Published September 19. 2012 4:00AM
America has myriad reasons to be grateful to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, considered by many historians to be the nation's most important commander in chief. However here in Connecticut, we have one more reason to be particularly thankful to the man known as "Honest Abe" - the Morrill Act, which he signed into law 150 years ago this year.
Championed by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont, the Morrill Act of 1862 established America's "land-grant university" system, of which the University of Connecticut is one of the oldest and finest members. Without the Morrill Act, UConn would not be the institution it is today.
This weekend at UConn's Storrs campus, Under Secretary Kevin Concannon from the United States Department of Agriculture, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services will be on-hand for a dinner honoring the 150th anniversary of the act that paved the way for UConn's creation. The event will celebrate the vision of President Lincoln, Congressman Morrill and the many others who made land-grant universities possible.
But what's more, it will celebrate the full flourished vision of the Morrill Act, now on proud display in 110 different land-grant colleges and universities across the nation. Here at home, this weekend's celebration honors the spirit of this seminal act, still relevant 150 years later and on display each day in the groundbreaking strides made here at the University of Connecticut's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in teaching, research and outreach.
The Morrill Act was signed into law in the summer of 1862, at the end of the Industrial Revolution and at the height of the American Civil War. Congressman Morrill saw a need to establish higher learning institutions that focused on more than just classical studies, with educational opportunities in the realms of engineering and agriculture. And given the war, he wanted these schools to also include education in military tactics.
Today UConn exists as a result, as well as the 109 other land-grant colleges and universities across the nation, consistently producing thousands of our most prominent scientists and teachers, as well as those who have revolutionized the farming industry and made countless advancements in scientific research and environmental protection. They have produced those who work to feed the world, to bring better nutrition to impoverished areas and to drive local, state and national economies.
Although the animal science programs remain, UConn's agricultural college is no longer the simple "cow college" it was once labeled to be, its impacts now more far-reaching than many may be aware.
The school positively influences the Connecticut economy through teaching, research and outreach, promoting and protecting human and animal health while training students for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow. The breadth of the curricula - animal sciences, horticulture, nutrition, environmental sustainability, health and wellness, turf grass management, economics and so much more - make the college a sound investment in the state's ongoing economic recovery
The UConn College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has made great advancements in the development of sustainable agriculture, in enhancing human nutrition and in utilizing biotechnology to solve problems. And once students learn it here, they take it on the road with them. They take it into inner-cities to establish vital nutrition programs, and to impoverished areas both at home and abroad to create sustainable food systems. The world is the better for it.
That's why this weekend and throughout the rest of the year we should celebrate the achievements of the Morrill Act. Created in a time of national turmoil and strife, yet stronger than ever 150 years later.
As President Obama recently declared in a proclamation honoring the Morrill Act's 150th anniversary, "Generations of Americans have led richer, more productive lives as beneficiaries of the land-grant university system." Nowhere is that more true than here in Connecticut.
So thank you, Congressman Morrill and President Lincoln, for choosing 150 years ago to make this investment in America. As we celebrate this weekend on the Storrs campus the Morrill Act helped to create, we will honor our great past while we plan for our next successful 150 years.
Gregory Weidemann is Dean of the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.