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Fall 2012
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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which founded the U.S. land grant university system. The Act expanded access to higher education for working people, and provided both a liberal and practical education that would “cultivate the ethical and civic virtues, dispositions, capacities, and intel­ligence the common people needed to take up their roles as parents, homemakers, neighbors, community members, and citizens.”

Colorado State University has produced this excellent documentary on the founding of the Morrill Land-Grant Act.

A Degree of Democracy from Colorado State University on Vimeo.

What 'land grant' means to me?

As the flagship land grant college at Cornell University, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has never been more devoted to creating and sharing knowledge with a public purpose that advances the common good.

Discover what the land grant mission means to the leadership of CALS and share with us what it means to you.


Kathryn BoorAt the heart of the land grant mission, when conceived 150 years ago, is the concept that what is happening in the world must be relevant to that which is undertaken on campus and that which is undertaken on campus must matter well beyond its borders. Over the years, we have actively expanded our focus well beyond a traditional agricultural curriculum. The modern land grant mission includes the discovery, dissemination, and application of new knowledge in the life sciences, community and economic vitality, food and energy systems, and the environmental sciences. In all facets of our mission, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences honors the past, is engaged in the present, and aims to shape the future.

Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of food science

Jan NyropI believe the core activity of the land grant mission is the purposeful development and dissemination of knowledge. When the land grant universities were conceived, purposeful knowledge generation and dissemination focused on agriculture, the mechanical arts, and domestic well-being. Food and agriculture are just as relevant today, but the scope of land grant activities has expanded to include economics, community development, health, and life-long education. While the challenges facing society have evolved in the past 150 years, the need for a publicly engaged academy has not. Indeed, as a result of global population growth and the expectations that accompany increased wealth, solutions to society’s most pressing problems are needed more urgently than ever.

Jan Nyrop, senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of entomology

Max PfefferThe land grant mission represents a culture of scholarship that encourages active engagement with the emerging needs of society and an academic community that plays a vibrant role in public life. Cutting edge land grant scholarship engages with the public to identify issues of concern and pursues scientific insights to inform those charged with resolving problems. The wide dissemination of knowledge allows citizens to evaluate their aspirations, needs, and the options available for meeting them. By establishing a basis for informed decision making by the citizenry, the land grant mission is deeply democratic.

Max J. Pfeffer, senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor of development sociology

Tom BurrThe privilege to carry out the land grant mission was provided to specific academic institutions with targeted resources and infrastructure resulting from the Morrill Act.  The mission implies the responsibility to generate and deliver knowledge for the betterment of society.  To me, an important component that is strongly embedded in the mission is the expectation to do translational research that addresses regional, national, and global issues that results in abundant, safe, nutritious food production while sustaining a healthy environment for future generations.

Tom Burr, director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology

Helene DillardThe land grant mission is a covenant between higher education and the people. Our scholarship directly responds to needs in the local and global community and strives to improve the quality of life in our society. A unique aspect of a land grant university is that the flow of information, wisdom, and discourse is bidirectional between the university and the people. Across the world the intent of this model is being replicated, and today the land grant mission at Cornell is a mission for the world.

Helene Dillard, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension and professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology


Does the land grant hold a special meaning for you? Please let us know!

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with your response to: What 'land grant' means to me?