Wisconsin and Land Grant Universities

One of the best pieces of legislation ever enacted was the Morrill Act of 1862 that created the land grant colleges. As with most successful developments, this was both a continuation and a break with tradition. Universities had been elite institutions for the study of things not very practical. Then there were trade schools that were nothing but practical. The mission of the land grant schools was to study and promulgate useful arts and sciences, like agriculture and engineering. This merged the thinkers with the doers.

It is said of intellectuals that they are not happy with something that works in practice until they understand it in theory. This is usually meant as a put down, but I would consider it a compliment. Understanding the theory of something helps you make improvements. An outcome may be the result of good or bad luck. Only if you understand something of what is supposed to happen can you tease out the causes. On the other hand, theories that never have manifestations in the real world are a type of mental auto-eroticism. We need a cross fertilization and land grant colleges did that.

Much of America’s prosperity today is the result of this wise legislation. and of the enthusiasm that recipients took of the opportunity

I thought of this as I walked around the University of Wisconsin. I noticed the faculty of soil science. Imagine all the good that came from these generations of scientists studying what others dismissed as dirt. I also passed a plaque to Fredrick Jackson Turner. He was a Wisconsin guy too. His contribution to history was the frontier thesis. It is out of style these days and there are flaws, but his was a bold step in understanding our national character.

It was great being a student at UW. You could find somebody who studied almost anything. They even had a class in Hittite. I thought of taking it, but then thought harder.

My first picture shows the Frederick Jackson Turner plaque. Next is the faculty of soil science. The third picture shows the high water on the lakes, higher than I recall ever seeing it. Second last is the old history building. I was so excited to go there that I even claimed to like that hideous building. Last is the Wisconsin State Capitol, modeled on the U.S. Capitol but shorter. No state Capitol is allowed to be taller than the U.S. Capitol.

Note the picture on the banner near the history building. Pink flamingos. That has some history that is not well known, but I recall personally. Student government at UW had fallen into ruin and leftist control in the late 1970s. One of the parties that ran in the elections was actually called “Smash the State.” Enter “Pail & Shovel”. They were some clowns, literally, who ran on the platform that “Student government is a bad joke. We will make it a good one.” Among their promises was to put thousands of flamingos on Bascom Hill. They won the elections and kept their promise. One day when I came to class, I saw the hill pink with those plastic birds. Some said it was a waste of money, but considering the general track record, not so much.

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