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Dan Bernardo

Dan Bernardo

Washington State apple, pear, and grape growers have agreed to tax themselves assessments to raise nearly $35 million to support future research and extension at Washington State University. Is that a sign of lack of vitality at their land-grant ­university?

It’s just the opposite, says Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “It’s a great testimonial to the land-grant mission,” he said. “They believe in what we are doing. They believe in the importance of pushing new discoveries into the field. The industry has seen a tremendous rate of return on investment in research ­dollars.”

The three-legged stool isn’t sitting as level as it once did, he agreed. Over the last half century, private funding at all land-grant universities has become larger and larger, while states have shown “unwillingness or inability” to provide funding at historic levels. The federal share has been relatively steady and, for specialty crops, expanded in recent years under the 2008 Farm Bill. But the decline in state funding has caused students to have to pay more.

“Tuition has gone up 75 percent in the last four years,” he said. That threatens one of the key missions of land-grant universities—providing access to education for the average person and making education not just the ­privilege of the elite.

Bernardo said the university will be observing the 150-year anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the land-grant system. “We’re planning a series of events,” he said. One will be homecoming weekend, September 21-22, which will be devoted not just to football, but to ­celebration of the Morrill Act.

“One hundred and fifty years later, the message hasn’t become stale,” he said. The themes today remain the same: access to higher education by the average person and research to benefit the public through economic development.