By Bev Durgan, Dean, University of Minnesota Extension
As you join together to celebrate American accomplishments this Fourth of July, take a few moments to remember the individuals who turned innovative ideas into a treasured part of the American experience.
One such individual with a big idea was Justin Morrill, a Vermont merchant and farmer. He believed that every state should have a land-grant college to benefit agriculture and industrial productivity.
Like many big, new ideas, it was not popular at first. Morrill failed initially to get others to understand his controversial idea, but he kept trying. Eventually, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln shared in his vision.
As a result, the Morrill Act creating a land-grant college system became law on July 2, 1862. Places like the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, Cornell University and Iowa State University exist because of the Morrill Act.
This year, the University of Minnesota and the nation’s other 105 land-grant institutions will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act. This historic milestone will be a time for reflection and for celebrating the accomplishments of the land-grant college system.
High yielding hybrid seed corn, tasty Honeycrisp™ apples and disease-preventing livestock vaccines exist because of the land-grant system. The land grants are also home to medical discoveries that improved heart health and research that led to advances in computer technology.
But, the land grants are more than big discoveries. They are also the quiet success stories that change lives — the child who learns leadership in a 4-H club, the student who lifts her family out of poverty because of a land-grant college education and the immigrant family that improves its eating habits with help from an Extension nutrition educator.
The wonderful things that happen at — and because of — land-grant colleges trace their origin to the vision of Morrill and Lincoln. Their vision and foresight was even more remarkable because they did not live in easy times.
When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, our country was divided by the Civil War, the Union Army was in retreat and money was tight. Despite the troubled times, Lincoln forged ahead with a bold decision to create a better America. A century and a half of cooperation and investment by state and federal governments turned the vision of the Morrill Act into a reality.
Today, times are again not easy and some have suggested retreating from the land-grant vision. Yet, the need for an educated work force, public research and outreach may be even greater today than it was 150 years ago. The 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act on July 2 is a reminder of what the land-grant system has accomplished already and what it can do in the future.
University of Minnesota Extension strives to achieve the vision of Justin Morrill and Abraham Lincoln to create a better future through research, education and outreach. My hope is that the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act inspires us all to share in this same spirit to assure an even brighter future for America.
Bev Durgan is the dean of University of Minnesota