Comments by CFA President Lillian Taiz on Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday


The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education is working to bring fresh ideas into the conversation about higher education in the United States.

Those of us in this Campaign are the faculty in the trenches – teaching in the class rooms and doing the research alongside of America’s university students.

I’d like to welcome everyone to this call on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

It was President Lincoln who just over 150 years ago initiated our country’s public higher education system. When he signed the Morrill Act in 1862 he provided the first wave of federal funding for land-grant colleges across this nation.

According to the act’s author, this legislation helped endow a “college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons (and now daughters) of toil.”

Today that college system has evolved into thousands of campuses including some of the nations largest and most celebrated.

The system was launched with public funding in the midst of national crisis — the Civil War.  The significance of the Morrill Act, according to a piece in yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, is that it “symbolizes the public trust that has given life to our nation’s entire educational system for the past 150 years—and it reminds us all of the public commitment that will be necessary for the system to thrive for 150 more.”

Yet, today, we are tearing down that very system of education.

Legions of self-styled education leaders and consultants have declared that we just can’t afford it any more.

We in CFHE believe that is wrong.

What we are missing today is the commitment and the courage that Lincoln and Morrill had.

With that in mind, CFHE decided to call on the faculty of this country to devote ourselves to tackling some of the really tough challenges confronting the future of higher education.

Today we take up the loss of public funding.

CFHE asked faculty members to prepare papers that explore new ways to provide public support.

In January faculty from around the country met and decided to circulate these three ideas widely.

We hope that lively discussion will not only strengthen these ideas but move them from idea to action.

Moreover, we are confident that the discussion will generate new ideas not yet articulated widely.

Today, our nation’s system of higher education needs a recommitment to the vision of public support expressed by President Lincoln in the Morrill Act.