The University of Massachusetts, like most of the great public universities of our country, is celebrating a major milestone: It was 150 years ago that President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act into law, creating the system that made higher education available to millions of Americans, and which led to the founding of UMass the following year.
The goal of Congressman Justin Morrill’s bill was to create a national system of public colleges that would transform individual lives and also make our communities, our states and our nation smarter and more competitive. The bill was about innovation, accessibility, impact and change.
All of that – the noble goal of the bill, the hopes its supporters must have harbored – came back to me last month as I traveled the state on a four-day, 500-mile bus tour to see exactly what that landmark bill had accomplished in a century-and-a-half.
It is no stretch at all to say that what Congressman Morrill started led directly to the work and commitment I saw in Gloucester’s beautiful Hodgkins Cove at the UMass Marine Station.
The goal of the marine station is exactly in sync with the goals set out by Morrill 150 years ago: Through public investment in higher education, individual students and the state as a whole benefit from thoughtful research and targeted innovation that, in the final analysis, mean more and better jobs, healthier citizens and a stronger society.
No industry is as tied to the heart, soul and economic origins of the Commonwealth as is fishing. Increasingly, no industry is facing such deep, troubling stresses and challenges.
The mission of the marine station, in studies on everything from the migratory pattern of the bluefin tuna to the reproductive habits of lobsters, has an enormous impact on how we will preserve and protect fish and fishing to keep this industry, and this vital source of food, intact and thriving for all of us.