Laws, Sausages, and Land-Grants

Laws, Sausages, and Land-Grants

Why do so many US states have two rival flagship universities, one focused on agriculture and technology and the other steeped in liberal arts traditions? In Montana, for example, one is (jocularly) the “cow college,” the other, “the dancing school over the hill.”

The agricultural and technical university, which often has “state” in its name, is typically a land-grant university formed under the auspices of the Morrill Act of 1862. It was meant to be a practical, down-to-earth “people’s university,” and even today it is less prestigious than the state’s traditional university, usually founded much earlier. But the emphasis on technology has made some of the land-grant universities research powerhouses and often bigger than their in-state rivals.

The history of these schools is so complicated and idiosyncratic that it provides a fertile field for understanding how history moves forward…

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