By Laura Huenneke, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

This past summer, I attended a meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington, D.C., that focused on the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act. That’s the federal legislation that created the land-grant system for supporting public institutions of higher education and research.

Of course, Northern Arizona University isn’t actually a land-grant institution—that honor goes to the University of Arizona—but in fact we take great satisfaction in the deep connections to our region and the Colorado Plateau generally.

The region’s natural and cultural environments are the source of much of our research and our teaching. We regularly host the Biennial Conference of Research on the Colorado Plateau; we have a thriving system of physical sites and online degree programs serving students all over the state; and our institutional strategic plan highlights commitment to community vitality, engagement, and partnerships (including special attention to neighboring tribal communities and cultures).

These deep roots in our community are part of what I value so much about this institution. It’s an increasing struggle, though, to maintain the public service and external engagement parts of our mission, especially as state support for our activities shrinks and tuition must bear more of the burden. Part of the challenge of the years ahead is to preserve our unique cultural and community values while competing on an increasingly global and technology-linked stage.