COLUMBUS, Ohio – A proposal being prepared in the Ohio Senate would convey potentially lucrative land-grant status on a second Ohio university, the historically Black Central State University.
Such a move would open up the school to millions in federal dollars for agriculture research and construction, said Senate Finance Chairman Chris Widener, who’s championing the idea.
Widener’s proposal comes more than 120 years after a similar effort was scuttled with the help of Rutherford B. Hayes, the former president from Ohio who was sitting on the Ohio State University board of trustees at the time. Ohio State has been Ohio’s only land-grant university since 1870.
OSU President E. Gordon Gee has expressed support for the modern-day proposal, as has Central State President John Garland.
The nation’s network of publicly funded land-grant colleges was established under an 1862 law. Institutions were granted federal land that they could develop or sell to raise funds for an endowment. They initially focused on teaching agriculture, science and engineering though many have now branched into other areas. Most remain public.
In 1890, Congress expanded the concept to include historically Black colleges and universities. They wouldn’t receive land, but would be eligible to receive federal money for their operations.
According to a Central State history, Hayes testified during hearings on the issue against division between two institutions of the state’s land-grant resources. He was joined in opposition to the proposal by some prominent Blacks in the state, who viewed bestowing special rights on all-Black institutions as promoting segregation.
Hayes eventually brokered a compromise that he said would help the school, then known as the Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University. He said he would lobby for increased state aid, which he believed would ultimately yield more federal dollars for the school.
Coming up with the modern-day compromise has also not been easy. Widener, a Springfield Republican, said Monday that he’s been working for months on the plan. He scheduled an unveiling of his resolution for Tuesday, but then had to postpone the event.
The resolution he is drafting seeks support for the switch from Congress and participation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Central State says receiving “1890 status” would provide funds to help improve infrastructure; recruit minorities to science, technology, engineering and math disciplines; address conservation issues and problems faced by small and minority farmers in the Midwest; and meet other goals.