Why Land-Grant Fierce?

A new book entitled Land-Grant Universities for the Future: Higher Education for the Public Good will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in November of this year (2018). My colleague and co-author, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, and I wrote this book because we are very concerned about what we perceive to be a long-standing effort to make colleges and universities more like one another in our country. In contrast, we argue forcefully against such attempts at homogenization because of the great disservice that is being done to the American public educational system. In fact, we believe that the American system remains the best in the entire world precisely because there is difference and choice here. The minute we try to homogenize our universities, we become more like a federalized education system, and we lose our luster in the process. The German universities and the Japanese universities are organized at a national level, for instance, and as a result they are not as good as the American universities. This, we believe, is due to the lack of such diversity.

Interestingly, modern-day attempts by universities to remain distinctive at times seem to be met with disapproval, especially when religious affiliation is a part of the equation. The Mormon institution of Brigham Young University often gets criticized because it lives by its religious tenets, for instance. It is fiercely Mormon. Rather than cast aspersions, we applaud this stance. Similarly, instead of trying to be more like their university brethren, we believe that Catholic institutions such as Notre Dame should be more fiercely Catholic, Baptist institutions should be more fiercely Baptist, and so on.


In the same way, we have stated our belief that land-grant universities should become more fiercely land-grant in their orientation. And although there is no organized religion involved, nevertheless we wish to offer a transcendent framework for thinking about what distinguishes the land-grant model from all others. Our book describes and celebrates the distinctiveness of what we affectionately describe land-grant universities as “Mr. Lincoln’s institutions of higher learning” and how they must prioritize their activities based on the needs of the communities they were designed to serve.