"Campus and Community" on our Nation's Front Lawn

"Campus and Community" on our Nation's Front Lawn

by C. Kurt Dewhurst
June 22, 2012

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act, it offers us an opportunity to reflect on the original purpose of the Morrill Act and the contributions of the land-grant university movement to our state, nation, and the world. It is also worth noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established the same year.

Over the past year I have had the honor as serving as the national chair of the Research and Planning Committee and the Co-Curator of a special Smithsonian Folklife Festival program (http://www.festival.si.edu/) entitled, Campus and Community: Public and Land-grant Universities and the USDA at 150 (http://www.festival.si.edu/2012/campus_and_community/), celebrating 150 years of partnership between universities, the USDA and communities.

The Festival takes place Wednesday, June 27, through Sunday, July 1, and Wednesday, July 4, through Sunday, July 8, on the National Mall-unofficially known as our nation's Front Lawn, between Seventh and Fourteenth streets. All events are free. Festival hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, with special evening events such as concerts and dance parties beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service. Over one million visitors attend the festival every year-making it the largest annual Smithsonian program.

"Practical education"

The original purpose of the Morrill Act signed in 1862 was "without excluding scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such a manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life."

Revisited, renewed for the 21th Century

Today the land-grant movement is evolved for the twenty-first century context. During this past year, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities have renewed their commitment for public universities to:

  • contribute to the democratization of higher education,
  • drive economic growth,
  • enhance agricultural and industrial productivity,
  • improve the quality of life,
  • address pressing societal needs at home and abroad, and
  • balance the mission of access and affordability, public service, and innovative research for national competitiveness.

Arts and culture promote innovation, solutions

Arts and culture are very much at the center of the twenty-first century land-grant movement. President Simon has led the transition of MSU from what she has described as a land-grant to a world-grant university. Central to this shift is her sense that we need to break down our disciplinary boundaries. In Embracing the World Grant Ideal: Affirming the Morrill Act for a Twenty-first-century Global Society, President Simon wrote, "Solving problems of global proportions requires the combined thinking and actions of the natural sciences, the humanities, and a blend of professional disciplines." The MSU Cultural Engagement Council continues our efforts to cross the disciplinary silos of the past to forge innovative educational experiences for our students and new solutions for society as a whole.

Listening and working together

One of the forces of the land-grant movement has been to apply the expertise of the university to community needs—by listening and working together. This approach has evolved in a world-grant university sensibility as President Simon has stressed, "A university in the World Grant model is one that sees citizens not as just the beneficiaries of its knowledge but also as partners in its co-creation. The World Grant Ideal works from the bottom up-from the grassroots-just as concertedly as it does from the top down." In this same way, we are using our campus arts and cultural resources to engage communities by co-creating collaborative partnerships. We build our collaborative partnerships in response to community needs—by building on local cultural assets and connecting them to university talent and expertise.

The Campus and Community program at the Smithsonian will bring exemplary university partnerships to life though demonstrations, discussions, performances, and hands-on activities.

From Washington, D.C. to East Lansing

If you are not able to attend the festival in DC, you will be able to see a smaller version of this program that will feature only MSU initiatives, at the MSU Museum's Great Lakes Folk Festival (http://www.greatlakesfolkfest.net) on August 10-12, or in the form of a traveling exhibition that will be featured in our campus neighborhoods during the coming academic year. I invite you to reflect on our pioneer land-grant heritage and to realize the vision of a world-grant university.

See: Lou Anna Kimsey Simon, President, Michigan State University in Embracing the World Grant Ideal: Affirming the Morrill Act for a Twenty-first-century Global Society, 2011. (http://worldgrantideal.msu.edu/)

Learn more about MSU, the pioneer land-grant university, and the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act: http://msu.edu/morrill-celebration/.