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The Land-Grant Mission By Kyle Wray Amid the evils of the Civil War, which for a time threatened to permanently divide the land in which we live, Justin Smith Morrill crafted a bill that forever altered the landscape of America. 1862 was a challenging time for government in the United States, primarily because it wasn’t united at all. Bill passage was difficult enough when one considers the partisan nature of Congress. It was made even more so when seceding states’ representatives battled with those focused on condemning them for their rebellion. Nonetheless, Morrill was able to convince them of the act, known today as the bill that gave birth to land-grant institutions of higher education.

Morrill had an appreciation for the land and what it meant to a fledgling nation, less than 100 years removed from English rule. So much so, he was instrumental in an effort to beautify a warravaged capital in and around Washington DC after 1865. Justin Morrill was interested in the integration of practical education and skills associated with them. He also had a dedication to the people who practiced those skills on a daily basis. Of those people, Morrill quipped, “Our country depends on them as its right arm to do the handiwork of the nation”.

In fact, the country had depended on them Morrill was not himself throughout the industrial college educated. He revolution and would learned business by even more as the nation managing a general store would be faced with a in a time when general population explosion stores were the hub of and an increasing need to local commerce. From feed it. This knowledge the sale of dry goods, and skill set would groceries and farm increase through the supplies to delivery of 19th and 20th centuries. the U.S. mail, he was able Sometimes, these skill to parlay local knowledge sets are accompanied by and politics into a trip to Justin Smith Morrill, a United States Senator from a segment of the public Washington. Vermont who introduced the Morrill Act of 1862, that is unappreciative. Some which created land-grant institutions. The bill paved the way are unwilling to recognize for multitudes of people to have access to higher the level of education needed to maximize the education in areas that had not previously been pedagogical values in agriculture. The truth is, seen as college worthy. A myriad of academic without the advances made in soil sciences, crop areas would ultimately be introduced into college rotation, crop nutrition, cultivation and the like, curriculums at universities across the country, we would all be introduced to hunger in a way including home economics, engineering, industrial which might rapidly solve our nation’s obesity education and, of course, agriculture. problems.


The fine land-grant colleges and universities in each state and the educational advances made by them have changed the country. As one of these institutions, Oklahoma State University has been investing in its students and alumni since 1890. Its effects have been felt through the state, region, nation and world. In my estimation, the land grant mission of research, instruction and extension can be boiled down to one overarching focus: land-grant universities are primarily concerned with people and the hard work imperative to make them successful.

Land-grants have long given people the opportunity, inspiration and motivation to succeed. They have been providers of education and proving grounds for research for decades. The people of rural and metropolitan areas alike have been both contributors and beneficiaries of that education. They have given of their land, money and children and have in turn received knowledge, instruction and, ultimately, progress. Fundamentally, the Morrill Act and the landgrant institutions it created gave individuals an opportunity to use the work ethic learned at home to propel them to heights unknown.

Morrill learned a great deal from his father, who was a blacksmith. While his father had knowledge Kyle Wray serves as Vice President of Enrollment of geometric shapes, mathematics, heat transfer Management and Marketing at Oklahoma State and general physics, he had no formal lessons in University. any of these subjects. What his son learned by watching his father toil is what all of us have witnessed by watching family members of our own at one time or another. The Morrill Act and the missions fulfilled by institutions like OSU remind us that our family trees are rooted in the land of this proud state and region, not generally in royalty or noble lineage. Regardless of the towns we were raised in or the vocations we have chosen, we have all been molded by a work ethic of a people who are humble, practical and ethical. The land-grant mission causes us to recall, like Morrill himself, people in our pasts who were inherently intelligent and purposefully hardworking. It’s not surprising to find many individuals associated with land-grants demonstrate modest, unassuming characteristics. Something about long sweaty days, the early to bed, early to rise mentality and standing back to see what you have accomplished somehow brings a lack of pretension. Hard work does things to people.

Prepared and edited by Valerie Trammell August 2012


The Land-Grant Mission