The University of Minnesota
Northrop Auditorium, 1929
|Founded in the Faith that Men are Ennobled by Understanding|
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State
Let's read that again: Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State. So concludes the lofty and inspiring inscription on Northrop Auditorium, the architectural center of gravity on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota.
Northrop's inscription echoes the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862, Act of July 2, 1862, ch.130, 12 Stat. 503 (codified as amended at 7 U.S.C. § 304), the legislative foundation of a network that now spans more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States and its territories. The original Morrill Act committed each state to establishing
at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes on the several pursuits and professions in life.Amendments in 1890 and 1994 extended the land grant system to historically black colleges and universities and to Native American institutions. Collectively, land grant colleges represent access to higher education for an enormous number of working-class and nontraditional students. As I often say of my own school, the University of Louisville (which is not a land grant college but does serve a comparable mission in a metropolitan setting), these are the universities that serve first generations and provide second chances.
One of the keystones of the land grant system is affordability. For decades the cost of higher education has been increasing at a rate far outpacing that of middle class wages. The cost of elite education has risen even more rapidly. As Marie Reilly has explained in this forum, there is strong reason to suspect that universities have plowed the revenues from those tuition hikes into prestige-enhancing measures that deliver little if any value to students who are borrowing heavily for ever-decreasing returns on their educational investments. This is especially true at elite institutions. The contribution of land grant colleges and other public schools to educational access has never been greater, or more important.
All this is prologue to an important post by Bill Gleason, a faculty member in the University of Minnesota's department of laboratory medicine and pathology and the author of The Periodic Table. In Affordability at The University of Minnesota: Priorities for the Short and Long Term, Bill questions his university's commitment to access and affordability — the bedrock of the land grant system — as Minnesota's central administration continues its quixotic pursuit of its stated "aspiration to be one of the top three public research universities in the world." Herewith the remarks Bill made at a May 21, 2008, budget forum sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents: