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2004 Justin Smith Morrill Lecture

Adapting Justin Morrill’s Vision to a New Century: The Imperative of Change for Land-Grant Universities
Given by Martin C. Jischke, President, Purdue University
National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges Annual Meeting
November 14, 2004, San Diego, CA
Jischke Biography

Good morning. It is a great honor to be given the opportunity to present this Justin Smith Morrill lecture. I know and admire many of the distinguished educators who have given this lecture in previous years. It is a special honor to be asked to join them in talking about the great land-grant college tradition we are carrying forward today.

I have spent 45 years in higher education: first as a student, next as a faculty member and now as a university president. Half of that time has been in land-grant universities, including MIT, the University of Missouri, Iowa State and now Purdue. I have led three land-grant universities, and I have spoken often and proudly about Justin Smith Morrill and his vision for higher education. I have talked about the power of his ideas and the potential of his vision for many, many years. But for me, Morrill’s dream of opening the doors of higher education to the American people is more than ideas, vision and speeches.

As the proud son of a clerk, the grandson of a farmer and the first person in my family to earn a college degree, I have lived Justin Morrill’s dream of education, opportunity and, I hope, service. To me Justin Morrill is one of America’s great heroes whose impact on our democracy and way of life has been quite profound for now 142 years.

The Morrill Land Grant Act was a very powerful, indeed revolutionary, set of new and distinctive ideas that first challenged and then changed the entire concept of higher education in our nation. In the early 19th century, universities were modeled after European institutions that existed to educate the male leisure class and government and religious leaders along with members of the professions.

The Morrill Act was about creating, through our national government, an entirely American kind of university. This was a concept for higher education that was deeply rooted in the American democratic ideal that opportunity should be available to everyone and that education was the vehicle for that opportunity.

Justin Morrill, who had no formal education beyond secondary school, believed education could provide people access to the American dream. A congressman who later became a U.S. senator, Morrill had some very, very big ideas.

First, he believed that land-grant universities should and could provide both liberal and practical education and training. In a speech to his home state Vermont Legislature in 1888, Morrill explained: “The fundamental idea was to offer an opportunity in every state for a liberal and larger education to larger numbers, not merely to those destined to sedentary professions, but to those needing higher instruction for the world's business, for the industrial pursuits and professions of life.”

Second, he believed that over time these institutions would evolve a research agenda. He believed that agenda would not only be basic and focused on understanding the world, but also that it would be practical and, in particular, bring science and discovery to America’s farms.

Third, and perhaps the most radical idea in the land-grant vision, was the notion that these institutions should extend themselves and be engaged in outreach and become the natural partners of America in the 19th century.

These were all bold new ideas, and it took courage and persistence to accomplish them. As with all visionaries with an agenda for change, Morrill found that his ideas were not initially embraced by everyone.

His first proposal struggled through Congress in 1858 and 1859. It then was vetoed by President Buchanan, a fact Justin Morrill neither forgot nor forgave. In June of 1862, while promising to deliver a speech without the “pepper and spice of party or sectional politics,” Congressman Morrill nonetheless noted: “Among other sins which (former) President Buchanan now has leisure to repent ’is his veto . . .’ of the land grant bill.”

Morrill persevered, and, in 1862, persuaded another bold American leader, Abraham Lincoln, to sign the act that now bears Morrill’s name. In the year of its passage, 1862, Morrill said of the land-grant act: “It is a measure that should have been initiated at least a quarter-century ago. And if it had been, “our taxable resources would now have been far greater than they are, agriculture might long ere this have felt its influence, (and) the statistics of the country might have been more abundant and valuable.”

This is a man who understood at the very onset the full and far-reaching implications of this fundamental change in American higher education. But he wasn’t merely changing education. He planned to use education to change people and ultimately a nation. The richness and full flowering of Morrill’s land-grant vision took nearly half a century to develop and it is still growing today.

It was not the Morrill Act of 1862 alone that brought sweeping change to the American educational landscape. The transformation also included: The Hatch Act of 1887 creating the agricultural experimentation stations; the Second Morrill Act of 1890, which led to creation of 17 historically black land-grant colleges; and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which created cooperative extension. Ultimately in 1994, 29 Native American tribal colleges gained land-grant status.

All of this in the land-grant chronology was very much a forward-looking and outward-looking agenda, an agenda for America. It was more than an agenda for higher education. It was an agenda for the country. I believe it was fundamentally an agenda for our emerging democracy. Like all great plans, it was noble, inspiring and yet, at the same time, pragmatic. It was designed very much for the America of 1862, a largely rural country with agriculture at the center of its economy.

The focus on agriculture and its underlying sciences — home economics, and veterinary medicine — was very much responsive to the America that Morrill saw changing around him. It was initially very much a partnership between the federal government and the states, but later also the counties of those states through cooperative extension. The impact of all this has been utterly profound. History has proven Morrill quite accurate in his vision.

Today, there are 105 land-grant institutions. Land-grant universities enroll about 3 million students and produce about a half a million graduates every year. Land-grant universities spend more than $13 billion each year for teaching, research and public service. During the history of land-grant institutions, 20 million degrees have been awarded. Land-grant institutions award one-third of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees, one-third of all master’s degrees, and 60 percent of all Ph.D.s. Land-grant institutions award 70 percent of all engineering degrees.

Land-grant universities have always been among the leaders in inclusion. They were among the first to advance educational opportunities for women and minorities. If Justin Morrill returned today, he would be justifiably proud of not only the land-grant higher education system that he created, but the impact it has had on our nation and, indeed, the world.

But as he would marvel at all that has been accomplished, I believe at the same time Justin Morrill would also be concerned about his land-grant universities and their role in 21st century America. In the 142 years since President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, our nation has changed dramatically, and our entire system of higher education has changed with it.

First — America at the start of the 21st century is quite different from the America of 1862 when the land-grant concept was designed. In 1862, the population of the United States was about 31 million. Today, it is approaching 300 million. In 1862, 60 percent of all jobs were directly connected to agriculture. Today, that number is less than 2 percent. In 1860, 80 percent of the U.S. population was rural. Today, nearly 80 percent live in urban areas. America today is an urbanized country. And this urbanized nation has changing needs. In 1862, the least educated of Americans lived in rural areas. Today, the least educated are often found in our urban centers.

Second — agriculture itself has changed dramatically since the mid-19th century. One hundred fifty years ago, we needed 60 percent of the population on farms to feed the nation. Those farmers were able to get all the assistance they needed through university schools of agriculture. Today, the food system is no longer just production agriculture but includes engineering, management, marketing, nutrition as well as science including modern biology. And today, with barely 2 percent of the population engaged in farming, we are producing more food than ever before.

America enjoys the most abundant, safest, relatively cheapest food supply in the world, in no small measure because of the impact of these land-grant universities. At the same time, U.S. Census figures show a drop of nearly 350,000 farms since 1978. With this drop in the rural agricultural constituency comes an attendant drop in political influence.

The face of farming is also changing. For example, the role of women has changed dramatically. Farming was virtually 100 percent male in 1862. In a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Penn State University survey of farm women in 2001, 81 percent of the women said they were actively involved in the farm; 10 percent said they were the principal farm operator; nearly 33 percent said they were involved as a business manager or helper. The sophistication of the large-scale producers who produce the majority of America’s crops today means that the expertise they need and regularly access is no longer county-based or even state-based. The large-scale producers either develop their own research capacity or go to the best people in the country.

Off-farm income has also become a key to survival for the vast majority of farmers, which means that non-agricultural economic development is absolutely pivotal to today’s rural counties.

Research suggests that the price support programs of the federal government have not been altogether effective in fostering rural economic development. They certainly have helped keep food prices down, but they don’t foster the growth of the broader rural economy. The issues of rural America today go beyond agriculture. They include economic development, the environment, health care, a growing diversity and poverty. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an increasingly smaller piece of federal support for rural development. Other agencies of the federal government, including, for example, the Department of Commerce, are taking on a larger and more important role.

To serve these rural communities, land-grant universities must partner with a wider range of federal agencies including the National Science Foundation , the Department of Commerce, the National Institutes of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others. For example, the manufacturing extension program is not housed in Agriculture; it is housed in the Department of Commerce.

Agricultural enrollments today are less than 10 percent of land-grant universities. Agriculture and the issues surrounding agriculture remain central to us, as they should. But it is a different kind of agriculture that requires a much broader range of university capacities. For modern agriculture to prosper, access to the entire University is needed not simply to the assets in agriculture, veterinary medicine and home economics. To serve modern agriculture well, we must bring in the capacities of engineering, technology, pharmacy, nursing and health sciences. We have to bring in modern management programs. And more generally, the liberal arts and sciences have to be embraced.

Science is changing agriculture. And the ability to understand and serve the world markets for agriculture requires the liberal arts. At the dawn of the 21st century, it takes a whole university to support a prosperous agricultural system.

Third — land-grant universities themselves have changed and are now part of a much more complex system of higher education, one that is quite different from the system Justin Morrill nurtured through the last half of the 19th century. There has been an emergence of non land-grant public universities. Community colleges and vocational technical institutions have emerged as part of a system of higher education that now enrolls 16 million students. Barely 20 percent of these students are in land-grant universities.

America has more than 4,000 institutions of higher education. And the programs that were originally at the heart of the land-grant curriculum — agriculture, veterinary medicine, home economics — today constitute a relatively small fraction of the total enrollment of these institutions. The land-grant agenda of access, practical and liberal education, basic and applied research, along with outreach, extension and engagement, is now clearly shared with many other institutions. As a result, the centrality of our land-grant universities to the vital issues facing contemporary society is less clear and unique than it was 100, 50 or even 25 years ago.

These issues include economic development, K-12 education, health care, community renewal, homeland security and the challenge of poverty, especially its impact on children. Virtually every university in the nation today is addressing some or all of these issues and promoting their ability to be a key player in the progress of their state.

Fourth — funding of public universities is very different today from what it was in the 1860s when the land-grant model was conceived. The contribution to our budgets that come from the original land-grant model is minuscule. Tuition has become a much larger fraction of our budgets. Throughout the nation for many years, state support as a percentage of our total general fund has been in decline. As the cost of higher education continues to rise and states find themselves with limited revenue and no taste for tax increases, we can expect to see this trend continue in the years ahead.

And fifth — generally, the American society, including in particular our economy, is taking on a regional structure rather than a municipal or county-based structure. While this regionalization is taking place, land-grant extension remains a county-based system. In addition, there is growing evidence that the political support that land-grant universities have historically enjoyed is increasingly fragile.

Facing nearly a billion-dollar budget deficit last fall, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm included in a list of possible areas for cuts the elimination or drastic reduction of funding for Michigan State University Extension and 15 agricultural experiment stations. This summer in my home state of Indiana, there was public discussion about cuts in support for cooperative extension in the state capital — Indianapolis/Marion County. One morning, the Marion Extension Office received a phone call from the County Auditor's Office informing them that a proposal would be presented at the City/County Council meeting that night to rescind 25 percent of their total 2004 funding effective immediately and to eliminate funding for Cooperative Extension in the 2005 budget. In the end, through a show of public support, funding was fully restored for 2004 and about 75 percent of the 2005 budget was restored. But this is a proposal that never would have been even suggested 25 or 50 years ago.

Both Republicans and Democrats at different times have proposed zeroing out extension budgets. What this says to me is that the historic support that we have enjoyed for this aspect of our land-grant mission is eroding. And support at the federal level for cooperative extension has, in real terms, been declining for many, many years. All of this is a national wake-up call. And it is time for us to respond.

Morrill’s vision from the 19th century, powerful as it has been, must be adapted, reinvigorated and reconceptualized for the 21st century. It is an imperative for change, and to me the choices are clear. If we continue business as usual, we will certainly see this continuing slippage in our support and importance. We can continue the old land-grant model of 1862, which I believe has been marginalized, and live with the inevitable conclusion of the trends we have seen for many years. Or we can envision a broader, bolder agenda an agenda for our time, and that is what I am proposing today.

I believe the idea of the engaged university is very powerful, but it has to be reconceptualized in a more modern way. The narrow traditional agenda of land-grant universities is not sufficient to realize Morrill’s vision in the 21st century. The world is changing and we must change with it. And we don’t have the 50 years that Morrill’s vision had to fully flesh out. The world is changing much faster today and we must move with it.

I believe there are seven areas on which we must focus as we fashion a contemporary land-grant mission for a new century.

First — we need to see the land-grant mission of the 21st century as embracing all sectors of society, including, but not only, agriculture. While agriculture and rural America should remain a priority for land-grant universities, especially those in agriculturally intensive states, we must embrace a larger agenda if our universities are to realize our full potential in higher education and in society. Land-grant universities cannot be synonymous with agriculture if they are to serve contemporary America and contemporary American agriculture, and if American agriculture is to grow and prosper.

We need to recognize that the issues of rural America, while involving agriculture, go well beyond agriculture. Land-grant universities must be distinctive because of their excellence in learning, discovery and engagement, their commitment to access and opportunity, and their commitment to civic-minded engagement with the most important issues facing society — not because they teach specific disciplines. Today’s cutting-edge educational programs and research opportunities have become more and more interdisciplinary. Traditional organizations and disciplines within the university must find new means of collaboration and cooperation to address the complexities and challenges of our time.

Second — we need to broaden the extension service and outreach missions beyond agriculture, veterinary medicine and consumer and family sciences to include the entire university and organize this mission as a university-wide activity. Every academic unit at the university should have a share of the engagement agenda. We must develop a more flexible and adaptable engagement organizational structure in order to capture the emerging regional and multi-state character of many activities. Not all important issues can be addressed on a county basis.

Third — we must adapt new language to capture these new ideas so that the change is evident and transparent both internally and externally. I personally like the language of engagement rather than extension. It is more mutual, more respective of partners. It is less directive, less unilateral. We must find new language to recapture the public’s imagination about our connectedness to them.

Fourth — we need to connect student learning to the engagement mission to foster a distinctive land-grant form of education to reinforce the public purposes of our universities and to justify the use of general fund dollars to support the broader engagement agenda.

Fifth — we need a broadened research agenda that is more interdisciplinary and problem-focused. We need a broader, problem-oriented interdisciplinary research capacity to complement the disciplinary strengths we have. In particular, to serve our historic constituencies, we have to bring the capacities of the entire university’s research infrastructure to bear on the issues of the American food system and the challenges facing rural America.

Sixth — we need to change our model for financing engagement to include general fund support, increased fees for service programming, and private fund raising. Like the rest of the modern research university, the engagement organization must become more entrepreneurial, more market-driven with leveraged funding, so-called soft funding, and become less dependent on the formula-driven funds based on traditional government financing.

Seventh — we must reconceptualize the relationship of the federal government to land-grant universities to include engagement and research funding in other departments of government such as Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. A broader engagement agenda requires a broader range of partners. The Department of Agriculture is too slender a reed upon which to build our future. It should be only one of several strategic federal partners.

All of this is about change. Change can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. There are those who respond to change in the wind by trying to hunker down, preserve what is and keep from being blown over. They fear change. And there are those who welcome change and see it as the means of opening new possibilities and potentials. Change produces opportunity.

Justin Morrill was a leader for change 142 years ago. And he foresaw the need for change in the future. Concluding a speech on his land-grant act from the floor of the House on June 6, 1862, Morrill said: “I have faith in the sagacity of the people to profit by the experience of the world, and that they will mold these institutions in a form . . . as will secure permanent usefulness and enduring honor to the whole country.”

Let us hope that we can be worthy of his legacy and have his courage, and boldness, and tenacity to mold our institutions to serve our entire nation usefully and honorably in the 21st century and beyond.

Thank you.

Jinske Biography

Martin C. Jischke became Purdue University's president in 2000. He came to Purdue after serving as president of Iowa State University from 1991 to 2000. Prior to his presidency at Iowa State, Dr. Jischke served as chancellor of the University of Missouri-Rolla from 1986 to 1991. Dr. Jischke received his doctoral degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. He then joined the faculty of the University of Oklahoma's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering where for the next 17 years, he served in multiple capacities. He became director of the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in 1977. He served as dean of the College of Engineering from 1981 to 1986. In 1985 he was named the university's interim president.

Dr. Jischke was born in Chicago and graduated from Proviso High School in Maywood, a suburb on Chicago's west side. In 1963 he earned his bachelor's degree in physics with honors from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Martin and Patty Jischke were married in 1970. They have two children, Charles, an audio engineer living in Southern California, and Mary, an engineer living in Indianapolis.