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From Core Values—Momentum and Resolve for the Twenty-first Century

The world grant ideal and you. Share your thougths and experiences.

In my years at Michigan State University, I have had numerous occasions to consider the core values that formed the basis of the land-grant university in the United States—the durability and relevance of those values over time and the remarkable resilience of the land-grant colleges and universities created through the provisions of the Morrill Act.

The ideals of Morrill and Lincoln beckon us still: “I would have higher learning more widely disseminated.”5 Our institutions should be “the public’s universities.”6

The Morrill Act was the first of many federal policies to democratize higher education and to make colleges and universities instruments of advancement for the nation’s well-being. President Lincoln signed the bill into law to create a higher level of knowledge in a nation that was coming to have increasingly high demands for scientific and technical foundations in the workforce and to advance the economy. In signing the Morrill Act, he looked beyond the immediate and pressing challenges then at hand to consider how best to prepare the nation’s citizens for the future. The land-grant concept was a prime exemplar of a trend that accelerated through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—a drive to expand the university curriculum by imparting a more practical emphasis to higher education and extending its benefits beyond the elite social and economic classes. The genius of the land-grant commitment to educational access of the highest quality lies in the melding of the liberal arts and sciences with the practical and the applied.

Of equal importance to its transformative power, the land-grant philosophy stressed the need to convey the findings and benefits of research-based knowledge directly to the public and to engage with those outside the academy as partners in the creation and implementation of knowledge.

Our values define the contributions we—as individuals, as universities— make to society.

Directed by these philosophical imperatives, the land-grant colleges came to exemplify a set of distinct values:

  • Quality. This is a commitment to propel an institution’s strengths to their fullest capacity, to develop programs of highly regarded research and education across the applied technical and liberal arts disciplines—recognized as being good enough for the proudest and open to the poorest—providing a solid basis for analytical thinking and continued learning across multiple fields of knowledge to ensure an educated and skilled citizenry.
  • Inclusiveness. This is a commitment to make programs of higher education broadly accessible to all who seek to advance themselves through knowledge, to create a learning community that fosters both intellectual and personal engagement leading to enhanced understanding, respect, and the celebration of differences from the conviction that the skills and knowledge derived from such engagement prepare individuals for meaningful and productive lives as workers and citizens.
  • Connectivity. This is a commitment to work in collaboration with a range of partners both within and beyond the academy; to work across boundaries of nations, cultures, fields of study, and institutions to create and to apply new knowledge to solve the most difficult societal problems; and, in most cases, to participate with others in the cocreation of knowledge through direct engagement with local communities whose challenges emphasize particular elements of the problem or problems that have larger global dimensions and to forge and sustain connections where none previously existed.

The language used to describe our core values changes to reflect the character and challenges of particular times and places. However,the essence of the land-grant core values is at the root of our commitments to learning, discovery, and engagement.

These core values strongly resemble the way we conceive of them at Michigan State University today. Although the language used to describe these core values over the past 150-plus years reflects the character and challenges of particular times and places, quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity have nonetheless remained remarkably consistent philosophical foundations and commitments among land-grant institutions. They are values that motivate the provision of educational opportunity; the commitment to inclusiveness across perceived social, economic, cultural, and racial boundaries; the funding of education and research programs to address the practical needs of a state, a region, and the nation; and the commitment to work directly with communities, businesses, and individuals through outreach and service, drawing on the full potential of available natural, economic, and human resources.

In a world as interrelated and complex as ours, it is increasingly difficult to imagine any significant challenge in the context of a single location.

In the broadest sense, the challenges confronting the United States as it approaches the second decade of the twenty-first century parallel those challenges that led to the passage of the Morrill Act nearly 150 years ago. Knowledge and information, particularly in science and technology, are growing at a rate faster than ever recorded in history. The needs of this decade—and each passing decade—are ever in flux and require an educated populace to understand and to address them. Boundaries and borders—geographical, cultural, financial, and political—that once separated nations and continents have become increasingly permeable, bringing once-remote issues to our doorstep. Comprehensive social and national challenges call for solutions that incorporate insights from particular places and different fields of knowledge to address specific problems in local areas, states, the nation, and the world.

Further, in a world as interrelated and complex as ours, it is increasingly difficult to imagine any significant challenge in the context of a single location; nothing occurs in a vacuum. The current financial crisis confronting the United States is by no means confined to its own borders; it penetrates the economies of virtually every nation. The complex challenges of environmental sustainability have profound and direct impact on particular regions of this nation and each of its states; they are also challenges we share with nations and continents throughout the world. While solutions may be identified and pursued in local, state, and national contexts, ultimately these actions must become part of a combined effort to address challenges facing humanity in every setting. It is vital that universities and world leaders build upon this interconnectedness as they work to address societal problems, recognizing that societal issues are no longer just provincial problems confined by borders but issues with far-reaching impact and import.

“Globalization implies a deep interconnectedness with the world economically, politically, and culturally. It is a process characterized by increasing economic openness, interdependence, and integration in the world economy. While internationalization presumes an international market controlled in varying degrees by nations, globalization presumes a world market, one that is beyond the reach of the nation state.”7

“Globalization,” the term popularly used to define these changes in how the world operates, is not a one-way flow across borders and cannot be viewed that way; instead, globalization must be conceived of and understood as a multidirectional flow of interaction and engagement in which experts from various disciplines and locales work together to form solutions that merge and utilize the strengths of each contributing party. Global forces play out in local contexts, even as local situations mediate and help reshape these global currents.

Higher education institutions of all kinds must be involved in both directions of this flow: by facilitating the dynamic flow of students into new learning venues (e.g., study abroad) and in welcoming international students and scholars; by adopting borderless collaborations and partnerships within and across domains of research and scholarship; by engaging in problem-solving outreach in communities at home or abroad—with governments, businesses, and service organizations as well as other universities, without focusing on “who’s in charge” but looking for solutions utilizing traditional academic strengths along with the hands-on understanding espoused by the local participants; and by graduating educated persons who are able to function effectively in a world unconstrained by state, regional, and national boundaries.

The World Grant Ideal recognizes that fundamental issues unfolding in one’s own backyard link directly to challenges occurring throughout the nation and the world.

The World Grant Ideal is grounded on the principles inherent in the land-grant tradition adapted to address the challenges of the twenty-first century and beyond. Universities like ours have not been “granted” the world in the sense that individual states were granted tracts of land by the Morrill Act as a resource to support the establishment of land-grant institutions in the United States. Rather, the World Grant Ideal recognizes that fundamental issues unfolding in one’s own backyard link directly to challenges occurring throughout the nation and the world. The World Grant Ideal not only recognizes this seamless connection but also actively grants to the world a deeply ingrained commitment to access and utilization of the cutting-edge knowledge required to address these challenges.

World Grant is a concept, a way of understanding how a research-intensive university can adapt to a changing world while helping shape changes that will be hallmarks of our future. It is not an absolute threshold that Michigan State or any similar university will cross at a given time. In large, complex organizations, not every unit progresses in the same way or pursues the same course in aligning its strengths with a changing world. World Grant is a directional aspiration, an intentional journey, as the land-grant mission of the nineteenth century aligns its core values and strengths to meet the societal needs of the twenty-first century.

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