President Clements

The radical ideas and passion that resulted in a university

In my inaugural address at Commencement May 9, I spoke about the upcoming 125th anniversary of the University’s founding. In November 1889, the state of South Carolina officially accepted the terms of Thomas Green Clemson’s will to establish a scientific institution on the grounds of his Fort Hill home.

But the story of Clemson University begins much earlier than that. It started with a set of ideas and the passion to make them happen.

These were radical ideas for the mid-19th century:

  • The idea that education and research could lift a state and a people out of poverty and despair.
  • The idea that education should not be limited to an elite class.
  • The idea that institutions should serve their states and be engaged with their communities.

All of us at Clemson today are the beneficiaries of the vision — and the bequest — of our founders.

These ideas helped shape the Morrill Act of 1862, which created our national network of land-grant universities. Many of these ideas were actually developed, articulated and championed by Thomas Green Clemson. Mr. Clemson wrote and spoke often about the idea of scientific education as the path to prosperity. In the late 1860s he wrote, “Our condition is wretched in the extreme. There is, in my opinion, no hope for the South short of widespread scientific education.”

When his wife, Anna, preceded Thomas in death, she left him the land and her resources, which he later bequeathed to the state of South Carolina. This would be used to fund the college that came from their shared dreams — which he called a “high seminary of learning.”

All of us at Clemson today are the beneficiaries of the vision — and the bequest — of our founders.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, the landmark federal legislation that created the Cooperative Extension Service. Through that statewide network, the land-grant promise became a reality.

Like the Morrill Act, the Smith-Lever Act has a direct link back to Clemson. The national Extension network was based on the “Clemson model,” and Congressman Frank Lever, one of the co-authors of the legislation, was a Clemson trustee. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery, on our campus.

The connection among the Clemson will, the Act of Acceptance and the Smith-Lever Act is that they created a unique and permanent partnership between Clemson University and the state of South Carolina. That partnership distinguishes Clemson from every other institution of higher learning in the state.

In this partnership, those of us at Clemson make an important promise. We promise to make a difference, not just for our students, but also in the lives of all the people in this state. And we make a difference by holding true to three commitments.

First, we commit that we will provide the highest possible level of academic quality. Mr. Clemson wrote that this new education system “is the only hope for South Carolina, and … that it will give life, vigor and prosperity to unborn thousands … .” I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Clemson set the bar pretty high for all of us!

Second, we commit that our campus is the state of South Carolina. We pledge to be actively engaged in every county of South Carolina. Clemson has never been content to remain isolated behind a set of walls. We go where the problems are — where the opportunities are — and where the challenges are.

Third, we commit to support the state’s economic development. Mr. Clemson’s will speaks directly to our responsibility to the economic health of South Carolina. One of the ways we can help to deliver on this promise is through research and innovation.

Holding fast to these commitments will ensure that we meet the high standards set by Mr. Clemson to provide an outstanding education for our students and keep our promise to South Carolina.

I am honored to work alongside all of you to achieve these ambitious goals.

Go Tigers!

Jim Clements

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