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AS THE 2010-11 academic year begins, we rapidly are approaching two key milestones in the history of public higher education—both at the University at Buffalo and nationwide. In 2012, UB will celebrate our 50th anniversary as a public university, commemorating our entry into the State University of New York system in 1962 after more than a century as a private institution. Nationally, that year also will mark the 150th anniversary of a milestone pivotal to the history of U.S. public higher education itself: the 1862 Morrill Act, which established the American system of public, land-grant colleges.
AT UB Today press time, President Simpson announced his retirement effective Jan. 15, 2011. To read his message to the UB community, go here.
Founded on the premise that public higher education is the foundation of our country’s well-being, the Morrill Act offered every state in the nation a sizeable grant of land for the purpose of establishing public colleges and universities. This uniquely American policy effectively removed higher education from the exclusive grasp of the rich, the clergy and the privileged, and created the opportunity for all with the talent and motivation to benefit from advanced education.
Many of these land–grant institutions grew into the flagship public state universities that are the cornerstone of our higher education enterprise. Our nation’s public universities have educated millions who otherwise might not have been able to attend college, and they have generated research leading to much of the progress that has fueled U.S. prosperity over the past century.
The thousands of incoming students who join the University at Buffalo community this fall are becoming part of this proud tradition. But for this vital and uniquely American legacy to continue, maintaining a strong public higher education system, anchored by excellent public research universities like UB, must remain one of our highest national priorities. While the demand for public higher education perhaps never has been greater than it is today, it never has faced greater challenges. The global economic crisis is impacting the American public university. Nationwide, states are disinvesting in their futures, failing to recognize that investments in public higher education pay unmatched dividends in enabling American prosperity, democracy and security.
As UB alumni, you have a vital role to play in preserving the legacy of public higher education from which you have benefited. As graduates of this public university, I hope that you long remember the significance and value of your education, and that you do what you can to ensure that the opportunities it has brought you are available to others in the future.
We need to return to the notion that public higher education is a public good. Next year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of UB’s history as a public institution, I hope that as a nation we also will be able to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act as an affirmation of the value of our American public higher education system, just as its authors intended.
John B. Simpson, President
University at Buffalo
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