"Celebrating Diversity in the West" is the focus of administrative leaders in Western Land Grant universities, who are meeting this week in Park City for the Western Region Joint Summer Meetings.
Kerry Bringhurst speaks with Chuck Gay, Associate Vice President for Extension at Utah State University, who explains why representatives from the Land Grant universities get together every summer and what they are celebrating this year.
The Western Region in the conference title refers to all the Western States, including Hawaii, who come together to discuss issues important to Land Grant universities. Utah State University is the host this year.
The concept started 150 years ago, says Gay, "In 1862 a number of things all came together at once. It started off on May 15 with the creation of the US Department of Agriculture. President Lincoln and his cabinet put this concept together, because in 1862 a little over 80% of the entire population of the country was engaged in some form of agriculture."
Westward expansion, the Homestead Act, and the Railroad Act were also big factors. The Land Grant university system was established on July 2. "The country was broke," says Gay, "We had a huge debt because we were engaged in the Civil War, but we had lots of land. In almost all of these cases, the Federal government provided land in lieu of either the work being done (in the case of the railroads), or land for homesteading, or land to support the Land Grant universities."
Why is this year's theme diversity? "We're trying to build ethnic diversity and gender diversity among our student base," says Gay, "so that's one of the themes we're looking at." That's why the conference speakers include Robert E. Lang of the Brookings Mountain West Institute in Las Vegas, James Morales who heads Student Services at USU, and Edward Romero, VP for Equal Opportunity and Diversity at Texas A&M University.
Diversity doesn't just refer to ethnic diversity, but also demographic diversity. "According to this past census," says Gay, "Utah is now 90% urban, which means we have this huge state, with all this open land and not very many people."
And how far has the Land Grant system come since President Lincoln's administration? "It's what has vaulted the common man forward," says gay. "In 1862, there were only private schools and only the wealthy families were able to support those schools."
The document that established the Land Grant universities -- the Morrill Act -- was only 2 hand-written pages. "Can you imagine today how many volumes of paper it would take to do a Morrill Act?" asks Gay. The Act has lasted for 150 years. Gay sums it up this way, "It created this great machine that creates the research that feeds the world."
For more information about the Western Region Joint Summer Meetings, "Celebrating Diversity in the West", and the legacy of the Morill Act, listen to our Access Utah live broadcast from Park City.