By Emily Tai
This Sunday’s New York Times included a piece on “vaping” (electronic cigarettes) in which veteran columnist Gina Bellafonte joked that, “among affluent teenagers in and around Manhattan, particularly those in the private school world…insurrection has largely meant coming home from college night and telling your parents that you are thinking about a big state school with great football, rather than, say, Wesleyan…” So it was particularly gratifying to find Sarah Vowell, another New York Times columnist, reminding readers what a difference a big state school can make—and the critical contribution the Morrill Land Grant Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, made in establishing them.
Vowell’s subject was graduates of Montana State University, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and whose alumni have gone on to become path-breaking biologists, artists, and engineers. She might just as easily have celebrated the City University of New York, which can boast of having trained Nobel Laureates in Economics and the Sciences; prominent government leaders of our city, state, and nation; as well as countless prominent contributors to the performing arts and humanities on its various campuses.
While many of the thousands of students who enroll in public colleges every year are hoping to realize greater personal potential, it may be worth reminding our legislators, in this budget season, that an investment in public higher education in general—and the City University of New York, in particular−is an investment, not only in the collective potential of New York City, or even New York state, but of every American who has benefited from the traditions of the Morrill Act.
Emily S. Tai is an associate professor of History at Queensborough Community College, and edits the UFS Blog.
The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.
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Photo: public domain.