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K-State Today

July 10, 2012

Letter to campus from Provost Mason

Submitted by April Mason

Dear Colleagues,

Did you miss our recent anniversary? It was this past week on July 2. It was a big one — 150 years. I may be showing a little age, but not so bad, if I do say so myself.

The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, while the Civil War raged. This is the act that led to our university being formed and our claim of being the United States' very first land-grant university in operation. Along with the Hatch and Smith-Lever acts, the three land-grant university missions of learning, discovery and engagement were established.

We gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to commemorate this defining legislation. University presidents, chancellors, vice presidents, deans and many others came together at the Reagan building to remember, celebrate and be challenged. The Association of Public and Land- grant Universities put on the celebration, even commissioning a book edited by Daniel Mark Fogel and Elizabeth Malson-Huddle called "Precipice or Crossroads? Where America’s Great Public Universities Stand and Where They Are Going Midway Through Their Second Century."

A man portraying Justin Smith Morrill read the legislation, Bill Gates spoke to the group, United States secretaries Vilsack and Duncan addressed us, and two Morrill relatives — both young graduates of a land-grant university — participated in panels. I wore the 150th anniversary lapel pin with pride and realized I had been part of the land-grant system for 35 of its 150 year history.

The land-grant system was established to provide educational access to the common people of our country, not the elite. Its curriculum was originally based on agriculture and the mechanical arts (engineering). Kansas State University and other public research universities have changed since their establishment, but we still hold firm to providing students access to obtain an education that will help them be successful, whatever they choose to do.

Precipice or crossroads? I say crossroads. We know the strains on our system of higher education — decreased state funding, increasing tuition, more public scrutiny of educational outcomes and, let us not forget, for-profit competitors. But I know we are up to the challenge.

Our university was formed after a land gift to the state. It was built from scratch. After World War II, it was overwhelmed with students supported by the GI Bill. Are today’s challenges that much more than we have seen and successfully addressed in the past?

With our knowledge and abilities I am convinced we can make adjustments, rethink the way we have been doing things and adapt to the pressures of today’s society to be even better for the future. We must. There are opportunities today that we can and will take advantage of if we don’t forget our foundation of helping people learn, discovering new knowledge and engaging with communities to use that knowledge.

I won’t be around for the 200th anniversary of the Morrill Land-Grant Act, but many of our students will. They will thank us for being innovative and learning from history while creating the future. Our strategic plan, K-State 2025, helps us pave the way forward.

Thank you, Justin Smith Morrill. You didn’t know what the future would bring, but you knew education was important, and you saw a way to set the foundation. It is our responsibility to steward our land-grant university into a new era.

Will you join me, K-Staters?

April Mason