Amid the smoldering embers of the Civil War, a divided nation took a bold step that would profoundly alter the trajectory of our people, their prosperity and our way of life.
In July of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the landmark legislation that would allow for public higher education for the many, not just the few. The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 focused on agricultural and mechanical arts to discover and disseminate skills to bolster the national economy and our way of life. Never in the history of higher education had such a bold experiment been initiated.
In February 1865, a few months before the end of the war, John Bryan Bowman challenged the Kentucky state legislature to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Morrill Act and build a public university in Lexington. Though located in the Bluegrass, the Agriculture and Mechanical College of Kentucky University would go on to serve the better interests of the entire Commonwealth.
From its early beginnings with only 190 students and 10 professors, the old A&M College was committed to Kentucky. Our work evolved and expanded with the passage of the Hatch Act of 1887 and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which added our experiment station and cooperative extension network. Today, UK’s campus covers more than 918 acres; is home to more than 30,000 students, 14,500 employees and 2,300 full-time faculty; and boasts an annual budget of more than $3.0 billion.
Though we have evolved – and our multi-faceted mission of teaching, research, service and health care has expanded – our purpose remains dedicated to those we touch and teach – they remain our compass, the soul of the University of Kentucky.
That is what it means to be a 21st century flagship and land grant research university. From our first Nobel Laureate to cutting-edge work in addressing health disparities, and from the artistic wonders that stir souls to our scientific creativity that inspires minds, we seek a brighter future through our contributions and those of our faculty, staff, students and alumni. All of our work reflects our social responsibility as a land grant university.
As we look across our campus, we are laying an impressive groundwork for the future – a foundation of physical and human capital necessary to persist as a beacon for Kentucky, for our nation, and those we reach around the world.
We are – as Dr. Clark Kerr, former President of the University of California, once asked – determining which way we will swing on the hinge of history. We are asking who we are, why we are here, and – as importantly – where do we need to go in the future. And the extraordinary UK family is answering these questions with unprecedented fortitude and creativity. They come to campus everyday transfixed on their work of creating new knowledge, inspiring young minds and uplifting communities.
As I said when I arrived three years ago, this is a special place. The experiences and impact of the UK family reaffirm for me that UK is truly remarkable. Over the next year, we will honor the legacy we carry forward and look for entrepreneurial opportunities to extend and enhance our work.
On behalf of the UK family, it is my pleasure to invite you to join us as we celebrate those who came before us and the members of our family still to come. Our 150 year anniversary is a special point in history and your participation will enrich that memory.
Please explore this site to learn more about the University of Kentucky’s year-long sesquicentennial celebration, and how you can help us begin the next 150 years as the Commonwealth’s great standard bearer of a bright future.