Sunday, September 18, 2011

Land Grant Universities: Brought to You by Liberals

Central kitchen, University of Wisconsin, circa 1900.
If you're a fan of a school like Penn State, the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, University of Nebraska, Purdue,  University of Florida, or University of California-Berkley, you're a fan of a Land Grant University.
In 1862, Congress passed a law known as the Morrill Land Grant Act, whereby the federal government bestowed upon participating states 30,000 acres of land for each Senator and Representative sent to Washington. The states were to use the land grants to build and finance colleges "to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education"  (Washington State University Extension).

The Morrill Act was opposed by politicians from most southern states, who saw it as a big-government intrusion into education. When first introduced in 1859, the bill passed but was vetoed by President James Buchanan. After southern secession, Congressional politics was dominated by northern liberals. The Morrill Act passed and Lincoln signed it into law in 1862.

Passage of the Morrill Act led to establishment of state Agricultural Experiment Stations through the Hatch Act of 1887. The experiment stations are housed in the Land Grant Universities and carry out some world-class scientific research.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created County Extension offices to form a nexus between the scientists and the farmers. County 4H (head, heart, hands and hustle) is supported by funding authorized by the Smith-Lever Act.

It's hard to imagine any government law or program that did more to build the American middle class than the Morrill Land Grant University Act.  Next time you visit a doctor trained at a land grant university or buy a prize-winning steer from a a proud youngster at the County Fair, you might remember it all started with the Land Grant Act, a bill introduced in congress by a liberal Vermont Senator named Justin Smith Morrill.

Photo Credit: Cornell University Library