all with the need to ensure the integrity of the university with funds need to operate a 21st century university. And as tuition and fees have increased, MSU has become more aggressive about increasing the amount of financial aid available for those who are qualified to study at MSU, but whose resources otherwise limit them from attending.

 MSUE has faced reductions in public investments over the same period. We do not charge tuition, and we do not benefit from the university’s collection of tuition. As we look ahead, it’s not likely that we’ll see a return to higher funding levels for MSUE in the near future. Yet the costs of delivering on the Extension leg of the land-grant mission continue to increase. As stewards of the Extension mission for MSU, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are developing other funding sources so that we can fulfill our mission. There are multiple sources of funding we need to pursue, including contracts and grants from state, federal and non-government sources, gifts from donors (individuals, companies and foundations), and fees for services that serve a specific individual need. So while charging for repeated visits with a farmer or a community or a family may seem out of line with our past practices, it is not out of line with our mission. As long as we are balancing the public investment to serve public needs and expecting private investments for serving private needs, I think we are not only consistent with our mission, but we are acting responsibly to ensure the ongoing availability of our education and applied research services.

 As part of our commitment to serve all residents, we must acknowledge that there may be some individuals who do not have the resources to pay for what clearly serves a private need. In that case, we need to develop a companion policy and set of resources – perhaps resulting from gifts from donors or sponsors – to subsidize the needs of those who lack the ability to pay. Your thoughts on how to develop and implement an explicit “financial aid” policy would be welcome.

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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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