World Grant Ideal Monograph
Integrating the attributes and strengths of all segments of society for the sustainable prosperity and well-being of people and nations throughout the world is a moral imperative we are called upon to share.
How should a major public university in the United States align its distinctive strengths to meet the needs and demands of a global society? How can such a university maintain and strengthen its commitment to the public good in the context of changing global dynamics? These questions have gained increased urgency in the twenty-first century—for all universities but, in particular, for the nation’s land-grant universities founded under provisions of the Morrill Act of 1862. The urgent need for new ways to think about higher education as an enterprise has provoked these questions, since our nation’s best universities are the foundations for building sustainable global prosperity.
“How we address the interwoven global trends of climate change, globalization, and population growth will determine a lot about the quality of life on Earth in the twenty-first century.”1
Dramatic changes in society, in knowledge, and in the nature of work have created a growing need for a more highly educated, adaptive, innovative, and engaged citizenry. In The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman describes a twenty-first-century environment unlike that of any previous era, in which the growing ease of international travel, the rise of multinational corporations, and the pervasive reach of the Internet have expedited the flow of information and capital across borders and continents, transforming regional and national economies and cultures into a finely interwoven global fabric.2
In the flat world that Friedman describes, the processes of production and distribution have shifted; no longer confined by geographical boundaries, these processes have contributed to a decrease in the traditional manufacturing base while simultaneously seeking out and employing educated workers from multiple nations. In Peter Drucker’s “knowledge society,” the pace with which new ideas emerge and provide the cutting-edge advantage quickens, the half-life of existing technology’s usefulness decreases, and the need for a highly adaptable and creative workforce and citizenry at almost all levels and in all sectors of the economy intensifies and broadens.4 Consequently, a larger percentage of the population requires the knowledge and skills that inherently come with higher education to allow themselves to remain productive and engaged citizens in an ever-evolving social, technological, and economic environment.
“Just a few places produce most of the world’s innovations. Innovation remains difficult without a critical mass of financiers, entrepreneurs, and scientists, often nourished by world-class universities and flexible corporations.”3
Additionally, the first decade of the twenty-first century has brought issues with global ramifications to the forefront of national and international concerns about sustainable global prosperity: searching for needed forms of alternative energy; addressing climate change and resource depletion; alleviating hunger, disease, and poverty; resolving escalating cultural, regional, and ideological conflicts; and dealing with increasing disparities between the “haves” and “have nots” in a world “spiky” with uneven concentrations of assets to drive commercial innovation and scientific advancements.
No institution alone can accomplish the excellence in terms of quality, connectivity, and inclusiveness that is our moral imperative in this resource-constrained environment.
These global changes have created an important transitional moment for higher education, one that is redefining the nature and the context for teaching and learning; for research, scholarly, and creative activities; and for the outreach and engagement missions of our universities and colleges. The challenges now confronting the nation and the world underscore the need for higher education institutions to engage, with passion, intention, and innovation, as engines of societal growth and transformation. There is a need for a continued research and educational focus on problems that span the boundaries of disciplines, nations, and cultures. Because higher education institutions are intimately linked to societal growth and transformation, they can help create and instill both the basic and applied knowledge that provides opportunities for all peoples and nations to achieve a heightened state of social and economic well-being and sustainable prosperity.
I urge our nation’s best universities to join in the journey to affirm and to extend beyond our borders the core values of the Morrill Act as the fuel and inspiration for higher education’s engagement with a global society in the century ahead.
The potential for universities to drive societal growth and development for the greater good of the world and its inhabitants has never been higher, more appropriate, or more necessary; nonetheless, no single institution can address the challenges of a world that is both flat and spiky. The strengths of our nation’s higher education enterprise rests in the special distinctions each institution brings to the whole. Together, all universities can use and act on knowledge to move the world toward greater good. Collectively, we can rebalance the nation’s higher education portfolio so more institutions embrace the ideals that make a difference in society and address the tensions inherent in the work we do. It is an alignment of institutions for betterment—not changing who we are as unique and distinct institutions but taking a part of who we are and using it to move beyond our current accomplishments.
As a part of our covenant with society, we must consider new ways in which the world’s best research-intensive universities can make a difference, independently and together, in addressing the vast societal changes influencing this new millennium.
In this essay, I draw on four decades of experience at Michigan State University focused on applying land-grant values to local, state, national, and international challenges. Consonant with the spirit and essence of the land-grant covenant with society, new ways in which the world’s best research-intensive universities can make a difference must be considered, independently and together, in addressing the vast societal changes influencing this new millennium. Integrating the attributes and strengths of all segments of society for the sustainable prosperity and well-being of peoples and nations throughout the world is a moral imperative we are called upon to share and lead. I identify this ideal as “World Grant” and, in doing so, urge our nation’s best universities to join in the journey to affirm and to extend the core values of the Morrill Act beyond our borders, fueling and inspiring higher education’s engagement with a global society in the century ahead.