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The Radical Idea: UMass Amherst and America's Education Revolution

An All-New WGBY Production

Watch the full documentary online

"…shall we not have schools to teach men the way to feed, clothe, and enlighten the great brotherhood of man?"
                                                                                                                                                  -- Senator Justin Morrill

In 2013, UMass Amherst celebrates its 150th anniversary as a land grant institution. In an all-new production, hosted and narrated by actor and UMass alumnus Bill Pullman, WGBY uses that occasion as the prism through which to reveal the impact of a bill that revolutionized American higher education. The Morrill Act was passed despite fierce opposition in the midst of a raging Civil War. Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont was the outspoken salesman of this radical idea: that a college education should be affordable and available to anyone who wanted it. For the first time, the Federal government would lead the way to creating a truly American university. Today, there are more than 100 land grant universities trying to preserve Morrill’s ideal while meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

In this one-hour documentary, campus historians, educators, and University archivist Robert Cox paint a vivid picture of the beginnings of M.A.C. Through narration and interviews,learn how political,industrial, and agricultural revolutions led to the contentious idea of a land grant university and, finally, its realization in the Morrill Act. You’ll find out who Justin Morrill was and why he was committed to the idea of a practical education in the agricultural and mechanical sciences. The Radical Idea explores in depth the unique history of UMass Amherst, first as Massachusetts Agricultural College, then Massachusetts State College, and today as the University of Massachusetts. From a struggling ‘cow college’ to a major research university, the story of UMass Amherst exemplifies the evolution of higher education in America—past, present, and future.


Coming to WGBY on Sunday, November 10 at 8pm

Attend a free screening of The Radical Idea
Friday, November 8 at 7pm
UMass Campus Center Auditorium
1 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01003
Reception to follow
Questions about the screening?
Contact University Relations: (413) 577-1101
UMass 150

Presented by:


Special thanks to those who made this original WGBY production possible:
Mary Steele, Producer
Mark Langevin, Videographer
Keith Clark, Editor/Production Manager
Heather Murphy, Editor
Bill Pullman, Narrator & Host