Innovation and the Mission of the Land Grant University

katehi_linda1_bBy Linda P.B. Katehi

Land Grant institutions like UC Davis trace their genesis all the way back to 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln, with the nation torn apart by Civil War, signed the Morrill Act to promote “the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Back then, those pursuits were mostly limited to agriculture and the mechanical arts. But Lincoln’s signature helped ignite the single biggest effort in history to provide an increasingly diverse higher education to anyone wishing to pursue one. Top-flight public research universities have since evolved to play a number of indispensable roles for the world and for the communities and states they serve.

The Morrill Act laid the groundwork for the democratization of public higher education in America in just 1,300 words, a page and a half of text. With remarkable vision, it proclaimed our collective belief that a college education was something everyone should have access to, not just a privileged few.

As President Lincoln said at the time: “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support and their confidence.”

When President Kennedy addressed 88,000 people at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium in 1962, he called the Morrill Act “the most extraordinary piece of legislation which this country has ever adopted.” He made such a sweeping statement because he understood that a free and prosperous society depends on the highest quality education for as many people as possible.

The public university we know today had help along the way from other visionary federal policies that built on the Morrill Act. With the National Defense Act of 1952 and the National Facilities Act of 1962 that provided public universities with federal funding for the development of national facilities and for participating in basic research, the public research university was born.

From the early 1960s until the late 1970s, the American Research University developed and strengthened its research activities and established its graduate programs at the Masters and Ph.D. levels in ways that other universities around the world had never experienced. Up to that point, all the research done on the university campuses was shared openly in the public domain.

With the turn of the decade of the 80’s, that changed. Through fundamental discoveries made on university campuses that were revolutionizing technology with the advent of personal computers, the introduction of automation in production and manufacturing, massive expansion of telecommunications and the beginning of the internet, there was a realization that the research university which was the cradle of these innovations had the right to own its discoveries and to commercialize them.

This gave rise to the concept of ownership of intellectual property and to commercialization as a tool for economic development.

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, thanks to the little known Bayh-Dole Act signed into law in by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, universities started to create the first incubators and start-up companies. Since then, America’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have educated millions of students and contributed tens of billions of dollars to the economic might of our nation.

UC Davis alone now brings in more than $700 million in research grants annually. Together with other UC campuses, our faculty researchers have come up with innovations that boosted the state’s agricultural economy to more than $43 billion annually. Even more far-reaching may be the economic development role the university plays regarding the upward social mobility it helps create in our communities and across California.

Last year alone, 43 percent of our 26,000 undergraduate students were eligible for Pell grants. That’s more Pell Grant recipients than the entire Ivy League. In addition, more than half of our California resident undergraduates receive enough gift aid to have their system-wide tuition and fees covered.

These talented students who come from families at the lower socio-economic levels are educated to become future leaders who are helping to change the world. Their success not only transforms their own lives, but also those of their families and their communities.

Thanks to the visionary Morrill Act, UC Davis started as a small experimental station of the University of California in a place then known as Davisville a little more than 100 years ago. Since then it has grown into a Global Research University with 35,000 students and 27,000 faculty and staff.

More than 60,000 people come every day to our two campuses in Davis and Sacramento to learn, teach, conduct research and provide clinical and educational services. The transformation of the small experimental station to one of the largest public universities in the United States helped change the face of California and make it the innovation and economic powerhouse it is today.

UC Davis has lived up to and exceeded the aspirations of those who signed the Morrill Act and dreamed of using higher education to create a free and just nation. With a great tradition in creating social value and supporting the needs of the community and our state, now more than at any other time, UC Davis is poised to help our region once more achieve what it needs the most—economic development.

UC Davis can spearhead the transformation of our region to take its place as one of the top four regional economies in the state of California alongside Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area. UC Davis as the top Land Grant University and Davis as a signature community in the U.S. and around the world are ready to play a key role in this transformation.

Linda Katehi is the Chancellor of UC Davis.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of columns from Chancellor Katehi focusing on Innovation and the role of UC Davis.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Matt Williams

    As President Lincoln said at the time: “The land-grant university system is being built on behalf of the people, who have invested in these public universities their hopes, their support and their confidence.”

    I am glad Chancellor Katehi noted these important words of President Lincoln. I believe President Lincoln was challenging universities to be more than Ivory Towers.  The good works of our universities in general, and UC Davis specifically, become exponentially more valuable when they benefit (affect) not only the insular community within the campus boundaries, but also the society and economy beyond those campus borders.

    Transfering the technology fruits of the pure research and applied research programs at UCD to the private sector for both practical application and further applied research has clearly been much more of a focus for UCD since Chancellor Katehi arrived.  I thank her for helping UCD continue and expand its legacy of providing practical, implementable innovation to both the World’s agricultural economy and the economy at large.

    I would also like to challenge Chancellor Katehi and UCD’s Technology Transfer Program to do more, specifically in forging a closer, more trusting partnership with the city . . . especially in the area of housing.  The 2020 Initiative is a clear commitment by UCD to accelerating the contributions and achievements of both research and technology transfer; however, adding 5,000 research students, 500 research faculty and 300 staff comes with significant housing requirements that it would be best for UCD and the City to address collaboratively.  The vast majority of those 5,000 students are going to want to live on campus or very close to campus.  Based on the currently published 2014 Student Housing Strategic Plan (see ) the on campus capacity is only slated to rise from the current 4,755 student beds to 5,451 student beds in the 2020/2021 academic year.  That 700 bed rise begs the question, “Where does UC Davis expect the other 4,300 students added by the 2020 Initiative to live?”  I believe that question is one that UCD and the City should be collaboratively addressing together.  I hope Chancellor Katehi takes that issue up in her second article.



    1. DavisBurns

      Thank you Matt.  I too am concerned about the expansion of the university and the resultant increase in demand for housing.  Davis is built out unless we expand our boarders or build high rise apartments…the opportunity for infill is very limited. I would like UCD to provide additional housing for students, including a low income option.  They have the land and Davis does not.  I have read the university doesn’t see providing housing as a priority or their responsibility in part because it isn’t a good return on their investment yet the city is expected by default to provide student housing

  2. Anon

    Many thanks to Chancellor Katehi for bringing the need for innovative economic development to the forefront.  It is important as time marches on, that the city and UCD work collaboratively on this effort with potential developers of innovation parks, so that a shared vision that will complement both UCD and the city can be realized.  It is even more important that this be done in light of a Measure R citizen vote required to approve any new innovation park outside city limits on the periphery of Davis.

  3. Davis Progressive

    i applaud the chancellor for beginning this conversation.  i echo the comments of matt williams, but mostly hope that this becomes the starting point for discussions between the city and uc and that we can together address issues of common purpose.

  4. Don Shor

    When my dad was at Scripps he was active in a “town and gown” group that met regularly — local business leaders, interested residents, professors and researchers and administrators at UCSD — who had informal monthly meetings. The purpose was to form networks and facilitate communication between the university and the community. UCSD, like UCD, had a big impact on La Jolla and there were sometimes tensions, so this type of network helped to foster relationships and dialogue. And he always enjoyed the informative meetings as well.

    A quick Google search shows that they have actually formalized this organization:

    I don’t know if something like that exists here, but it seems there are conversations that need to be happening between the ‘town and gown’ here. Housing is a big issue. Research that could yield business start-ups is another. It seems to me that the Davis and UCD communities are often acting parallel rather than in tandem.

  5. PhilColeman

    Offering a point of historical clarification on when land grant college began in the United States.

    It is a commonly held assumption–even among academic historians–that the Morill Act heralded the start of government sponsored state agriculture colleges in the US. Not trying to be picky, but my alma mater has always asserted it is the first land grant college in the United States, and several years earlier.

    In 1855, the State of Michigan initiated legislation that caused the creation of a small agriculture college that eventually became Michigan State University. The Morill Act patterned the Michigan legislation precisely to create possibly the greatest expansion of college education opportunities in our country’s history.

      1. Miwok

        For 20 years prior to the first introduction of the bill in 1857, there was a political movement calling for the creation of agriculture colleges. The movement was led by Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College. For example, the Michigan Constitution of 1850 called for the creation of an “agricultural school”,[1] though it was not until February 12, 1855, that Michigan Governor Kinsley S. Bingham signed a bill establishing the United States’ first agriculture college, the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, known today as Michigan State University, which served as a model for the Morrill Act.[2]

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