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NMSU's Couture observes 150th anniversary of Morrill Act

University presidents from across the nation, including New Mexico State University President Barbara Couture, gathered in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act establishing land-grant universities.

NMSU President Barbara Couture stands next to a wreath.
NMSU President Barbara Couture took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on June 25, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities. (Provided photo)

On Tuesday, Couture joined nearly 600 public university leaders and representatives from government, philanthropy and business for a day-long convocation entitled "150 Years of the Morrill Act: Advancing the Legacy." The event, which was organized by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, was held in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

"Although our society has weathered civil and world wars and many other changes since 1862, we have never lost sight of this great American promise to provide a comprehensive college education to all who qualify, and to extend knowledge to improve lives," Couture said. "More than a decade into the 21st century, land-grant colleges must strive to continue building stronger engagement with the communities we serve."

Written by Sen. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont and signed into law on July 2, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, the Morrill Act established land-grant colleges by providing all eligible states with 30,000 acres of federal land to be used toward establishing and funding educational institutions.

On Monday, Couture and nearly 70 other member presidents and chancellors of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities donned academic attire to lay a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in honor of Lincoln and the 37th Congress for their bipartisan establishment of land-grant colleges. Leaders from the Library of Congress, National Academy of Sciences and the Carnegie Corporation of New York also attended the ceremony.

NMSU Executive Vice President and Provost Wendy K. Wilkins and Vice President for Research Vimal Chaitanya joined Couture at the events.

There are currently 106 land-grant universities, including at least one in every state.
Subsequent Morrill Acts of 1890 and 1994 established land-grant institutions that are today known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges.