Editorial: Tanzania partnership shows shirking of college responsibility

Editorial Board

Developing solutions for agricultural and industrial problems is one of the things Iowa State University is supposed to do.

As a land-grant college, we are supposed to be the public’s research and development department. Researchers here are supposed to give innovative solutions to the public who needs them. This is true to Rep. Justin Morrill’s 1862 plan to establish colleges in each state “for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts” which was designed to help people become more independent.

Knowing the intent of the Morrill Act, we were dismayed to learn that Iowa State’s vaguely defined plans to collaborate with AgriSol on an agricultural development project in Tanzania included “a gift of $12,000 (4,000 a year for three years) to the Agronomy Study Abroad Scholarship fund to support students interested in traveling to Africa … or to engage in internships,” according to the Ames Tribune.

That proposal was sent by David Acker, an associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and strongly implies that the scholarship money would be given to students doing research for AgriSol on their project in Tanzania. Acker wrote: “I am confident that the work [an Agronomy professor had done and was expected to do for AgriSol’s Tanzania project] will open up doors for Agronomy students and faculty to participate in a worthwhile and challenging project in Tanzania.”

Aside from the puny size of the scholarship fund, the circular exchange of expertise for money that will facilitate the gift of the expertise doesn’t make much sense. It makes even less sense when one considers that, according to AgriSol, the corporation “provides expertise to create agricultural businesses in underdeveloped global locations…” and that “the AgriSol Energy team brings decades of experience developing modern and successful agricultural and clean energy businesses…”

Why, then, was the collaboration with Iowa State necessary?

Iowa State’s earliest records from the most primitive period of her existence reveal her true intent. The Iowa Agricultural College’s work was, even before the Morrill Act was passed in Iowa, in keeping with the expectation of Morrill and others that the land-grant colleges would make a gospel of education and carry it out of traditional academia’s ivory tower-like universities.

Following a very wet spring in 1858, resulting in late planting of corn and rot while still in the ground, the Iowa Agricultural College sent questionnaires to “reliable farmers” from “every section of the State” in order “To arrive at what might have been done by all…under the same circumstances.” After the results were collected, the College compiled a set of recommendations that would allow “our farmers [to] raise an abundance for all purposes on one-half of the number of acres now appropriated to” corn production.

This is what Iowa State is for.

Facilitating the work of corporations with their own financial interests is not part of our role as a research university. We do not exist for the sake of fulfilling the orders of for-profit entities. Corporate sponsorship for or subsidies of colleges so they can do the corporation’s work or act on its behalf was never the vision or intention of land-grant colleges, nor academia in general.

Bringing useful information to those in need of it does not mean doing the work advocated by corporations whose profit margin is the prime mover behind their activity. It means independent research into the problems that circumstances created for actual people, not pseudo-individuals artificially incorporated by legal documents.