University’s plan for future might conflict with Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862

The act is dedicated to the University's availability to the "industrial" classes.

Matt Graham

In the waning days before the Board of Regents votes on the University’s plan for the future, some opponents are saying the plan’s emphasis on research conflicts with the University’s mission as a land-grant institution.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, under which the University operates, states that part of a land-grant institution’s purpose is “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.”

That statement will be violated, some plan opponents said, if officials’ emphasis on becoming an elite institution makes admission to the University impossible for many in the state.

“I think a major piece of the land-grant mission has been to serve the citizens of the state very broadly Ö and I think the General College has done exactly that,” said Robert Poch, General College assistant dean.

Poch said General College has been the one section of the University that has consistently reached out to all communities within the state.

Poch said access should be a Universitywide priority, but he has yet to see how the plan will ensure continued access to higher education for a diverse group.

Emily Serafy Cox, Minnesota Student Association president-elect, said she worries the plan will hurt Minnesota’s poor by emphasizing standardized-test scores and high school accomplishments over scholastic potential.

Cox also said the focus on research is too narrow, excluding other fields that might not bring in as much money.

Cox said it is important that people from different backgrounds continue to attend the University to expose students to a wider variety of people.

But Regent Dallas Bohnsack said he does not see a conflict between the University’s plan and the land-grant mission.

Bohnsack said there is still much to be discussed about the plan, but University President Bob Bruininks has made access a major priority.

Regent John Frobenius said it is important to “set a high target for the University.”

“I see some reorganization processes occurring, but I believe there are elements in that plan that set directions on access that are very important,” he said.

But Phyllis Walker, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 president, said the plan’s emphasis on four-year graduation hurts students from lower-income families who must work to pay for college.

Walker also said she worries the plan will turn the University into a lab for private corporations’ research.

“The private sector should pay for its own research,” she said. “If it wants the University of Minnesota to do research, it should pay the University of Minnesota to do that.”

But Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration, said such interpretations of the land-grant mission are “narrow.”

“We are a land-grant University but we are also a public-research University … there is nothing in the land-grant mission that so narrowly defines the mission.”

Jones said the emphasis on four-year graduation would improve access to the University by making an education cheaper and allowing more students to be admitted each year.

He also said the research partnerships are not about corporate handouts and the University can do things with research that corporations cannot.

“This plan is about, ‘How do we better leverage the biological expertise (of the University), for example, to meet some of the most pressing needs of our society?’ ” he said.

The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the task force recommendations June 10.