An Audacious Act:



The Morrill Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, has since helped educate more than 25 million students. It was passed during a tumultuous time in U.S. history, even before the cannons of the Civil War went silent. It's a fascinating story, winding its way through 20th century innovation, the Civil Rights Movement, the establishment of Black and tribal colleges, leading up to today.


The impact of land-grant schools can be seen directly in their own communities and around the world; more than 3.5 million undergraduate and 1.1 million graduate students are currently enrolled. Many land-grant schools are first rate research institutions, working in fields as diverse as their student populations. "An Audacious Act" follows Ohio State University to Lima, Peru, where it is working with Peru's National Agrarian University to help small farmers learn the proper use of pesticides to keep food safe, and a student from China who chose to study statistics at North Carolina State because of its reputation in his field.


The documentary also turns an eye to the challenges facing these schools. 150 years after the Morrill Act was signed, just about every land-grant college president is struggling under the weight of tight budgets, tuition and fee hikes, and even competition from Massive Open On-line Courses, or "MOOCs," challenging the traditional model of public higher education.


"An Audacious Act" features interviews with officials, professors, and students from many land-grant universities, including UMass Amherst Chancellor, Kumble Subbaswamy; University of Puerto Rico alumna and President of Montana State University, Waded Cruzado; and Carter Bascom, who recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire with $96,000 in student loan debt. Rob Cox, Head of Special Collections & University Archives at UMass Amherst is also interviewed, along with Peter McPherson, President of The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and many others.

Morrill, Justin S.,  1810-1898.

Sponsored by Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, the Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Officially titled "An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts," the Morrill Act provided each state with 30,000 acres of Federal land for each member in their Congressional delegation. The land was then sold by the states and the proceeds used to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"An Audacious Act- How a High School Dropout Helped Educate America" was produced, written, and narrated by Lisa Mullins.

The technical director was Cathleen O'Keefe.

The editor was Jill Kaufman and the executive producer was Helen Barrington.

We had production assistance from Ben Rifkin, Bart Rankin and the staff at New England Public Radio in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Thanks also to the staff at the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont; Fred Wasser; David Freudberg of Human Media; Also, Bestor Cram and Northern Light Productions for use of the documentary "Scarred Justice."

"An Audacious Act" was made possible by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the  University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation Board and contributors to New England Public Radio.