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NMSU president only sixth in nation selected for Morrill Award

For someone who is so connected with the mission of land-grant universities, NMSU President Michael Martin seems an especially appropriate choice for the 2007 Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Award. With Martin's selectionfor the award, he joins only five others across the country who have been singled out for this recognition by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

New Mexico State University President Michael V. Martin is only the sixth person in the country to be selected for the Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Award. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"This is a real honor," Martin said. "I have now spent three decades working in and for land-grants largely because I believe they remain powerful transformational institutions."

Justin Smith Morrill was one of three "Founding Fathers" of the land-grant university system. The Vermont congressman was steadfast in his belief that higher education should be made available to the masses, and he sponsored legislation that was signed in 1862 by President Lincoln to establish the system.

Martin is the sixth person selected for the Morrill Award since 1980, when USDA-CSREES began honoring the founders of the land-grant university system - Morrill, Seaman A. Knapp and William Henry Hatch - through a memorial lecture series. Each honoree is asked to present a lecture during the annual meeting of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

"To have the chance to comment at NASULGC about their future is a wonderful opportunity," Martin said. "I know several of the prior winners and it is very good company indeed."

The NMSU president's background shows a career-long connection with the land-grant system, and his particular interest in the land-grant mission was reflected in his 2001 article for the "Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics," in which he wrote, "The fundamental land-grant principles of accessibility, practical as well as classical education, research and discovery in the public interest, and connectedness to all the people remain powerful and profound."

"Dr. Martin has committed his career to serving the land-grant mission of teaching, research and extension service at Oregon State University, the University of Minnesota and more recently at the University of Florida, where he was elevated to the position of senior vice president before being selected as New Mexico State University's president," said Everett Egginton, dean for International and Border Programs at NMSU. "Dr. Martin is an outstanding scholar who has published widely in his academic field; a committed 'land-grant' president who believes passionately in the enduring and unique mission of the land grant university first articulated by Justin Smith Morrill; and an outstanding speaker - articulate, humorous, convincing - who has an important, indeed a vital, message that needs to be heard by land-grant and other public university leaders.

Martin will present the 2007 Morrill lecture at the association's meeting Nov. 11 in New York City.

Nominating Martin for the award were Egginton and Jimmy G. Cheek, senior vice president, Agriculture and Natural Resources, at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

"Mike Martin epitomizes our quest for excellence in the food and agricultural sciences," Cheek said in his nomination letter. "For more than 35 years, he has served the U.S. land-grant system with honor and distinction in teaching, research and extension assignments. Rising through the ranks from instructor to president at U.S. land-grant universities, Martin has demonstrated a strong and lasting commitment to the spirit of Justin Smith Morrill.

"He has steadfastly remained committed to the land-grant principles of 'people's universities,'" Cheek said. "In his inaugural address as president of New Mexico State University and reprinted in "The Chronicle of Higher Education," Martin challenges the land-grant university to return to its roots by providing educational experiences for ordinary people, instead of drifting 'toward a more elitist approach to recruiting and admitting students.'"

"We land-grants should reaffirm our mandate and commitment to be the 'people's universities' in a 21st century context," writes Martin. "We should embrace diversity and create academic institutions that will attract and serve students who would not otherwise have access to higher education."

Martin's reputation for supporting agricultural outreach, not only in the U.S., but internationally, brought him an invitation last year from Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, to visit Iraq and help develop a plan to restore Iraq's agricultural sector, Egginton noted. As a result of this meeting, New Mexico State and several partner institutions are offering on-site training to Iraqi agricultural professionals.

Martin has received a number of other awards, including the Minnesota Farm Bureau's Distinguished Service Award, Outstanding Efforts in Enhancing USDA and Land-Grant Universities' Outreach and Partnerships, USDA Torch and Shield Award for Distinguished Service, Oregon State University's Mumford Award for Outstanding Service, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Award for Individual Contribution to the Agricultural Industry.

"Land-grants (created by the Morrill Act) represented a profound move toward egalitarian education," Martin said. "It was revolutionary at the time and remains critical today if we are to continue on the journey to social justice and social, economic and cultural development. The research and outreach missions of land-grants focus on solving real problems for real people, current and future."