Monday, December 19, 2011

A Little Bit of History

(Realizing my post was getting waaaaaay long, and as a gift in the holidays, here is part three of We Taught A Generation to Steal)

The American University holds a special place in our cultural history. We began with a European model, but after the Civil War, the role of the American University changed from font of learning to source of culture.

The Morrill Act (1862) and the Hatch Act (1887) are the backbone of our "land-grant universities." The creation of public, state-run institutions of higher learning was a conscious decision of the late 19th century politicians. These colleges were given out as political patronage, local chamber of commerce boosterism or in pursuit of Progressive-style reform.

Why are the state colleges where they are? Because our forefathers wanted to bring culture to the hinterlands, or conversely, to take our youth away from the eeeeeeeevils of the big city into the bucolic purity of the countryside for their protection and education.

Stay with me as we come on around the bend . . . how many times have you watched the Oxford University soccer (excuse me, futbol) team take on Cambridge? That would be, never. Because sporting clubs existed outside of university. University was just that -- studies. And by the same token, symphony societies, theater groups and art galleries -- none in large part inside the educational institution.

Look around your campuses. How many of you have a marching band. A theater group. A cable access channel. And, of course, an athletic department.

How important to your community are those things? Would you have them without the university? In most cases, no.

At the turn of the 20th century when college sports became external and organized -- be it AAU backing Dr. Naismith's new American game or the NCAA following Theodore Roosevelt's lead to preserve football -- it was done so quite deliberately to bring something to each little corner of America that a college or university.

I am amused at the whole idea of "town versus gown". Whenever that flares up, you can bet one side of the equation has forgotten how vital to its survival the other is.

What does it all mean?

No comments: