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The Ethos of a Land Grant Institution

Timothy Shaffer is a Ph.D. student in Adult and Extension Education. He's featured in a Sun guest column this morning that channels Liberty Hyde Bailey, arguing that 'land-grant' should be more than just the publicity of research, but must meaningfully engage the citizenry:

Liberty Hyde Bailey, a name that may only sound familiar because a hall bears his name, was one of these educators in our land-grant history who offered another approach to Cornell’s public mission. He wrote books such as What is Democracy? and The Holy Earth. In the latter he writes, “The college may be the guiding force, but it should not remove responsibility from the people of the localities, or offer them a kind of co-operation that is only the privilege of partaking in the college enterprises. I fear that some of our so-called co-operation in public work of many kinds is little more than to allow the co-operator to approve what the official administration has done.” What Bailey wrote about is more than translating research into usable information.

Education takes seriously that the most pressing issues our state, nation and world face are not simply technical. They are technical in some respect, but they are also political, cultural, ethical and even religious. Bailey wrote about this in 1915. Who will write about this in 2015?

This counter-narrative of the land-grant mission, albeit marginal throughout history, has been about engaging citizens and communities not as receptacles for information but as co-creators of knowledge. We have rich historical and contemporary examples of such work, but it was and will presumably continue to be on the periphery. The closure of the department signals a loss of space for complex questions to be thought about and engaged with. What I'm concerned about is the further narrowing of the land-grant mission as faculty and students are told by the institution that thinking about sustainability, for example, as something other than a purely technical and scientific issue isn't valued. I'm glad that the only decision that has been made thus far is the closure of the department. I have great hope that we, the Cornell community, might engage one another constructively to ensure that we do indeed embody our mission as a land-grant university.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on November 08, 2010 (#)

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