‘Open to everyone’

A university education once required a working knowledge of Latin and Greek, as well as a great sum of money. Today, the Latin and Greek are optional, and tuition — especially at land-grant colleges like the University of Wyoming — is more attainable.

This transformation of higher education was, in part, thanks to a federal policy which set aside federal or state land for the construction of universities. These universities were established to teach practical topics such as agriculture and engineering alongside the humanities.

Scott Henkel, UW assistant professor of English, will present on the topic of land-grant universities during a talk Monday afternoon in the Marian H. Rochelle Center.

“The land-grant universities were started in an era when higher education in the United States was an elitist game,” he said. “The people who first imagined what the land-grant university would be wanted to build a democratic model of education, one that would have a wide and open curriculum and that would be open to everyone.”

The original land-grant mission is vital to our discussions about the future of the college, Henkel said.

“My goal is to trace the history of the land-grant university through that time period so that we can, to the degree that we’re able, project that mission into the future, to see what we can learn from our history so that we can make good decisions moving forward,” he said.

In this time of upheaval, as budgets are cut, programs eliminated and student fees increased, the discussion on campus is often about what the university will look like going forward. Henkel said he hopes to contribute to this discussion.

“My hope is to be useful,” he said. “I want to give people a history and some ideas to think about so when we all have conversations about what the university could be, we are informed by good research.”

Henkel will focus primarily on UW, its history and its place in the wider land-grant movement. He said his talk will center on the two, sometimes hard-to-reconcile goals of land grant colleges.

“The land-grant university should provide an education good enough for the proudest and open to the poorest,” he said.

The topic has personal significance for Henkel, who said his parents never went to college. His father was a factory worker while his mother was a bus driver.

“The land-grant universities were set up to serve everyone, to be universal in who they served, but they were specifically meant to include kids like me,” he said. “Part of my interest is to give back something to people and the institutions who have given so much to me.”

Henkel will give his talk at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Marian H. Rochelle Center.

The event is free to the public and will be followed by a reception.

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