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Justin Smith Morrill Lecture

National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges Annual Meeting
November 11, 2001, Washington DC

Reinforcing the Covenant - Relevance and Reformation in Public Higher Education
Dr. Richard M. Foster Vice President of Programs W.K. Kellogg Foundation

I wish to express my deep appreciation for the tremendous honor, and for the opportunity to address this prestigious group of leaders in higher education in America. Justin Morrill, Senator from Vermont, was the principal author of land-grant university legislation and I have often wondered what his reaction would be if he could witness the impact of the system he created with the Morrill Act of 1862. As many of you have heard me say before, a higher education system that connects knowledge resources to the problems of people to promote the common good is the most appropriate higher education system for the first decade of the 21st century. I'm proud to be both a product of and an advocate for the State and Land-Grant University system.

I'm also very proud to be part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation with their long history of investing in communities - first in Michigan and then around the world. W.K. Kellogg was a true visionary, both as an industrialist and as a philanthropist. He looked to Michigan State College for solutions to rural poverty and revitalization even before he founded the Kellogg Foundation in 1930. The Kellogg Foundation has a history of connecting higher education institutions with the communities they serve. We've always believed in outreach and engagement, long before it was in vogue.

I am pleased to have had the continuing, long-term support of our Foundation leaders, both Executive Officers and our Trustees, in working with state and land-grant universities. Most of them are seasoned veterans when it comes to this work - our President and CEO was provost at Penn State, our Senior Vice President for Programming has had Executive Dean responsibilities at two major land grants (Penn State and Minnesota), and three of four of the Program Vice Presidents have land-grant experience. In addition, many of our Trustees have experiences as members of Boards of Regents, College Deans, and in related service to USDA and NASULGC.

I'd like to thank the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the good work, the friendship, and support of Peter Magrath. NASULGC has been the sponsoring agent of the Kellogg Presidents' Commission on the Future of the 21st Century State and Land-Grant University, the Food and Society Task Force, and several highly significant projects. Peter has, on more than on occasion, called our Foundation the Land-Grant Foundation - and I've always kind of liked that. We, at Kellogg, have a covenant with the communities we serve. But while land-grant universities gain their covenant through the Morrill Act of 1862, the second Morrill Act of 1890, and the Tribal College Act of 1994, we get ours from the vision and intent of our founder - W.K. Kellogg. He said "I'll invest my money in people;" and actually established the Foundation's current mission in 1930 - "To help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources." That sounds like a state and land-grant university philosophy to me, too.

And I'd like to extend my deep gratitude to the higher education unit of USDA, and in particular to Dr. Henry Bahn, Colien Hefferan, Jane Coulter, and many others who are committed to quality higher education in agriculture and food systems education. Your work is greatly appreciated.

A few years ago I received recognition for Kellogg Foundation efforts by the Academic Programs Division of the Board on Agriculture at this very conference. It was also the luncheon that recognized some of our best teachers in our state and land-grant universities. I felt humbled in their presence - receiving an award for what I do versus their being recognized for shaping the minds of our future professionals in agriculture and the food system. Today I'm in a similar situation - in the audience are those being recognized as our best and most effective teaching professors from across the country. I salute you for the work that you do. I believe teaching is the heart and soul of the institution. I am proud that my 17 years of contribution to three land-grant universities was primarily as a teacher.

It has not escaped my attention, and I'm sure yours as well, that today is Veteran's Day, and the two-month anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York, Washington, D.C., and the heroic crash in Pennsylvania.

Many have said it, but it is true that we in this country will never be the same. And it certainly has implications for how public higher education reacts as well.

September 11 th shook our very foundations. It took away our sense of security, some of our freedoms, and our confidence. We lost jobs, businesses, and 5,000 family members. It impacted our economy, our government, and even the way we look at each other. I'd say we have a new set of "nation's wounds to bind."

What we gained was a renewed sense of patriotic spirit, a coming together - and that's good for fighting a war.

The question will be is do we have the resolve to change many of our national systems - including higher education - to allow everyone from large business to small community to participate in the recovery?

I took time yesterday afternoon to walk the mall - from the strongly fortified Capitol Building to the very crowded memorials honoring those who served in Korea and Vietnam.

I ended up, as I always do, at the Lincoln Memorial. And read again, as I always do, the Gettysburg Address and the second Inaugural Address - and again realized it was certainly no accident that it was President Lincoln who signed the Morrill Act and the Emancipation Proclamation. The same president who spoke at Gettysburg of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Or in the second Inaugural Address of the need to bind up the nation's wounds. And it all came back again about the original land-grant intent - A people's investment of the people, for the people, and by the people - to provide information and knowledge that would help "bind up the nation's wounds."

Land grant is about democracy; it is about equity; it is about access; and it is about protecting the rights of the minority.

Since September 11 th , I think we also have a new calling - think local and global; invest in people and communities.

Today, I'd like to speak about three key points:

  • Some current and future issues facing state and land-grant universities (and food and agriculture system) that may require new strategies and solutions from higher education;
  • The changes required of higher education institutions to be effective in the future; and
  • The steps necessary for public higher education to make significant changes.

Pressures on the Land-Grant University System

So what are some examples of the significant issues impacting the need to consider new leadership approaches and university models? Each of us could name dozens and we'd likely describe them all very differently, but I'd like to suggest the following for both the university at-large and the food and agriculture component of the institution.

1. In the United States of America, we are experiencing greater changes in demographics than in any country on earth. The very fabric of our communities is changing and the challenge will be whether we can adjust from a majority-focused society to a pluralistic society that honors diverse cultures and perspectives. To me the questions are:

  • How will universities assist new immigrant communities to become part of the American fabric?
  • How will we connect knowledge resources to communities with different cultures, values, belief systems, economies, and needs?
  • How will we capitalize on the many positive contributions of a diverse set of community partners?
  • How will we create a better understanding of how people work together to span the differences in values, cultures, and knowledge that are to be respected?
  • And how will we build confidence of new communities to fully engage with higher education?

On September 11th we all discovered that not knowing how to work across cultures can hurt us.

2. The paradox of globalization and localization. In a globalizing environment, people at and below the margins usually get left behind. Those who do benefit are those with comparative advantage in systems like finance, transportation, media and information, banking, manufacturing and trade, health care, and certainly higher education that can be marketed to people worldwide with the aid of global communications technology.

It was no random target selection on September 11th. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon are highly symbolic of global power.

So who wins? Western and industrialized countries who have the aforementioned infrastructures benefit; large communities with both people and resources that can be flexible in responding to globalizing conditions could benefit; large multi-national corporations that already span national boundaries usually win; and U.S. institutions of higher education generally benefit as well.

Who usually looses? Small countries around the world; rural areas around the world (and certainly in the U.S.); small producers trying to compete with third-world labor and inputs; environmental systems that require local stewardship to be sustainable; etc.

So what are the implications for globalizing systems in the U.S. that we are seeing through our work at the Kellogg Foundation?

  • The loss of local food systems and an over-reliance on global food systems;
  • The disappearance of local communities and economies;
  • The loss of community connections and values;
  • The out-migrations of youth and skilled workers from rural communities;
  • The loss of economic options and business starts in rural America;
  • The lack of hope that things can get better; and
  • Government policies that favor large over small, global over local.

Globalization certainly was part of the issues that led up to the September 11th attacks.

The good news is that we can do both - we can support globalizing systems that make sense for all Americans and still invest in local, community-based social and economic development.

3. Producing food in a globalizing society - key questions are:

  • Where will food be grown?
  • How will it be produced?
  • How will we allocate scarce food resources in an era of increasing affluence and persistent poverty?

Some suggest that agriculture will follow the trends of manufacturing and industrialization and actually leave the U.S. because of labor and transportation costs. And others suggest that the decisions we are making, or are not making, in wise use of rural and agricultural lands for development will only accelerate the departure of agriculture from the American business portfolio. Do you have an opinion on what should be the course of food production in the future? Do you have a preferred future for agriculture and food production?

The rise of affluence may be the greatest factor to influence competition for food in the mid-21st century. Both India and China have added over 300 million people to their middle class over the last twenty years, especially in the 1990s where most of the decade was characterized by double-digit economic growth. And each new member of their middle class is demanding more grain-based food (meat, bread, beer, etc.) that will put increased pressures on the world food supply. Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand is the only region of the world with a net decline of per-capita food production over the past twenty years. Who do you think will have priority for limited food resources?

The decision on how we use local resources will have an increasingly global impact. For example, in Michigan we use 10 acres of land per hour, 24 hours per day for development. Of those 240 acres used each day, about half (118) come from prime farmland. The figure is 13 acres per hour in Ohio and 10 acres per hour in Minnesota and Wisconsin. You likely know the corresponding number for your state. My question for the people of Michigan, is how do you want to engage with the rest of the world in the middle of the 21st century? Would you like to be a food producer and have open space that contributes to so many aspects of the quality of life, or do you want to provide housing and parking lots? We have to consciously make the choice and we need our state and land-grant institutions to help us with quality information and leadership on these issues.

In all likelihood, it will be water quality and quantity that will be key issues on local, national, and global policy agendas in the future. How will we protect it? How will we allocate it?

There are now three river systems in China that are "used-up" before they enter the sea. In the U.S., the Colorado River is just a trickle as it enters Mexico. The competition will continue to be between agriculture and industrial development.

Other issues I'll mention, but not dwell on are:

  • What do we believe about the use of bio-technology in future food production versus the need to preserve the natural resource base for future food production?
  • What can be done about the rise of HIV/AIDs epidemic throughout the world and the tremendous loss of the human resource, especially in Africa?
  • Do we have a role in addressing issues of the 800 million people worldwide (mostly children) who chronically experience poverty and food deficiencies?

My point is that the university system of the future must be proactive; it must take a stand for the common good; and it must represent their constituencies at the community level as it has the government and industrial clientele of the past. The public university must use their local, state, national and global networks and resources to bring objective information and knowledge to the problems of all their constituents.

Characteristics of the Future State and Land-Grant University

We believe that universities of the future must be part of the social fabric of the country; they must use the tremendous knowledge resource to help people at all levels to be successful; and they must contribute to both social and economic development. In short, they must be nation builders and nation re-builders.

In 1996, the Foundation sponsored a Seminar in Salzburg, Austria on the future of higher education. Our colleagues attending from South Africa indicated they were dismantling entire systems of higher education because they were inconsistent with a society that valued justice and equal opportunity. The old model focused on the elite when the nation begged for people with nation-building skills. It was based on historical perspectives of race and color instead of future visions of diversity and inclusivity. And they did it.

Colleagues from Eastern Europe indicated they were revamping higher education systems that were based on political ideology rather than academic standards, systems that educated a chosen few rather than preparing the many. And they are doing it.

Colleagues from the United States indicated it was time to think about public higher education from a different perspective - that of organization based on engagement and outreach, as well as research. For 50 years we were engaged in research as the only true organizing structure in our major public and private universities. It was your research record that determined compensation, whether you gained tenure and advancement in rank, and it was research that determined your current and future value. It was fueled by large government expenditures that focused on global impact, most times in strengthening economic advantage. Many times it was aimed at improving crop yields that not only increased food availability for export and for food aid, but also contributed to a low-cost food policy for consumers and a low-profit margin for U.S. farmers. You see we were engaged in the Cold War and positioning America for geo-political success was extremely important for the times. And higher education responded well. In fact, we have always been able to produce what society expected of us in a high-quality manner.

But rarely did research and associated faculty activity focus on community improvements needed inside the U.S., where the fabric of our cities and rural communities was being torn apart because of highly destructive social and economic issues. The result was a continued strengthening of our global competitiveness (benefiting those who already had resources), and continued decline in communities that had no economic resources to leverage university involvement. We are still experiencing the fallout of those policies today.

The interesting consideration is that we now live in an era that we can and must do both. We should have good research and we should reward those who contribute. We should also have good outreach, taking the knowledge we have in our institutions and applying it to the problems of the people we serve, both locally and globally. And we should reward those who make valuable contributions to outreach and teaching.

Outreach as an organizing structure has some unique characteristics:

1. Programs are based on societal and economic needs identified by public constituencies;
2. Research is based on public needs, and the test of value lies with its application to solving problems and meeting societal needs;
3. Students aren't just those that come to a central campus, but are those who live and work in the communities that the university serves. They have both direct and remote access to relevant university programs;
4. Faculty are rewarded and incentives are available based on a variety of criteria, including research, outreach, and teaching; and
5. Rewards are based on the outstanding contributions of faculty, not on the narrowly perceived criteria that focus on impressing a handful of faculty peers.

We believe that the university of the future will be built on multiple, flexible organizing structures - certainly research, but also outreach. Our function will be to discover new information, or to reorganize old information into new meanings and to apply it to emerging and persistent problems. And our function will be to teach "students" how to learn in a society based on knowledge and learning.

How Can We Move the Change Agenda Forward

What will it take? It will require a significant adjustment in both action and attitudes.

Here is what I suggest:

1. Start with a statement of vision and values for the institution, the college, the department, etc. In an era of rapid change and global technology, we must be vision driven and value based.
2. Name the issues that you most want to impact and make it a priority up and down the administrative units of the university - bring public will and institutional alignment to make progress on the public agenda.
3. Invest in your transition to a major, highly networked, global university. Utilize global networks and resources to address local issues.
4. Insist on authentic public participation and engagement. Reach out to new and different constituencies, and give them real work and expect real input.
5. Align the leadership and the effort - president, provost, dean, chairs, and faculty - for maximum impact, for internal commitment and ownership; and for external communication. Engage around a shared vision that will lead to collective action, and expect faculty efforts to contribute to institutional outcomes.
6. Develop new partnerships and coalitions to accomplish the difficult goals of engagement. Place the university in the role of knowledge broker.
7. Convey a willingness to serve the public good. Take on issues that don't rely on special interests or the ability to pay. Make yourself an indispensable part of problem solving for your primary constituencies in your state.
8. Create a recognition and rewards system that promotes authentic contributions to discovery, engagement, and learning mission at the college, department, and faculty levels.

It is easy for me to see why the Kellogg Foundation has invested in you and your work over the years - higher education and the knowledge system you represent is absolutely essential for the survival of the communities that we strive to serve. Sustaining change at the community level demands connections to knowledge and technical assistance resources.

But just as communities need to change to respond to a changing global environment, higher education must change also. You have always been responsive to what society has needed, and I have little doubt that you'll be successful in making the needed adjustments. The Kellogg Foundation will be there as a long-term partner as long as it has positive impact on helping people help themselves.

But in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and in this city, and in this time - we must rededicate ourselves to be the People's University - a leader and a partner in rebuilding America.

I wish you well as we all struggle in these times of uncertainty. But please remember, we are counting on you to be a significant part of the solutions. Thank you again for this fine recognition, and best wishes during the remainder of the conference.