New England Public Radio Produces a New Radio Documentary on the Morrill Act

New England Public Radio is proud to announce the premiere of its radio documentary, “An Audacious Act: How a High School Dropout Helped Educate America.” This hour-long documentary looks at 19th century Congressional legislation — The Morrill Act — that established many of the country’s public universities and colleges or “land-grant” schools, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the universities of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont.  

The program is written, produced and hosted by veteran journalist, Lisa Mullins, edited by NEPR’s Jill Kaufman, with production assistance and engineering by NEPR’s Cathleen O’Keefe. It will be broadcast September 21 at 10:00 a.m. on New England Public Radio (88.5FM)*, and at 7:00 p.m. on The NEPR News Network (AM640, 91.7FM in Franklin County and 89.5FM in southern Berkshire County).  The program will be offered to public radio stations around the country.

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.

“An Audacious Act” is made possible by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation and New England Public Radio.

For more information and to obtain a press copy of “An Audacious Act: How a High School Dropout Helped Educate America,” please contact executive producer, Helen Barrington at or 413.577.0541.

*New England Public Radio can be heard at the following frequencies throughout Berkshire County: 101.1FM (North Adams), 98.7FM (Great Barrington), 98.3FM (Lee), 106.1FM (Pittsfield/Lenox), and 96.3FM (Williamstown).