Remarks at the press conference announcing Morningside Foundation’s gift to University of Massachusetts Medical School, Boston, September 7, 2021

A Gift to University of Massachusetts, a Land-Grant University

By Gerald Chan

I have been asked two questions to which I will direct my brief comments. Why UMass Medical School? Why now?

The Morningside Foundation seeks to make grants that are transformative in the sense that the impact of the grant should reach beyond the recipient institution. The grant should catalyze a shift in public sentiment, commitment and action. In 2014, the Morningside Foundation gave a gift to the Harvard School of Public Health. At that time, I was asked by many, “Why public health?” The Harvard gift shone a spotlight on public health and the discipline’s importance to society. In the immediately ensuing years, both the quantity and quality of applicants to public health schools across the nation shot up. Six years later, the COVID-19 pandemic would prove that gift most prescient. Today, everybody understands why public health.

The present gift from the Morningside Foundation is intended to draw attention to the urgent need for supporting our state universities at a time when resources available to them lag far behind the resources available to the elite private universities, notwithstanding the fact that it is the state universities that educate the vast majority of college students in this country. We as a society must renew our support for the public universities now.

The second principle for the Morningside Foundation in selecting recipient institutions is alignment of values. My late father led by example in providing support for indigent students to be educated. I grew up watching him change the trajectory of many young lives by supporting their education. I saw in UMass Medical School the same care for those coming from humble backgrounds. The School is exemplary in its inclusive admissions practice.

When Congressman Justin Morrill sponsored the bill that became the Morrill Act of 1862 and created the land-grant colleges of which UMass is one, an intention was to make higher education accessible to students from farming and working-class families. At a time when the student bodies of American colleges were drawn largely, if not exclusively, from white, affluent, urban families, the Morrill Act threw open the doors to higher education for young people from all backgrounds. In Congressman Morrill’s own words, “This bill proposes to establish at least one college in every state upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil.”

The gift to UMass today is both a celebration and a reminder of that legislation’s intent.

Finally, in selecting grant recipients, the Morningside Foundation looks for what I term “the will to excel.” In the private sector in which I work, all players are subjected to relentless competition. Not excelling is not an option; it is a sure path to demise. In public higher education, and indeed, higher education in general, there are not many leaders that are hungry, ambitious, enterprising, entrepreneurial, visionary, bold. The Morningside Foundation found in UMass Medical School a school that has the will to excel and a leadership with a proven track record of tireless pursuit of excellence. This is evidenced by the School’s faculty recruitment, research funding and research output, and its placement of graduates such as the matching of medical students to residency programs. I also want to recognize the School’s ambition in community engagement as evidenced by its building a VA clinic on campus to serve the veterans who live in central and western Massachusetts.

In 1862, Congress saw education as the answer to the nation’s problems and created the land-grant colleges. Those government leaders deployed the nation’s resources in such a way as to inure to the benefit of countless future generations of Americans. We find ourselves today in a similar moment. Beset by many problems of a national or even a global scale, strengthening education is still the answer. We as a society must step up. The gift from the Morningside Foundation today is both an affirmation of and a call to renew our support for public higher education.

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