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The People’s University With Steve Gavazzi

Episode 189
Mission Daily producer Hilary Giorgi sits down with Steve Gavazzi to discuss the history and future of land-grant universities.

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Do you know what a land-grant university is? We didn’t either, so we invited on Steve Gavazzi.

Steve (Twitter: @StephenMGavazzi) is a professor at The Ohio State University and co-author of the book Land Grant Universities For the Future; Higher Education For the Public Good. In this episode, Mission Daily producer Hilary Giorgi sits down with Steve. They discuss how land-grant universities have been slowly moving away from their original mission as a university for the people, and how we can direct them back towards that goal.

What Steve Does 1:20

What Is A Land-Grant University? – 2:00

  • “The land grant universities are America’s first public universities. They were founded in 1862 through what was known as The Morrill Land-Grant Act.”
  • The federal government granted land to each state in order to meet localized education needs for their communities.
  • Before land-grants, the only way you could go to college is if you were white, wealthy, male, and lived in an urban area. People who didn’t fit this description needed to get a higher education opportunity in order to advance America’s interests.
  • The act was passed in order to promote liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life. It was designed to help the working class get practical skills.
  • Timeline:

The Mission of a Land-Grant University Today – 5:10

  • Together, Michael V. Drake, The Ohio State President, and E. Gordon Gee, West Virginia University President, wrote a letter to all of the presidents and chancellors of the land-grant universities asking them to participate in an interview. Steve was able to interview 27 of these land-grant university presidents.
  • From the interviews, he found seven key themes:
  1. That land-grant universities had continued to suffer from reduced funding from their historical sources, and that they need to be more efficient with the money they were given
  2. It’s hard to balance the dynamic between the goals of research, teaching, and outreach.
  3. Balancing the pursuit of basic science and applied research.
  4. A conflict between the pursuit of national rankings and being a university that’s accessible and affordable to its population.
  5. A conflict between rural and urban accessibility.
  6. Balancing international and home impact.
  7. Questioning the value of a higher ed degree.
  • “Many of these universities are meeting the needs of the communities, but they’re not doing so in a way in which the word is getting out. There seems to be a lack of a narrative in terms of how land-grant universities are actually creating positive impacts on the communities.”
  • Research is not something that the general public is interested in funding. It would benefit schools more to only share/promote research that has an actual impact on the problems that the surrounding area is facing.

How to Reward Excellence in Teaching – 16:00

  • “More and more universities are developing centers of teaching excellence and we are now developing metrics that are helping us better understand how to quantify that.”
  • “If you are going to assign a dollar value to someone’s teaching excellence, you need to be able to quantify that.”

How to Count Excellence in Service to Community – 17:00

  • Steve mentions: Engaged Scholar Consortium
  • How to go after the best and brightest students, while also remaining accessible to the general population.
  • “National rankings are BS.” -Peter McGraw in the forward of Land Grant Universities For the Future; Higher Education For the Public Good
  • “I really reject the notion that these national rankings have any meaning what so ever… If we stop worrying about rankings, we can start worrying about our own metrics.” Click to Tweet
  • Steve thinks a lot of the merit-based scholarships need to be recast as need-based scholarships.

The University As a Marketplace For Ideas – 22:20

  • Polling data shows that, in general, the communities around college campuses have a tendency to vote democratic. Michael Barron from Washington Examiner called this “islands in blue in vast seas of red.”
  • “Universities are in a great position to help people to work together and to hear each other… We need to redouble our efforts to make sure that we are providing fair and balanced opportunities for both sides of any argument to be heard.”
  • “Universities should be the place where the brightest and the dumbest, the most amazing and the stupidest ideas all got talked about and let people decide at the end of the day what they truly believe in.” Click to Tweet


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