Morrill duty

When news broke that the University of Nevada, Reno has slated its College of Agriculture for closing as a result of plunging state revenues, we got an inquiry from a reader questioning whether it was legal under the Morrill Act, since UNR is a land-grant college.

The Morrill Land-Grant Acts, named for sponsor Justin Morrill, were enacted in 1862 and 1890 and provided land to states to help establish colleges to teach military tactics, agriculture and mechanic arts. A state could receive 30,000 acres for each member of Congress the state had. The land was then sold and the proceeds used for public colleges.

The University of Nevada was established under the Morrill Act. It was opened in Elko in 1874, later being moved to Reno where the first structure was named Morrill Hall. At the time, Nevada had three members of Congress.

We contacted the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington, D.C., and its vice president, Ian Maw responded as follows:

“Closure of a college of agriculture at a land-grant institution alone or its merger with another administrative entity within the institution would not violate federal law. In all likelihood, the institution would continue to offer agriculture-related academic programs and conduct agriculture-related research. Ongoing federal funding in support of Cooperative Extension and agriculture research would be jeopardized if the state or institution elected to eliminate all projects related to either activity.”