Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Cornfield in the Middle of A Campus?

8 August,  2017
This Sunday is “check in day” at Residential College 4, National University of Singapore. It is a fun day for greeting arriving new students, sometimes accompanied by their parents; also for catching up with older students who are departing for international exchange adventures.
A few minutes ago I spoke with a student who soon will be departing for the University of Illinois, located in the Midwestern heartland of the US, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I know this institution very well.  It was one research site for my doctoral dissertation and first book, Partners in Development: An Analysis of AID University Relations 1960-1966. What I remember most about about U of I Champaign Urbana is that a cornfield, rather than a grass-covered quadrangle, graces, its center-campus.
This highlights U of I Champaign Urbana’s origins as one of American’s educational innovations, the “Land-Grant” public university. These Universities are legacies of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, enacted in 1862, which endowed higher-education institutions, devoted primarily to agriculture and engineering, with substantial grants of public lands. Among them are my own Ph.D. Alma Mater, The University of Minnesota; also the University of Michigan, the University of Indiana, Cornell University, and many more. The mission of these institutions was public service. For years, low tuitions made the opportunity tor a high quality university education available to all. As I recall, my University of Minnesota tuition was $50 per credit hour. Sadly, this is less true today.
It has always interested me that Singapore’s educational leaders seem to look more towards America’s “Ivy League” Universities rather than its Land Grant Universities for institutional models. An exciting exemplar, Yale-NUS College, is a towering neighbor of our Residential Colleges, including my own Residential College 4. I have nothing against ‘”the Ivies” of course.  After all, my undergraduate degree is from one of them, Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire! 
To be sure, NUS has no cornfield gracing its mid-campus.  However Congressman Justin Morrill and his colleagues would be gratified to know that in a far distant land, there is another institution with a similar mission to the Land Grant Universities: public service to the Nation of Singapore and its people. 


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