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Know the West

Are universities the greatest villains?


Land-Grab Universities(April 2020) rubbed me the wrong way. Not that the reporting was inaccurate, but that it left out mountains of context. For starters, how is it more sinful for a land-grant university to make money selling land than for a railroad to do the same? Or a farmer or rancher making money off Native lands? Or an oil company? Or any real estate agent who makes money simply off the change in title of these lands? Or any other university selling land that was given to it? Would it really have been more noble for land-grant institutions to sell the land to others at cost? And that 11 million acres transferred to land grants: Is that really so big compared to the 181 million acres handed to the railroads, or the more than 270 million acres homesteaded? Or the millions of acres dedicated to state-run public education?

All of America is built on land stolen or obtained in poor faith from Native peoples. Had this story used the documentation for land grants as a gateway to a broader discussion about the debt owed Native peoples, I think it would have worked for me, especially as Easterners are more neglectful of their gains from these land grabs. But as written (and especially as headlined), it is making it sound as though the greatest villains of the conquest of North America were land-grant colleges, when this use of seized lands was arguably the most noble of all the ultimate uses of the land. Just because it is easier to track the gains of institutions still present in the modern day does not mean that those institutions were the worst players.

Craig Jones
Boulder, Colorado