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What it Means in and for the Twenty-first Century—Sustainable Global Prosperity for the Common Good

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

The World Grant Ideal is one of hope. Throughout this nation and the world, there are many people who have dreams but lack even the opportunity to give voice to their visions, let alone frame and pursue goals that make it possible to realize their full potential.

Beyond the values it helped instill through the ensuing decades, the Morrill Act constituted the first major legislation by the federal government to make higher education a public good, broadly available to those who sought such programs and services—heightening the quality of life and contributing value to society through the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The power of the Morrill Act can be seen in the ripple effect it had on stimulating other significant acts of federal policy through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including a second Morrill Act (1890), from which several of today’s historically black colleges emerged; the establishment of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, which made universities major centers of scientific research beginning in the mid-twentieth century; the GI Bill, which made higher education an engine of opportunity for soldiers returning from World War II; the creation of tribal colleges and community colleges through the late 1950s and 1960s; and the establishment of the Pell Grant Program and other programs through which the federal government became a major provider of financial aid to those with need, making higher education more accessible to a broader cross section of the population. Just as the Morrill Act was an important catalyst in its time for other important changes in society, so is the potential impact of the World Grant Ideal in our era.

The World Grant Ideal calls for extending the spirit and core values of the Morrill Act into the twenty-first century and around the globe, which, I believe, means

  • Leading with a humbleness of attitude and a “can do” spirit of hope that allows the university to form partnerships and pursue problems of a kind that may not bring the greatest accolades on the scales of institutional prestige but that, nonetheless, accord a positive benefit and help address broad societal challenges;
  • Bringing an institution’s research and creative capacities across disciplines to address a range of compelling societal issues;
  • Creating access to cutting-edge knowledge and world-class quality education, regardless of one’s ability to pay;
  • Working directly with individuals, communities, and organizations in the tradition of university outreach and engagement;
  • Graduating empowered individuals who actively join their voices with others to attain an impact beyond what any one voice might have imagined or achieved alone, enhancing and growing social capital within a region, a nation, and the world;
  • Leading the way in taking time to listen to perspectives that differ from one’s own, including taking the time to worry about what happens in the lives of individuals and the communities in which they live and work and to consider how one might improve a specific or community situation;
  • Holding ourselves and others to the highest standards of intellectual rigor while engaging with individuals and communities;
  • Working across academic disciplines to combine the strengths of the humanities, social sciences, and the natural and applied sciences to combat complex problems requiring more than one approach;
  • Paying attention to and accepting new responsibilities for the learning and knowledge needs of the very young, elementary- and secondary-age children and youth as well as the workforce and senior populations;
  • Empowering people and providing them with an opportunity to accomplish their own goals and to contribute to society in ways that would not have been available to them otherwise.

As the spirit and core values of the Morrill Act extend into the twenty-first century and around the globe, there are three hallmarks of the World Grant Ideal that deserve special attention. These hallmarks are dominant themes that not only define the aspiration of the World Grant Ideal but also identify the outcomes for a university striving to be more engaged in making a difference locally and globally. These hallmarks of definition and difference are the penetrating of societal, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries; the cocreation of knowledge and solutions; and the coprosperities of our individual states, nation, and the world.

Penetrating Societal, Disciplinary, and Institutional Boundaries

Solving problems of global proportions requires the combined thinking and actions of the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and a blend of the liberal arts and sciences and professional disciplines.

Meeting the challenges of the present and future entails a blending of perspectives and approaches that engages not only across societal boundaries, but also across the full range of academic disciplines and types of institutions and organizations. Solving problems of global proportions requires the combined thinking and actions of the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and the professional disciplines. Education and research communities must enter more readily into collaborative efforts to address problems that require the tools and knowledge of more than one field of study. From the outset, land-grant institutions founded under provisions of the Morrill Act emphasized a blending of the arts and sciences with programs of practical and applied knowledge. A university in pursuit of the World Grant Ideal seeks not just to provide training for today’s jobs; it seeks to produce educated and engaged thinkers and citizens—people of all academic backgrounds who understand issues in terms beyond their own specialties and who contribute to the development of knowledge that helps solve tomorrow’s problems.

It is at the intersection of the natural world and human behavior that some of our most vexing challenges reside, mediated further by our individual and collective beliefs about ethics and values.

The World Grant Ideal facilitates the ability of every academic discipline to reach beyond its own discourse community, engaging its conceptual tools and knowledge to address problems that concern the world community at large. The forces and demands of specialization that tend to yield the greatest rewards in the academy can easily undermine the potential for engaging the full capacities of a research-intensive university in pursuit of shared goals. In addition, budgetary pressures confronting states and their public universities often reinforce the natural tendency of academic disciplines and higher education institutions to retreat into the relative security of their own internal discourse, practices, and traditional missions. This tendency must be resisted.

Not overbalancing toward the technical is a serious challenge for the kinds of institutions we need to have for the twenty-first century.

The World Grant Ideal embodies a commitment to draw the separate academic disciplines and institutions outside the silos of their internal conversations—to create a new conversation that speaks with a collective voice to address challenges confronting all nations and cultures. Every field of knowledge and all kinds of higher education institutions need to participate in this discussion to create a financially robust and culturally literate population that can understand what it means to participate in a democracy.

A university in the World Grant model is one that sees citizens not just as the beneficiaries of its knowledge but also as partners in its cocreation.

In the natural sciences, fulfilling the terms of World Grant entails a willingness to work in collaboration with other specialties both within and beyond the sciences to discover and apply solutions to complex problems of global scale and consequence. In the social sciences, the World Grant Ideal underscores the need not just to engage in national and international policy development but also to apply knowledge directly in the context of communities, organizations, schools, and families to foster thinking and behaviors that help achieve solutions to global challenges of sustainability in addition to the challenges of achieving economic and social prosperity, intercultural understanding, and mutual accord. In the humanities, the World Grant Ideal stresses the need to bring the power of arts and culture to affirm the values that define us as human beings and help an institution remain true to its founding vision, linking ideas and understanding with functional progress in a complex society. The creative vision of ideas, the expressive power of language, the explorations of form and perception conveyed through the visual arts, the passion and discipline of technique that invest the performing arts—all are vital elements of any community that celebrates the value of learning and knowledge.

Cocreating Knowledge and Solutions

People fuel the success of the twenty-first century economy through partnerships that advance knowledge and transform lives. This is the power of community around critical social issues.

A key element of the World Grant Ideal is a unique kind of partnership—a partnership designed to cocreate knowledge in relationships not just among academic disciplines or even other higher education institutions but also with local industries and businesses of a region and with government agencies in a home state, in communities, or in any number of settings throughout the world. A university in this mode does not enter partnerships with the thought that it has all the right answers or knows assuredly which questions to ask. Instead, it brings a commitment to global engagement and a comparative, researched perspective that provides insight into how others are approaching similar challenges in other parts of the world—and then listens to its partners’ ideas on how to address the questions being considered, ultimately creating a solution or solutions through intellectually rigorous cooperative investigation of the problems being addressed.

The World Grant Ideal works from the bottom up—from the grass roots—just as concertedly as it does from the top down.

To be successful in this work, a university must have the ability to enter into a relationship with a partner who may lack the credentials of the academy but possesses a nuanced cultural or technical knowledge about a particular place or circumstance. To work effectively in this capacity, a university must foster a sense of reciprocity that allows it to work in conjunction with others in ways that are not patronizing or condescending—derived from an understanding that the university itself can learn from the engagement, just as the partner organization or community can learn from the university. A university in the World Grant model is one that sees the individual practitioner not just as the beneficiary of its knowledge but also as a partner in the creation. More than most major research-intensive universities, it is likely to engage the culture and understanding of people and local communities in the pursuit of new knowledge and understanding, learning from others to discern the interrelated elements of a problem to the fullest extent. By entering into partnerships of this kind, a World Grant university helps provide communities, businesses, and individuals with the knowledge and tools to succeed. In the cocreation of knowledge, the World Grant Ideal works from the bottom up—from the grass roots—just as concertedly as it does from the top down.

Coprosperities of Our Individual States, Nation, and the World.

Any state that seeks to be prosperous in the global economy of the twenty-first century must extend its vision outward to understand the larger context of its own challenges; it must reach beyond its own borders to engage problems on a broader scale.

A university in the land-grant tradition runs the risk of seeming to abandon its founding mission of serving its home state by engaging with nations and cultures beyond its own borders. As a university aspires toward the World Grant Ideal, it cannot forget its roots. In our case, the state of Michigan, for example, now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Some may ask whether a public or land-grant university has any business extending its reach beyond the urgent needs that exist within its state’s own boundaries. The actual questions should parallel the following: How can Michigan State University help the people of Michigan now and in the future? How can MSU help Michigan and its citizens understand that their own long-term survival depends on a strong world economy--and that Michigan can contribute and benefit from actions that strengthen nations beyond their borders in ways they cannot yet easily visualize?

Time and again and across sectors, we have learned the benefits of coprosperity. Indeed, coprosperity feeds individual prosperity in the world of ideas, the economy, scientific discovery, and human values and vice versa. World Grant global engagement is an essential bridge feeding both coprosperity and individual prosperity at home and elsewhere.

My answer to these questions is that any state that seeks to be prosperous in the global economy of the twenty-first century must extend its vision outward to understand the larger context of its own challenges and opportunities; it must reach beyond its own borders to engage problems on a broader scale. In a global society, we cannot adhere to a protectionist view of knowledge and capacity building that deems a university’s involvement in other settings as a zero-sum equation that deprives residents of the home state. From its earliest iterations, the land-grant university has embraced the principle that knowledge gained in one setting should be widely disseminated to advance the public good; the lessons learned from the university’s involvement in one context should be made available to those of similar circumstances in other places, within and beyond a given state. The distinctive contribution of a university in the land-grant tradition is its commitment to work with people in their own settings; in doing so, it imparts the ability to be innovative and succeed—in the home state and beyond. The benefits of a university’s work in international settings are reciprocal. By engaging with other nations and cultures, we take the university to the world; at the same time, we bring the world to the university and to the state. The resulting richness of new insight, enhanced understanding, and goodwill confers benefits to all parties, including the communities, businesses, and individual citizens of the university’s own state.

The World Grant Ideal makes real the case that in the flat world of a global, knowledge-driven economy, states and regions are increasingly dependent on the capacity of their universities to access global markets and human capital and recognize that knowledge grows—not only flows—between people beyond place-bound constraints.

In reaching beyond a state’s borders, an internationally recognized, research-intensive university in pursuit of the World Grant Ideal contributes substantially to the well-being of the state and its residents, helping to make the state a citizen of the world.

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