In the Field: Dr. Kirk Heinze

“The key to the remarkable success of America’s Land Grant universities has been a steadfast commitment to educational opportunity designed, first and foremost, to expand and enrich our democratic form of government,” states Heinze.

July 6, 2018

Kirk Heinze

“The key to the remarkable success of America’s Land Grant universities has been a steadfast commitment to educational opportunity designed, first and foremost, to expand and enrich our democratic form of government,” states Heinze.

kirk heinze2

In the Field with Kirk Heinze - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In the Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm Kraig Ehm. Joining me is Dr. Kirk Heinze, MSU professor emeritus for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources communication, and current host of the state wide radio program on sustainability, Greening of the Great Lakes. Kirk, thanks for being here.

Kirk Heinze: Kraig, it's a pleasure.

Ehm: Let's talk about the history of Michigan State University. How did it begin?

Heinze: Well, it's a rich history. But there was a lot of agitation back in America in the 1820s, 30s and 40s about having agricultural colleges. Interestingly enough, the agitation was coming primarily from people in agriculture. It wasn't coming necessarily from academic circles like Harvard or the University of Michigan or what have you. Farmers organizations were calling for the establishment of these colleges. Well, Michigan got on board fairly early on and after a lot of debate in the legislature, et cetera, and a couple of constitutional mandates, in 1855, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was established.

Ehm: How did it began as far as the Morrill Act?

Heinze: Yeah, for the first several years, 1855, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was established. Two years later, the students started to come. And the first few classes, 50, 60, 65 students. And then, a few years later, what hits? The Civil War. A lot of the people who were among the first graduates of the college, ended up being conscripted and serving in the Union Army. In fact, two of the first seven baccalaureate recipients from the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan were killed before they actually received their degrees. One was killed at Gettysburg as a matter of fact. And another one was killed at Malvern Hill. So, two of the first seven graduates of the school died in the service of the Union Army. Interestingly enough. But, during the Civil War, back to your question about the Morrill Act, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which essentially established the land grant university, not only for the state of Michigan, but for the entire United States. Since Michigan had already had a college, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, underway, obviously that became the land grant school for the state of Michigan. And I can tell you a little bit more about Morrill here, one of the first, well the first president of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was a fellow named Joseph Williams. Well, Williams was a big proponent of agricultural education, obviously. But he was also a friend of Justin Morrill's. And when Morrill was pushing to get the Morrill Act established, during the Lincoln administration, Williams was instrumental in promoting the philosophy and the details and the concept of the land grant institutions. So, Michigan had a major role to play in the ultimate passage and signing of the Morrill Act.

Ehm: Williams was also instrumental in not only that, but also providing a place where Michigan State University would be located.

Heinze: Right, and originally, and you probably know from some of your research, this was pretty swampy ground around here. A lot of trees had to be cleared. In fact, when some of the farmers visited the site prior to the building of the first couple of buildings here on campus, they couldn't believe how bad and how swampy. They said, this isn't even suitable for a muff farm, as a matter of fact. And we're going to turn this into an agricultural college. But obviously, all these years later, look what we have. We have one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.

Ehm: Let's talk for a second about what makes a land grant university, a Land Grant University.

Heinze: Well, there's some principles of land grant. But first, let me go back to the, maybe one of the specifics. The federal government, actually, because of the Morrill Act, gave each state a certain amount of land that they could sell. This was federal land that the states could sell. The money from the sale would form an endowment. And from the endowment they would fund these agricultural colleges. So, Pennsylvania had an endowment, Michigan had an endowment, and that's how these were going to be paid for. Also, as a footnote to all of that, there was a lot of agitation down in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan about where this agricultural college should be established. Their argument was, we've been here since 1837, 1836, we don't need a new college. We just have the agricultural college as part of the University of Michigan. And that debate went on for 15 or 20 years before it was finally resolved that the agricultural college would be in East Lansing. But anyway now, back to your question.

Ehm: Right, the question on what is a land grant university?

Heinze: Some major principles, first of all, access and opportunity for the common man. It was hard for folks in the middle class and the working classes to get into universities back in the day because those were primarily classical learning, Greek and Latin, English, rhetoric, et cetera. Preparing for the ministry, preparing for legal profession, medical profession. Sort of the elites. So, how does the common man as an extension of the democratization of education for all people, higher education, how do we provide access? Also, integrating education and real life issues like agriculture. Problems that were going on, that farmers were having. How do we integrate those problems into the classroom, into the curriculum? That was not a concern of the more classical educational model. Then also combining the liberal arts and practical studies in classes. So you might have soil chemistry in the morning, and English in the afternoon. I think one misnomer has been that somehow the land grant philosophy sort of precluded traditional training in English and history and political science and economics. That wasn't the case at all. It was actually expanding that curriculum to include more practical courses like soil chemistry, soil physiology, et cetera, that were directly applicable to some of the problems in society. And finally, I think the whole idea of expanding educational opportunity fits very well into a whole ethos of, what's good for democracy? The more educated your voting public, the more well informed they are, the better citizens. And that goes back to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and it goes back to the English Enlightenment and a long way back. Education as a key to expanding and nurturing democracy is something that holds, in my opinion, til this day.

Ehm: Broke down the barriers as far as, you don't have to be an elite in order to attend the university and receive your education.

Heinze:  Absolutely. And, breaking down those barriers is something, quite frankly, that President Simon to this day, and other MSU presidents. I think that's sort of the tie that holds, that's the ongoing fiber from 1855 until now. How do you provide access to higher education at an affordable cost, so that people of all different persuasions and backgrounds have access and opportunity? That value has never changed in my opinion, over, since 1855.

Ehm: And it's no longer just land grant here in Michigan. The land in Michigan, because Michigan State University has students from all over the world.

Heinze: Well, excellent point. We've used the term world grant as an extension of land grant. And that's simply a way of evolving that original land grant mission. The words can change over time, but the fundamental mission has not changed. Access, opportunity and connection to real life problems.

Ehm: Kirk, can you explain a little bit about how MSU is a prototype for the other 69 land grant institutions?

Heinze: Well, the fact that there were so many voices in Michigan that were progressive in terms of establishing agricultural colleges, so that in 1855 we had something going here in Michigan that most other states didn't have going. Now, in fairness to Penn State University, they were close. They were right with us, but there've been a few articles in journals like Agricultural History, that suggest that we nipped them by just a few days actually, back in 1855 in establishing our school. But, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan in 1855, because it was the first, we became the prototype. And they were doing exactly what the Morrill Act embodied, even back then. So, we were on the ground, basically on the ground running when the Morrill Act was passed. And subsequent universities were formed.

Ehm: The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is housed in the Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture.

Heinze: Very appropriately.

Ehm: Very appropriately. Can you expand a little bit about Justin S. Morrill?

Heinze: Well, this is an interesting little factoid that I picked up over the years. Morrill was pushing for a land grant act back in the Buchanan administration, before the Lincoln administration. But because of all the agitation ahead of the Civil War and south versus north, and the western states being concerned about incursion by the south and the north, slave states, et cetera, Buchanan vetoed the first Morrill Act that went through Congress in, I think it was 1859. So Morrill actually had to retool, had to rev up his engines again and do it all over again in the Lincoln administration. And the politics were different in 1862, because of some compromises that were made and Morrill was very astute at compromise, a word we don't hear often in Washington these days. But, back then, it worked from time to time. Lincoln was prepared to sign the bill. So, he was very diligent in his belief about establishing schools for the working classes, for the agricultural classes. And, as I mentioned earlier, he had support of people like President Williams here at Michigan, and around the country, who helped push this thing forward.

Heinze: But, it's most appropriate. Most appropriate that, what used to be called Agricultural Hall is now called the Justin Morrill Hall of Agriculture.

Ehm: The college is not just the college, it's also made up of Michigan State University extension and Michigan State University Ag/Bio research. Can you talk a little bit about their histories?

Heinze: Well, after the Morrill Act, after the Civil War, then again, that land grant ethos started, continued to evolve and so, there was also federal legislation in 1887 called the Hatch Act. Which established what were then called agricultural experiment stations in every state in Michigan. And we now call MSU Ag/Bio research, but that became a research arm back then, of the colleges of agriculture around the country. And then in 1914, we had the Smith Lever Act, and not to get into too much legislation here, but the idea for Smith Lever was to establish an outreach capability where the research and teaching that were going on at the university were able to be disseminated out into the counties of each state in the United States. And so, the Hatch, or the Smith Lever Act of 1914, established what we now know as MSU extension, or the extension service.

Ehm: Ag/Bio Research, they conduct some really interesting research in different areas of the state, different climates. And then that work is in turn, given towards Michigan State University extension, so they can get the word out about the research that's being done.

Heinze: Exactly.

Ehm:  So, they're in tune and in touch with the residents of Michigan.

Heinze: I always like the analogy, what the extension service did, it gave land grant universities a window into every community in the state in which those universities serve. Extension became that window between the university and the public. Rather ingenious actually, and something that other universities have emulated. They may not have an extension service, but you'll notice universities like Grand Valley for example, and others, have sort of expanded on that whole notion of outreach in the communities. Whereas, some universities quite frankly, have not. But MSU has always been connected with communities as far back as 1855.

Ehm: In 1855, the original campus site included 676.75 acres. Today it's a 52 hundred acre campus, 21 hundred acres are under plan development. Where do you see this university going in the future?

Heinze: Well, just looking at the recent past, Craig, the movement in the spectrum in Grand Rapids, we've talked a lot about that. I mean, Michigan State University establishing a presence in Grand Rapids, in the healthcare area, in the music area in Detroit. They're doing some things in Flint. I mean, Michigan State University continues to look for opportunities out in the state to make that connection between the university and the citizens of the state of Michigan. Totally in the land grant philosophy, always evolving, the curriculum, the specifics evolve and change. But that basic commitment, the accessibility, the outreach and the connection remain the same.

Ehm: In the book, Pursuing What is Best for the World, back in the day, a student work schedule consisted of 5:15 awake and get up, no snooze alarms. Okay. 5:30 attend chapel. 5:50 breakfast, and then at 6:15 report to the farm director at the barn and begin your work. To quote the Phillip Morris company, you've come a long way baby.

Heinze: Come a long way baby, it sounds like my basic training stint down at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Maybe that had something to do with some of the military training that was going on during that time. But, that sounds pretty rigorous, but I would guess that, Craig, for those farm boys, it wasn't so bad. And initially, it was boys, it wasn't until later that Michigan State University started allowing women. But back then, it was guys who were used to getting up early on the farm.

Ehm: Is there anything else that you'd like to add, that I haven't asked? Or something that you'd like to talk about?

Heinze: Well, I just want to give some credit here. There's a wonderful book called The Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land Grant Philosophy by Keith Widder. W-I-D-D-E-R. And that's available through MSU Press. That was written in 2005. And then you mentioned Pursuing What is Best for the World, 150 years of Teaching Research and Extension written by good friends of mine, Ken VerBerg and Ray Vlasin. And Ken recently, I think, passed away. But, that is also available from MSU, and I think simply, maybe you know specifically. But, I would certainly mention those two books. And also again, back to the genius of the land grant movement, had more to do with accessibility, in my opinion, than it had to do with specific curriculum or specific training. And that accessibility, that ethos, endures to this day.

Ehm: I would like to thank Dr. Kirk Heinze for joining me today. Tune in next time for another episode of In The Field.

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