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A colonial history of the higher education present: rethinking land-grant institutions through processes of accumulation and relations of conquest



This conceptual paper examines the colonial conditions of possibility for a formative moment of US public higher education, the Morrill Act of 1862, and considers how these conditions continue to shape the present. The federal government’s accumulation of Indigenous lands in the nineteenth century helped provide the material base for land-grant legislation, and although conquest of the frontier was eventually metaphorized in higher education discourse, public institutions remain both dependent on and vulnerable to the imperatives of accumulation that were established during colonization, as is evident in contemporary privatization efforts. I argue that if efforts to resist privatization fail to address how colonialism has historically shaped US public goods, then these efforts risk re-naturalizing the imperative of capital accumulation and relations of conquest.
Citation: Stein, S. (2017). A colonial history of the higher education present: rethinking
land-grant institutions through processes of accumulation and relations of conquest.
Critical Studies in Education. Available at:
A colonial history of the higher education present: Rethinking land-grant
institutions through processes of accumulation and relations of conquest
Sharon Stein
This conceptual paper examines the colonial conditions of possibility for a formative
moment of US public higher education, the Morrill Act of 1862, and considers how these
conditions continue to shape the present. The federal government’s accumulation of
Indigenous lands in the nineteenth century helped provide the material base for land-grant
legislation, and although conquest of the frontier was eventually metaphorized in higher
education discourse, public institutions remain both dependent on and vulnerable to the
imperatives of accumulation that were established during colonization, as is evident in
contemporary privatization efforts. I argue that if efforts to resist privatization fail to
address how colonialism has historically shaped US public goods, then these efforts risk
re-naturalizing the imperative of capital accumulation and relations of conquest.
Land-grant colleges and universities in the US are a diverse set of institutions that have
been designated by states and territories to receive federal financial and other benefits
through the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862 (hereafter the Morrill Act) and
subsequent legislation (Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities [APLU],
2012). Land-grant schools make up only a small segment of US public institutions, but
they loom large within the collective imaginary of higher education, particularly in
relation to their perceived democratizing intent and impact (Eddy, 1957; Nevins, 1962;
Ross, 1942). Although this romantic view has been challenged by revisionist historians
who point to the economic role of industrialization and global competition in motivating
the land-grant movement (Geiger, 2014; Sorber, 2011), in mainstream scholarship as well
as popular discourse, land-grant institutions still serve as a metonym for the promises and
potentials of public higher education, particularly in the current context of privatization.
For instance, Sorber and Geiger (2014) find that recent land-grant institution and
association documents ‘harken to the Morrill Act’s egalitarian past to support
contemporary calls for access, [and] increased state funding’ (p. 387), while Brown
(2003) notes, ‘the land grant mission serves as a foil to critique the relationship between
education and corporate interests’ (p. 328).
In this conceptual paper, I focus my attention on a dimension of land-grant legislation
that is overlooked within both romantic and revisionist histories: its colonial origins. I
argue that the US federal government’s vigorous efforts to accumulate Indigenous lands
in the nineteenth century provided the conditions of possibility for the Morrill Act in
1862. Further, rather than view colonization as an isolated historical event, I ask how
colonial processes continue to shape contemporary higher education. In doing so, I attend
to Byrd’s (2011) pressing question, ‘How might the terms of current academic and
political debates change if the responsibilities of that very real lived condition of
colonialism were prioritized as a condition of possibility?’ (p. xx). I contend that the US
state’s genocidal efforts to conquer the literal frontier helped to solidify a colonial
template of state-facilitated capital accumulation that is premised on the conquest of a
perpetual frontier. Thus, rather than serve as a foil for the present, land-grant legislation
illustrates how from their very beginnings, US public goods like higher education have
both depended on and been vulnerable to the demands of perpetual accumulation.
As higher education increasingly becomes a target of accumulation, mainstream
resistance has been dominated by nostalgic histories that naturalize capitalism, provided
that it sustains the relative advantage of the white middle-class in a system that
nonetheless exploits them and disproportionately benefits a very few. This paper asks
what ethical demands and political possibilities might emerge if, instead, analyses of
privatization identified and denaturalized the role of accumulation and relations of
conquest in shaping US higher education. Thus, I begin by reviewing how the
accumulation-driven dispossessions of Indigenous and Black peoples have historically
shaped both US state sovereignty and capitalist markets, before addressing how this
relates to higher education, and to land-grant institutions specifically.
Critiques of conquest
In colonial contexts like the US, colonizers ‘come to stay’, that is, settle indefinitely
(Wolfe, 2006, p. 388). Settler colonization enacts a set of social–material relations
through which colonizers assert ownership claims and political rights over and against
Indigenous peoples (Coulthard, 2014). In these contexts, relations of conquest are not
limited to an historical era, but rather remain ongoing, given that they are required to
maintain both the literal and figurative grounds for capital accumulation and state
sovereignty (King, 2016). Because continued Indigenous presence threatens the US state
and citizens’ claims to political legitimacy and land ownership, the elimination of
Indigenous peoples has been sought through various means, including physical violence,
policies of hyperdescent (e.g. blood quantum rules) and forcible assimilation (Arvin,
Tuck, & Morrill, 2013). Although settler colonization differs across contexts (Kelley,
2017), the issues addressed in this paper likely have resonances in other settler states,
such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Israel (see, e.g. Te Wharepora
Hou, 2016, regarding the dispossessing role of universities in New Zealand).
The territorial claims of colonial states like the US are rooted in the Doctrine of
Discovery. The doctrine, derived from fifteenth-/sixteenth-century papal bulls,
authorized European/Christian colonization of non-European/non-Christian lands and
peoples and sought to minimize inter-imperial conflict (Miller, 2005). It is through this
doctrine that Britain, and later the US, claimed its ‘discovery’ diminished the sovereignty
of Indigenous peoples, secured its preemptive rights to purchase Indigenous lands and
barred any other colonial power (or individual colonists) from claiming those lands
(Miller, 2005). The doctrine operated in practice well before it was enshrined into US
law, and Miller (2011) notes that when ‘Manifest Destiny’ was first coined to describe
the ‘predestined and divinely inspired expansion’ of US empire in the mid-nineteenth
century, it drew on ‘the same rationales and justifications that created the Doctrine’ (p.
The state and capital are interdependent in settler colonial contexts, as the state’s
‘discovery’ claims enable the accumulation of Indigenous lands and the subsequent
commodification and sale of those lands (Nichols, 2017). Tuck and McKenzie (2014)
describe how, ‘Through the process and structuring of settler colonialism, land is remade
into property, and human relationships to land are redefined/reduced of the owner to his
property’ (p. 64). This violates Indigenous sovereignty as well as Indigenous
understandings of land as a reciprocal, living relation, rather than an object to be
possessed (Ahenakew, Andreotti, Cooper, & Hireme, 2014). In the US, and elsewhere in
the Americas, the remaking of Indigenous land into property was ‘accompanied by the
remaking of (African) persons into property, into chattel’ (Tuck & McKenzie, 2014, p.
65). Together, Indigenous colonization and Black enslavement were central to the
development of US state sovereignty and capitalist markets (Byrd, 2011; Coulthard,
2014; King, 2016; Kish & Leroy, 2015; Robinson, 1983; Silva, 2007).
While the state-and capital-constituting violences of conquest are largely missing from
US national narratives, they are an absent presence in one of the country’s most famous
origin stories: Frederick Jackson Turner’s late nineteenth-century ‘frontier thesis’. Turner
(1920) argued, ‘The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the
advance of American settlement westward, explains American development’ (p. 1).1 For
Turner, US national identity, economic growth, democratic institutions and individualism
all derived from lessons and values learned by ‘pioneers’ as they pushed West. In this
sense, Turner uncritically acknowledged that as conquest produced capital and secured
state sovereignty, it also enabled the self-actualization of the white, property-owning
citizen (Silva, 2007); this political–economic subject emerged through the very processes
that subjugated and dispossessed Black and Indigenous peoples (King, 2016).
Conquest in the US remains both contingent and incomplete. This is both because
Indigenous and Black peoples have resisted it for over five centuries and because capital
requires perpetual frontiers of accumulation, which are in turn shaped by racial and
colonial violence. As Melamed (2015) argues, ‘Capital can only be capital when it is
accumulating, and it can only accumulate by producing and moving through relations of
severe inequality among human groups ... racism [and colonialism] enshrines the
inequalities that capitalism requires’ (p. 77). Not only does capital that was initially
accumulated through slavery and colonization continue to circulate and be held
disproportionately by white people, but Chakravartty and Silva (2012) also point out that
new modes of accumulation are driven by the search for ‘“new territories” of
consumption and investment [that] have been mapped onto previous racial and colonial
1At this time, the US was also turning to an extra-continental colonial frontier that led to territorial
acquisitions in Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, American Samoa, the Marshall Islands,
Alaska, the Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014).
(imperial) discourses and practice’ (p. 368). That is, Indigenous, Black and other
racialized and impoverished communities are perpetually targeted for the most brutal
strategies of accumulation (Kish & Leroy, 2015). Although specific vocabularies of
accumulation vary over time, the underlying grammar established during the ‘inaugural
moments of conquest’ (King, 2016) still orders the US political–economy: the state
enables the continuous accumulation of capital and secures the capital that has already
been accumulated. If, as King (2016) suggests, ‘[r]ealizing that the relations of conquest
have far from abated encourages a reframing and rethinking of some of the urgent
questions and interdisciplinary concerns that critical theories continue to grapple with in
the neoliberal university’ (np), then in this paper, I gesture to how addressing relations of
conquest also requires that we reframe and rethink critical theories about the university.
Conquest and the university
Critiques of conquest complement existing critical race and anticolonial interventions that
identify higher education as a key site in the reproduction of white citizenship and
property rights (Harris, 1993; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Patel, 2015). As Patton (2016)
asserts, ‘[t]he functioning of U.S. higher education is intricately linked to imperialistic
and capitalistic efforts that fuel the intersections of race, property, and oppression’ (p.
317). Beyond higher education’s role in the production and dissemination of knowledge
that has both directly and indirectly contributed to capital accumulation, the history of
predominantly white access to US public higher education may be understood as a
racialized practice that has helped foster white sociality and solidarity
and secure white consent to an inherently violent political–economic system by pro-
mising relative advantage within it (Leonardo, 2013; Stein, Andreotti, Susa, & Hunt,
2017; Wilder, 2013).
Wilder (2013) documents how early US colleges served as ‘instruments of Christian
expansionism, weapons for the conquest of indigenous peoples, and major beneficiaries
of the African slave trade and slavery’ (p. 17). However, the material and epistemological
entanglements of higher education with slavery and colonialism are rarely addressed in
higher education history texts or in efforts to theorize the present (Andreotti, Stein,
Ahenakew, & Hunt, 2015; Patton, 2016). To take just one example, the land-grant
institution of Iowa State University has undertaken a project to locate the now-owners of
lands that were granted by the federal government and then sold to fund the school
(Pounds, 2017). However, the project makes no mention of the Indigenous peoples of
those lands, nor the conditions of their displacement.
Disavowal of the role of colonialism in institutional histories has not only created an
ethical gap, but a conceptual gap as well, stymieing our ability to adequately grasp and
respond to the implications of public higher education’s simultaneous dependence on and
vulnerability to the imperatives of accumulation. This work is part of a larger project to
trace public higher education’s state managed imbrication with capitalism through
conquest, and thus, it inevitably offers only a partial history. First, because most public
institutions are not land-grants, the particular dynamics of their origins and development
are not generalizable. However, I focus on these institutions because they have significant
symbolic weight in discourses about public higher education, and their explicit
relationship to land offers a fruitful opening to identify more expansive patterns of
colonization. Indeed, the ongoing displacement of Indigenous peoples is an underlying
condition of possibility for the existence of all US higher education institutions, both
public and not. Further, although this paper does not address public higher education’s
role in slavery and its afterlife (Hartman, 2008), these must be read alongside
colonization in any effort to address the history of conquest in higher education (King,
2016; Wilder, 2013).
Finally, while in this paper I emphasize white violence in an effort to disrupt the
contemporary nostalgia that naturalizes white property and power, Indigenous and Black
peoples have persistently critiqued and resisted this violence and fostered worlds and
futures that refuse and exceed it (Byrd, 2011; King, 2016; Robinson, 1983; Simpson,
2011), as is evident in contemporary movements like #NoDAPL, Black Lives Matter and
many anti-racist student organizing efforts on higher education campuses
( These genealogies of resistance must also inform our histories
and analyses of contemporary higher education.
The Morrill Act
By the time the Morrill Act passed, there was already a history of public land-grants for
educational institutions (Williams, 1991). However, the Morrill Act’s scale and scope
were unprecedented. When Senator Justin Morrill first introduced his land- grant bill in
1857, it passed in Congress but was vetoed by President Buchanan. In 1862, Congress
passed a revised bill and President Lincoln signed it into law. The Morrill Act granted
30,000 acres of federal public lands per senator and house representative to fund:
the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object
shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military
tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic
arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order
to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes on the several
pursuits and professions in life. (as cited by National Research Council, 1995, p. 2).
Some states implemented more comprehensive approaches and others emphasized the
agricultural element; some created entirely new institutions, while others granted land-
grant status to existing schools (Sorber & Geiger, 2014; Williams, 1991). Western states
selected parcels from their own (federally held) public lands; for Eastern states that no
longer held public lands in plenty, they could select scrip for unappropriated federal lands
elsewhere. In both cases, the granted lands were ultimately to be sold in order to buy
stocks to continuously support the activities outlined in the act (Cross, 2012). Per the act,
The moneys so invested shall constitute a perpetual fund, the capital of which shall
remain forever undiminished (except so far as may be provided in section fifth of this
act), and the interest of which shall be inviolably appropriated, by each State which may
take and claim the benefit of this act ... (as cited by National Research Council, 1995, p.
In other words, the ‘public good’ of land-grant institutions depended from the outset on
profits made from capitalist markets and thus on processes of continuous accumulation.
However, none of this subsequent accumulation would have been possible without the
federal government’s initial accumulation and distribution of Indigenous lands.
When the 1862 provisions proved insufficient for supporting the various land-grant
responsibilities, the 1887 Hatch Act funded ‘agricultural experiment stations’ for
scientific research, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 funded cooperative extension
programs across each state. In 1890, the Second Morrill Act granted further
appropriations to land-grant schools and withheld funds from states with institutions that
had racist admission policies unless they created separate institutions. This led to the
founding of 17 Black land-grant schools. In 1972, several universities in US territories
were designated as land-grant institutions, while in 1994, after a successful campaign
from tribal colleges, Congress granted these institutions land-grant status (American
Indian Higher Education Consortium [AIHEC], 2014; APLU, 2012). Land-grant
legislation passed after 1862 was not directly funded through grants of land or land scrip.
The exact benefits derived from land-grant status have shifted over time, and land-grant
institutions now receive funding from many different sources in addition to institutional
income derived from the 1862 grants (APLU, 2012).
Tracing the role of conquest in the material and epistemological foundations of public
goods like land-grant institutions offers an empirical and analytical challenge if one
wishes to go beyond general acknowledgement of the fact that ‘the deed to almost all real
estate in the United States originates from a federal title that itself came from an Indian
title’ (Miller, 2005, p. 3). While certainly many of the US state’s efforts to gain territorial
control were enacted according to careful planning and argued legal rationales, the
precise unfolding of federal land acquisitions and subsequent public uses or direct private
sales were not always determined in advance. Instead, the imperative of accumulation
tended to be general, with precise uses determined after the fact. This is evident when one
considers that part of President Buchanan’s rationale for vetoing the initial Morrill Act
was that he did not think it a judicious use of federal lands.
One might, as I hope to do in future work, work backwards from a particular land-grant
institution in order to ask about the histories and peoples of the lands on which it sits, as
well as the lands that it selected and sold to fund itself per the provisions of the Morrill
Act. Indeed, such inquiry should be the task of all US institutions, along with subsequent
efforts to determine the responsibilities that follow from it. In this paper, however, I make
a more general argument: that while Indigenous dispossession in the decades prior to the
1862 Morrill Act was not specifically enacted so as to fund land- grant institutions, the
resulting accumulation of lands by the US government was a prerequisite for the
legislation. I establish this connection by linking secondary literatures about land-grant
history to the history of Indigenous removals in the nineteenth century.
Conquering the frontier
In the Declaration of Independence, the ‘frontier’ was designated under the purview of
the US state, while Indigenous peoples who lived beyond it were described as ‘merciless
Indian Savages’ (as cited by Byrd, 2011, p. xxi). While never inevitable, continental
expansion was taken for granted by the early US state, which assumed that it inherited
England’s Doctrine of Discovery rights. The federal government sought to carefully
regulate the settlement of lands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in order to
maintain its political authority vis-à-vis individual states and citizens, to manage the
balance of power between free and slave-holding states and to ensure that accumulated
lands would build the national treasury. According to Gates (1976), in the early US, ‘the
power to own, manage, grant, and otherwise dispose of the public lands was to be one of
the most nationalizing factors in the life of the federal republic’ (p. 213).
Key (1996) notes, ‘few nations had been so richly blessed with such an abundance of
land. This abundance became the principle resource of the new government when the
colonies joined together and unoccupied land was ceded to the new Union’ (p. 199).
Here, Key employs ‘discourses of conquest’ (Williams, as cited by Wolfe, 2012, p. 6) by
suggesting a divine providence of land (‘so richly blessed’) and reproducing the colonial
fiction (known as terra nullius) that lands occupied by Indigenous peoples for millennia
were empty (‘unoccupied’). Initially, Congress sold public lands to pay national debts,
but in the 1820s/30s, policy started to shift toward ‘settlement and national development’
(Key, 1996, p. 207). As the country’s developing capitalist economy demanded
unfettered access to lands and resources, the displacement and/or elimination of
Indigenous peoples at/beyond the frontier became more pressing (Silva, 2007).
Despite the presumed inevitability of expansion, the US had to address the fact that the
supposedly empty lands beyond its initial frontier were inhabited by hundreds of different
Indigenous nations that were designated as foreign entities in the Constitution and should
therefore be engaged ‘in the way sovereign collectivities relate to others, namely, trade,
treaties, and war’ (Silva, 2007, p. 205). Questions remained about how to remove
Indigenous peoples without appearing to contradict the country’s ‘self-image as [a]
distinctly free societ[y] governed by law’ (Nichols, 2017, p. 14). These questions were
partially answered by three landmark Supreme Court cases between 1823 and 1832,
presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, now known as the ‘Marshall Trilogy’.
In the first case of the trilogy, Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), Marshall argued, ‘Conquest
gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny’, thereby upholding and
formally enshrining into US law, the Doctrine of Discovery. The court ruled that
following ‘discovery’, Indigenous land title was not one of full ownership or sovereignty,
but only one of occupancy that could only be fully recognized through its extinguishment
by treaty, trade or war with the European colonial power that first ‘discovered’ the land
(Barker, 2015). Only after lands passed from Indigenous peoples to the US state could
they then be granted or sold to other entities. To this day, the doctrine continues to be
upheld in law and used against Indigenous peoples (Miller, 2005).
Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) also asserted that Indigenous peoples were ‘fierce savages’,
such that ‘to leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a
wilderness’. It was argued that Indigenous nations ‘remain in a state of nature, and have
never been admitted into the general society of nations’. US expansionism was in part
premised on the notion that the continent had yet to be ‘properly developed’, i.e. made
productive for the ends of capitalist profits (Byrd, 2011). These colonial claims were in
turn rooted in the understanding that individual freedom, self-determination and capitalist
productivity were the greatest moral virtues, and the unique domain of white/European-
descended peoples (Silva, 2007). Wolfe (2012) argues that the Marshall trilogy ‘yielded
more than land for settlers. It also yielded sovereign subjecthood: they became the sort of
people who could own, rather than merely occupy’ (p. 10). Thus, the rulings not only
justified further Indigenous dispossession, they also reified categorically different
political–economic subjectivities for white citizens and Indigenous peoples and sought to
invalidate and erase the latter’s complex relationships to their ancestral lands.
According to Frymer (2014), ‘During the first half of the nineteenth century, the territory
of the United States nearly tripled in size as the nation expanded across the continent
from thirteen Atlantic-side states south to the Rio Grande and west to the Pacific Ocean’
(p. 119). This was made possible through treaties with other nations (Britain, France,
Mexico and Spain), treaties and battles with Indigenous nations and government policies
that promoted settlement (Frymer, 2014; Wolfe, 2012). As Wolfe (2012) points out,
‘Most of the forced removals perpetrated against Indian peoples took place during the
half century following Cherokee v. Georgia [1831]’, the second case in the Marshall
trilogy (p. 7). By 1850, federal land holdings numbered approximately 1.2 billion acres,
and as Rifkin (2013) notes, ultimately ‘all of that land was gained through purchase from
and/or the removal of Native peoples’ (p. 335, emphasis in the original).
Importantly, even when land was ceded through purchase or treaty, there remain
significant questions about the extent to which cession of land was consensual and not
made under duress or threat of (further) violence. As Deloria (1996) observes, most
treaties ‘occur at the end of political and military crises in which the respective Indian
nations have been forced to surrender tracts of land. But even here there are many
anomalies ... for example, some very large areas of land are classified as being ceded in
unratified treaties’ (p. 978). Beyond these considerations, today the US remains in
violation of many of its ratified treaties with Indigenous nations (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014).
Indirect but dependent
The US government’s land accumulation throughout the nineteenth century helped to
create the conditions of possibility for land-grant colleges and universities in what I
describe as an indirect but dependent relationship. Although Indigenous lands were not
accumulated by the state for the express purpose of funding land-grant institutions,
without them the government would not have been able to grant land as parcels or scrip
that were then sold to fund the institutions as per the provisions of the 1862 Morrill Act.
More generally, in western states, the expansion of higher education helped extend and
solidify US sovereignty. Sedlak finds, ‘Colleges were often founded right on the frontier
line – not a generation after the founding of a town or of a state, but at the same moment
as the founding of the town or state’ (as cited by Goodchild & Wrobel, 2014, p. 5), and,
according to Johnson (1981), the schools ‘were a boon to frontier settlement and an
important ingredient in the frenzy of “internal improvements” in many states’ (p. 226).
The Morrill Act, along with other legislation passed in 1862, including the Homestead
Act and Pacific Railroad Act, was significant in enabling and encouraging further white-
majority settlement of the US and in shoring up federal authority over recently acquired
lands. These acts effectively broke multiple treaties with Indigenous nations (Dunbar-
Ortiz, 2014). It is therefore telling that this set of legislation has been termed ‘the
blueprint for modern America’ (McPherson as cited by Geiger, 2014, p. 281, emphasis
added). White settlers moved westward in large numbers, thanks to these acts, along with
gold rushes, and the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848.2 Importantly, however,
the war against Indigenous peoples was far from over in 1862.3
As Dahl (2014) notes, US popular sovereignty ‘was forged through processes of settler
expansion’, as people not only physically migrated West, but also projected the nation’s
futurity across the continent, intensifying their investment in colonization (p. 17).
Advocates of westward expansion viewed land appropriations as a means to guarantee
democratic egalitarianism, by ‘spreading’ wealth rather than concentrating it in a few
hands. This emphasis on land as a means of democratization is similar to the perspective
offered in romantic land-grant histories. Yet, this was a white supremacist democracy,
underwritten by colonial violence. Further, as the case of land-grant institutions indicates,
even this already-distorted democratic vision was shaped by capital, not only in the
structure of funding but in the drivers and effects of the legislation.
According to Geiger (2014), ‘The [1862 Morrill Act] immediately affected the expansion
and structure of higher education and, eventually, the productivity of the American
economy’ (p. 281). There had been growing interest in supporting education for practical
knowledge and vocational training related to agriculture and industry since at least the
1840s (Geiger, 2014; Williams, 1991), and the land-grant movement developed in the
context of larger social transformations and the shifting hegemony of merchant to
industrial capital. Land-grant institutions both supported and responded to these
developments, but popular demand for higher education did not grow until later
(Williams, 1991). Sorber (2011) argues that rather than democracy, land-grant
development was driven by a contest between ‘gentleman farmers’ seeking to preserve
their position and ‘educational reformers’ seeking to prepare professionals, managers and
bureaucrats for an industrial economy. Between these groups, ‘sources of the tension
were opposing beliefs of the proper progression of American capitalism and land-grant
2 With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded its northern territories, which were inhabited by
Indigenous as well as mestizo peoples (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014). According to Barker (2015), the treaty was
meant to ensure the US ‘would protect tribal land grants [in lands that were formerly Mexico]’, but ‘US
citizens displaced and outright murdered tribal peoples to gain holds of their lands and coerce survivors
into servitude’ (p. 263).
3 For instance, at the end of the Civil War, many demobilized troops went West to battle Indigenous
nations on a new front (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014). In 1887, the General Allotment Act affected the ‘virtual
obliteration of tribal rights’ (Barker, 2015, p. 256), reducing Indigenous landholdings by about two-thirds
and breaking up remaining lands so as to make its collective uses nearly impossible. It was also around this
time that the first Indian boarding schools were founded with the stated intention to ‘Kill the Indian and
save the man’ (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014). Although there is not adequate space to trace all post-1862 efforts to
dispossess and eliminate Indigenous peoples, Indigenous struggles against conquest continue to this day.
colleges’ relationship to that development’ (p. 20). In other words, the land-grant
movement was always about economic expansion, but there was conflict about what form
this expansion would take and which subset of the wealthy classes it would benefit most.
Sorber and Geiger (2014) argue that each land-grant institution developed in alignment
with the ‘ideology of the politically powerful within each state’ (p. 8), and rather than
increase access for lower classes, ‘early land-grant colleges appear to have been the
domain of an expanding middle class: professionals, white-collar businesspeople, and
sole proprietors’ (p. 394). Eventually, land-grants and other public institutions became
more widely accessible, particularly after World War II. However, at their best, Gelber
(2013) notes, ‘Land-grant institutions have expanded the number of professional
occupations and widened the pipeline to these jobs, but rarely have they encouraged
students to reject upward mobility or question the line separating professionals from
workers’ (p. 184).
Metaphorizing the frontier
The new middle class, which made up 25% of workers by the early twentieth century,
required preparation in engineering, agricultural and industrial sciences, bureaucracy and
social norms if they were to be of service to the country’s emergent industrial economy
(Sorber, 2011). Thus, with the transition from agricultural to industrial labor, the pursuit
of social mobility was no longer sought through farm ownership, but rather by obtaining
a higher education credential (Barrow, 1990). Bowles and Gintis (1977) assert, ‘With the
closing of the western frontier in the latter part of the nineteenth century ... a new
ideology of opportunity became the order of the day. The folklore of capitalism was
revitalized: Education was the new frontier’ (p. 3). This late nineteenth century shift in
white middle-class aspirations was premised on the shift from the literal to a
metaphorical frontier (Barrow, 1990). Indeed, this was the vision outlined by Turner in a
university 1910 commencement speech in which he expressed concern that the
democratic spirit and egalitarianism fostered by the frontier was threatened by expanding
economic inequality and class conflict, particularly given ‘the practical exhaustion of the
supply of cheap arable public lands open to the poor man’ (p. 11).
In light of these changes, he argued, public universities had a ‘duty in adjusting pioneer
ideals to the new requirements of American democracy’ (p. 27). He called upon state
universities to educate leaders from ‘the democratic masses as well as from those of
larger means’ and train experts for new fields like public health and manufacturing, ‘as
the test tube and the microscope are needed rather than axe and rifle in this new ideal of
conquest’ (p. 24). The frontier trope continued to be adapted in higher education rhetoric.
It was revived by Vannevar Bush in his post-World War II report ‘Science: The Endless
Frontier’, which advocated for increased federal support for basic research around health,
national security and economic prosperity (Crow & Dabars, 2012). For Bush, this was a
means to ensure US military advantage and economic expansionism. Today, frontier
metaphors operate uncritically in the context of discussions about expanding global reach
of US universities through internationalization, along with much speculation about the
democratizing potential of the ‘technological frontier’ (Chaput, 2004).
Chaput (2004) suggests that the rhetorical metaphorization of the frontier in the late
nineteenth /early twentieth century helped suture the potentially contradictory logics of
democracy and industrial capitalism. In other words, the promise of opportunity through
education mitigated the fact of inequality and exploitation. As Barrow (1990) observes,
liberal states socialize the costs of private production through ‘manpower training and the
provision of scientific-technical infrastructure to support modern industry and national
defense’ (p. 8). In this way, US public higher education has subsidized the accumulation
of capital at the same time that it has helped manage tensions between capitalism and
democracy through meritocratic promises of social mobility, thereby helping to ensure
white citizen/workers’ continued buy-in to an unjust political–economic system. Since
the land-grant era, the promise of opportunity by way of education has only intensified.
Yet while the historical strength of higher education’s meritocratic promises is itself
dubious, in the present era, these promises have come under increased suspicion. In
drawing attention to how ‘the rhetoric of frontiers’ has historically obfuscated the
economic violence of capitalism, Chaput (2004) concludes that the economic violence of
the present should prompt us to ‘rethink the use of frontier rhetorics as integral to
representations, advertisements, and discussions of U.S. public universities’ in the present
(p. 313). However, Chaput does not address the relations of conquest that undergird the
ties between public higher education and capitalism’s ever-expanding ‘frontier’. Though
land-grant institutions supported capitalist expansion in the emergent metaphorical
frontier of the country’s industrial economy, these institutions and indeed all institutions
would not exist without prior efforts to conquer the literal frontier. Furthermore,
industrial capitalism, in the form of mechanized agriculture, new technologies of resource
extraction and manufacturing plants, was no less reliant on the material land base that
emerged from histories of accumulation that preceded it.
As the US state facilitated the creation of a capitalist market through processes of
conquest, it also became entangled with and dependent on that market (Nichols, 2017, p.
18). In order to create land-grant institutions, the US government had to first assert and
secure its title over Indigenous lands. Next, it transferred some of those lands to
individual states to be sold on the market; the profits from those sales were then used to
buy stocks, again on the market, so that interest from those stocks (again, on the market)
could fund the public universities in perpetuity. Thus, from the beginning, the public
good of land-grant institutions required the accumulation of lands through colonization,
and a stable capitalist market on which those lands could be sold, and their profits used to
continue to produce continued income. This is just one example of how public higher
education has been both dependent on and vulnerable to the imperative of accumulation.
The shape-shifting frontiers of capital
Capitalism requires the periodic, state-managed reconfiguration of social relations in
order to ensure ongoing accumulation (Chakravartty & Silva, 2012; Harvey, 2005). In the
perpetual search for capital, goods and services previously categorized as public are not
immune from becoming subject to accumulation (Melamed, 2015), as not only did the
state first make these public goods and services possible through its own processes of
accumulation (Lloyd & Wolfe, 2016), but it is also the state that creates and maintains the
infrastructures that uphold the capitalist market (Peck, 2004), as the state itself is in thrall
to that market (Nichols, 2017). The contemporary regime of capital accumulation is
largely premised on the privatization of what was once deemed ‘public’. For instance, the
privatization of higher education has entailed a shift in funding from public sources to
individuals. The state has been central in managing this shift, as part of the larger
transition from the hegemony of industrial to financial capitalism (Harvey, 2005; Lloyd
& Wolfe, 2016). Shrinking public subsidies for education have led lower- and middle-
class people to take often-risky securitized debt in the form of student loans (van der
Zwan, 2014), which then produces a profit for lenders and investors. The state establishes
and manages the infrastructures that enable and enforce debt-based relations (Mahmud,
2012; Soederberg, 2014), and student loans are structured to protect lenders from risk,
rather than borrowers (i.e. students and their families) (Adamson, 2009).
In the face of these transformations, in addition to land-grant romanticism, many critical
higher education scholars return to the post-War era as the site of idealized contrast and
seek a return to ‘the public good’. While post-War higher education begs for its own anti-
colonial analysis, in general Nelson (2013) finds in his historical examination of
motivations for state investment in higher education that, ‘when it comes to the state,
economic priorities are nearly always likely to predominate’ (p. 34). Further, ‘When the
state invested in higher education and research ... it expected a rapid economic return’ (p.
34). Before today’s hegemony of financial capital, or the industrial capital that preceded
it, it was capital accumulated through conquest that enabled the state to fund public goods
like land-grant institutions, from which it subsequently expected economic returns. Even
as public higher education expanded opportunities for access in the twentieth century,
these transformations were nonetheless tied to the demands of capital and the particular
formations of accumulation that predominated (Ferguson, 2012). The state-subsidized
access to higher education that followed from land-grant legislation and the subsequent
founding and funding of additional public institutions helped secure white middle-class
investment in the US’s colonial nation-state and capitalist system by offering the
egalitarian promise of social mobility and other relative advantages (Brown, 2003). Yet
as capitalism’s adaptable frontier logics open up new spaces and populations for
extraction, exploitation and containment, the white middle- class is increasingly subject
to some of the methods and rationales of accumulation that were previously reserved for
Indigenous, Black and other racialized populations, as well as, to a lesser extent, poor
whites. As the promised benefits of white supremacist capitalism appear to be
diminishing, what appear to white people as novel configurations of accumulation
actually have instructive precedents. However, these precedents are invisibilized within
mainstream critiques because they most significantly affected populations who were and
are deemed to be outside the realm of ethical obligation and political rights. Indeed, the
sacrifice of non-white peoples has long been justified in the name of the nominally
democratic ‘public good’ that this sacrifice is thought to serve.
Each new strategy of capital accumulation does not replace but rather adds new layers to
historical and ongoing violences that have yet to be redressed. Not only do public goods
remain under perpetual threat of privatization under the imperatives of capital
accumulation, although always subject to political contest, but regimes of both public and
private property were and are produced through the continued occupation of Indigenous
lands and subjugation of Black lives. Capitalism continues to circulate wealth
accumulated through conquest, on lands accumulated through conquest, and continues to
accumulate in ways that disproportionately harm Black and Indigenous populations. This
is as true in the context of higher education as in any other social institution. For instance,
inequities in access, graduation rates and student debt all illustrate the disproportionately
negative effects of decades of higher education privatization on racialized students
(Cottom, 2017; Goldrick-Rab, Kelchen, & Houle, 2014; Seamster & Charron-Chénier,
2017; Soederberg, 2014). Meanwhile, 1890 historically Black and 1994 tribal land-grant
institutions fail to receive funding equal to their historically white 1862 counterparts
(AIHEC, 2014; Association of Public and Land- Grant Universities [APLU], 2013).
Finally, many ethnic studies programs operate under perpetual threat of closure, censure
or downsizing (Barker, 2016).
The disproportionately experienced harms of contemporary processes of capital
accumulation do not negate but rather intensify the need to contest these processes, while
also complicating dominant framings of resistance. The accumulation of Indigenous and
Black lands, lives and labors provided the conditions of possibility to establish many
public institutions that continue to be both dependent on and vulnerable to accumulation.
Yet while it is necessary to examine higher education’s entanglements with conquest, it is
also unlikely that simply producing more knowledge about these injustices will be
sufficient for addressing ‘the problems imperialism continues to create’ (Byrd, 2011, p.
xxvi). It is not simply a lack of knowledge that reproduces colonial relations and
impoverished horizons of justice, but willful ignorance. As Vimalassery, Pegues, and
Goldstein (2016) argue, ‘Even where the ongoing nature of colonialism as it structures
the shared present is grasped, colonial unknowing manifests in ways that foreclose upon
future possibilities, and decolonization is named as either impossible or unreasonable’
(para. 30). This ‘unknowing’ and its accompanying disavowal of responsibilities and
relationships are oriented by the continued desire for and investment in white relative
advantage within capitalist social relations and the promised (if increasingly unfulfilled)
securities offered by the nation-state (Stein et al., 2017). It is often these very advantages
and securities that are reclaimed in mainstream efforts to resist privatization.
Given the ethical, political and analytical limitations of only viewing capital
accumulation as a problem now that the white middle-class is increasingly harmed by it,
the question that remains is how to organize collective resistance to emergent forms of
accumulation in ways that also seek an end to relations of conquest. Of course, this is
precisely what many Indigenous and Black communities have done since conquest first
began. In order for white people to learn from this resistance without romanticizing,
tokenizing or instrumentalizing anti-colonial struggles in ways that would reproduce, yet
again, colonial relations, we would have to disinvest from our perceived entitlements,
certainties and supremacies and face our own roles in the violence of accumulation. Thus
far, this remains a process that few are willing to undertake.
Earlier drafts of this paper were greatly enhanced through the feedback of Amy Metcalfe,
Kristi Carey, Erich Pitcher, the editor and anonymous reviewers of Critical Studies in
Education and most of all, Dallas Hunt. All remaining shortcomings are my own.
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... Following decades of agricultural development based on chattel slavery and manifest destiny, land-grant universities prepared American farmers to create specialized cropping and livestock systems and cemented the United States' position as an agricultural powerhouse. The namesake land grants that funded these prestigious agricultural colleges were appropriated directly from Indigenous Peoples in North America (Lee and Ahtone, 2020;Stein, 2020). Landgrant universities also intentionally excluded Black people from accessing an education, despite the fact that it was the labor of Black people that built much of United States agriculture (Humphries, 1991;Wennersten, 1991). ...
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This chapter outlines the Apprenticeship for Community Engaged Research or (H)ACER program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It explores how co-author Michelle Hernandez, while as an undergraduate, drew from decolonial feminist scholar Maria Lugones’ theorizing on loving perception and world traveling to develop her own praxis of community-engagement as a research apprentice in an immigrant-led, one-acre community garden. Michelle describes the practices that she used to build loving relations with the gardeners and how this in turn supported her own academic journey. This chapter is designed to open up educators’ imaginations on how higher education programming can create dynamic and diverse pedagogical spaces for students and community members to learn from each other. KeywordsCritical community-engaged researchCritical community learningAnti-racist higher education programmingPopular educationDecolonial feminismsCommunity gardensUniversity-community partnershipsCommunity buildingWorld traveling
We explore the literature on internationalization in higher education and distinguish between the mainstream and radical approaches to critical scholarship. We argue that the mainstream approach continues to steer internationalization towards socially progressive and equitable aims, while growing concerns have surfaced especially with regard to its commercialization. We focus on the postcolonial approach and suggest that it has inherent limitations stemming from its roots in a ‘modern global/colonial imaginary’ based on an outdated bipolar or unipolar, rather than multipolar, view of geopolitics. In the analysis of higher education, this perspective fails to recognize contemporary forms of colonialism and, in contrast to other strands of critical scholarship, neglects the shifting nature of geopolitics and the various forms and locations of colonialism. Consequently, we argue that the postcolonial approach becomes myopic, as it tends to be West-centric, selectively critical and denies local agency. Moreover, it falls short in explaining the motives behind internationalization in diverse contexts. Therefore, we argue for a plurality of critical approaches, widely applied, to gain a comprehensive understanding of internationalization on a global scale.
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تتربع الجامعات الأمريكية على عرش صدارة الجامعات في العالم في التصنيفات الأكاديمية، التي تهدف إلى معرفة أكثر مؤسسات التعليم العالي جودة تعليمية وبحثية وإدارية، واحتلال كثير من الجامعات الأمريكية مكانةً مرموقةً على المستوى العلمي لم يكن محض الصدفة، بل كان نتاج تراكمي في الخبرات واستفادة من تجارب مؤسسات التعليم العالي التي سبقتها في أوروبا، وخاصةً في بريطانيا، ومن ثم ألمانيا. ويهدف هذا البحث إلى اكتشاف أهم الأحداث التاريخية في مسيرة التعليم العالي في الولايات المتحدة منذ مرحلة ما قبل الاستقلال حتى نهاية القرن التاسع عشر. وقد انطلقت مسيرة التعليم العالي فيما يعرف اليوم بالولايات المتحدة الأمريكية بافتتاح كلية هارفارد عام 1636م، التي تحولت لاحقًا لتصبح من أهم الجامعات النخبوية في العالم. وتأثرت مسيرة التعليم العالي في الولايات المتحدة بالأحداث السياسية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية في البلاد، وهو ما تسبب في انطلاق مؤسسات التعليم العالي المدعومة حكوميًا بشكل فعلي عام 1801م. بعد ما كانت جميع مؤسسات التعليم قبل الاستقلال أهلية. ثم بدأت مؤسسات التعليم العالي تزداد بشكل مطرد وتبدأ في تقديم خدماتها للنساء والأقليات العرقية خاصة من الأمريكان السود الذين كانوا يدرسون في مؤسسات تعليمية مفصولة ومنعزلة حتى بداية منتصف العقد السادس من القرن الماضي. أيضًا يستعرض البحث معلومات عن الشخصيات المؤثرة في مسيرة التعليم العالي في الولايات المتحدة.
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Methods for (un)knowing whiteness do not exist within the current methods of narrative study centered on personal experience. This three article dissertation threads together three self-studies using distinct methods of narrative study centered on personal histories: autoethnography, critical family history, and oral history. I engage these methods from the point of departure that whiteness—the white liberal humanist subject—is the problem. Whiteness as the pinnacle of creation was manufactured out of the need to justify global conquest and its primary tools—slavery and genocide. Following Black and Indigenous feminist thinkers, especially Sylvia Wynter and Leanne Betasomasake Simpson, whiteness-as-conquest was manufactured through the stories we tell about ourselves, and two ways out of this predicament are working toward abolition and decolonization. Seen thusly, methods for knowing whiteness are necessary but insufficient for reorienting ourselves toward abolition and decolonization. Abolition and decolonization require methods for unknowing whiteness and making possible other ways of being human. While these methods of narrative studies centered on personal histories can be bent toward abolition and decolonization, these methods may better serve these goals as lenses or approaches to doing autotheory. Ultimately, I suggest autotheory as the methodological intervention on narrative studies centered on personal experience. Autotheory is a blend of Black feminisms, Indigenous feminisms, and queer thought with personal histories. Autotheory is a methodology of knowledge production that seeks to alter our relations to each other and all things. That is, autotheory holds the potential for ontological reordering toward being human after whiteness.
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Barriers to the successful implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education and outreach initiatives are being documented across higher education institutions as DEI policies and protocols are gaining attention. Despite growing attention to promote DEI in higher education institutions, there remains a need to examine barriers preventing DEI efforts in a systematic way, particularly in Extension education contexts to formulate strategies to promote DEI. We present an expert, consensus-based framework to identify the most salient barriers to successful DEI implementation in Extension. We also discuss opportunities for Extension practitioners to overcome salient barriers with tailored mitigation strategies.
In the 1960s and 1970s, minority and women students at colleges and universities across the United States organized protest movements to end racial and gender inequality on campus. African American, Chicano, Asian American, American Indian, women, and gay and lesbian activists demanded the creation of departments that reflected their histories and experiences, resulting in the formation of interdisciplinary studies programs that hoped to transform both the university and the wider society beyond the campus. This book traces and assesses the ways in which the rise of interdisciplines—departments of race, gender, and ethnicity; fields such as queer studies—were not simply a challenge to contemporary power as manifest in academia, the state, and global capitalism but were, rather, constitutive of it. The book delineates precisely how minority culture and difference as affirmed by legacies of the student movements were appropriated and institutionalized by established networks of power. Critically examining liberationist social movements and the cultural products that have been informed by them, including works by Adrian Piper, Toni Cade Bambara, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith, this book argues for the need to recognize the vulnerabilities of cultural studies to co-option by state power and to develop modes of debate and analysis that may be in the institution but are, unequivocally, not of it.
This article offers a preliminary critical-historical reconstruction of the concept of dispossession. Part I examines its role in eighteenth and nineteenth century struggles against European feudal land tenure. Drawing upon Marx’s critique of French anarchism in particular, I identify a persistent limitation at the heart of the concept. Since dispossession presupposes prior possession, recourse to it appears conservative and tends to reinforce the very proprietary and commoditized models of social relations that radical critics generally seek to undermine. Part II turns to use of the term in Indigenous struggles against colonization, both in order to better grasp the stakes of the above problematic and suggest a way beyond it. Through a reconstruction of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists, I seek to show the coherence and novelty of their formulation by suggesting that dispossession has come to name a unique historical process, one in which property is generated under conditions that require divestment and alienation from those who appear, only retroactively, as its original owners. In this way, theft and property are related in a recursive, rather than strictly unilinear, manner. Part III provides a specific historical example in the form of nineteenth-century US property law concerning squatters and homesteaders.