As UMass Amherst Marks 150 Years, NEPR Airs Program on the Morrill Act and Land-Grant Colleges

Justin Morrill

AMHERST, Mass. – “An Audacious Act: How a High School Dropout Helped Educate America,” a radio documentary about the Morrill Act and the creation of land-grant universities, will premiere on New England Public Radio, 88.5 FM, on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10 a.m.

Championed by Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill and signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862, the Morrill Act supported the establishment of land-grant colleges “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes.” Among the institutions founded under the Morrill Act is the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which is celebrating its 150 anniversary this year.

Written, produced and hosted by veteran journalist Lisa Mullins, the program was funded by UMass Amherst, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation and New England Public Radio. “An Audacious Act” will be offered to other public radio stations around the country.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Rob Cox, head of special collections and university archives, are among those interviewed in the hour-long documentary, which examines the impact of land-grant schools and their evolution into research universities, enrolling more than 3.5 million undergraduates and 1.1 million graduate students.

“An Audacious Act” follows Ohio State University researchers to Lima, Peru, where they are working with the National Agrarian University to help small farmers learn the proper use of pesticides to keep food safe. Also featured is a student from China who chose to study statistics at North Carolina State because of its reputation in his field.

The documentary also turns an eye to the challenges facing the schools today, including tight budgets, tuition and fee hikes, and competition from Massive Open Online Courses, or “MOOCs,” that are challenging the traditional model of public higher education.

Others interviewed during the program are Montana State University president Waded Cruzado, an alumna of the University or Puerto Rico; Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; and Carter Bascom, who recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire.

 “An Audacious Act” was edited by NEPR’s Jill Kaufman with production assistance and engineering by NEPR’s Cathleen O’Keefe.

The program will also air on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. on the NEPR News Network (640 AM, 91.7 FM in Franklin County and 89.5 FM in southern Berkshire County).