New Documentary, ‘The Radical Idea: UMass Amherst and America’s Education Revolution,’ to Be Screened

Mass Aggie 1867

AMHERST, Mass. – A new documentary about the Morrill Act and the development of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and other land grant colleges into modern research universities will be screened Friday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center Auditorium at UMass Amherst.

Produced by WGBY-TV in conjunction with the university’s 150th anniversary, the hour-long program uses the occasion as a prism to reveal the impact of a bill that revolutionized American higher education and the man behind the landmark legislation: Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont.

Hosted and narrated by actor and UMass Amherst alumnus Bill Pullman, “The Radical Idea” explores in depth the unique history of UMass Amherst, first as Massachusetts Agricultural College, then Massachusetts State College, and today as the University of Massachusetts. From a struggling “cow college” to a major research university, the story of UMass Amherst exemplifies the evolution of higher education in America—past, present and future.

Campus historians, educators and UMass Amherst archivist Rob Cox paint a vivid picture of the beginnings of M.A.C. Through narration and interviews, viewers will learn how political, industrial and agricultural revolutions led to the contentious idea of a land grant university and, finally, its realization in the Morrill Act. The documentary also tells who Justin Morrill was and why he was committed to the idea of a practical education in the agricultural and mechanical sciences.

The free screening will be followed by a panel discussion with archivist Rob Cox, Harold L. Wolfe, director of corporate and foundation relations at WGBY, and W. Brian O’Connor, professor emeritus of biology at UMass Amherst. A reception is also planned.

The program will air on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. on WGBY-TV. “The Radical Idea” was produced by Mary Steele with support from WGBY, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and John and Elizabeth Armstrong.