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NORTH DAKOTA'S UNIVERSITIES HAVE PLENTY OF FAT TO TRIM

At the colleges around the state, they're giving the governor a hard time, and I guess I can't blame them.

They're mad because he wants to cut their budgets, and the colleges say that if that happens, then a lot of bad things will follow. Like maybe not so many kids will sign up next fall; and if that happens, then the colleges will lose still more money, and some teachers will lose their jobs. Some students may get so disgusted they'll move out of the state, and others who might've moved into the state will change their minds. Also, manufacturing could be depressed, and even foreign trade could go down. So, cuts are a bad deal all around, because they mean that the state's economy won't grow as fast as it should, and the population won't grow, either. Hey, education could suffer, too.

And the colleges say that the worst of it is that the budget cuts aren't needed anyway, because the fat got trimmed out two or three cuts back. So all that's left is lean and mean, right?

Well, I'm not sure. Looking through their catalogs, I see a lot of programs that still look kind of plump to me. Take my old alma mater UND: If it's really down to bare bones, how come it brags about having courses in 160 fields? They give out degrees in everything from philosophy to flying an airplane. It seems like education these days is anything you might dream up.

It's the same over at North Dakota State University. They've got a lot of courses with great names, but you have to wonder if all this stuff has to be learned in college. I mean, things such as Creative Family Management, Creative Awareness, Consumer Issues, Issues in Sexuality, Issues in Diversity, Bowling and so on. You even can get degrees in stuff such as Corporate and Community Fitness, Apparel and Textiles, and Leisure Studies.

And Minot State Univeristy offers courses in things such as Microwave Cooking and Creative Stitchery, while Dickinson State University has a program in truck driving - oops, Highway Transportation Specialist. Or it did. It had to do some cutting, and the guy with the knife had a lucid moment.

And how come the catalog at Valley City State University, which says it's a liberal arts institution, needs only 21/2 pages each to list its courses in English and history, but needs six for Philosophy of Volleyball and Philosophy of Wrestling and 10 for courses in business?

When I counted up the courses in education around the state, you know how many I found? About a thousand. I keep reading about all these reformers who want to throw out education courses because they don't provide future teachers with what they need to know, and here we've got a thousand of them flourishing right under our nose.

A lot of this stuff doesn't look like rocket science to me either:

Phys Ed 102, Jogging and Conditioning, Minot. Instruction, practice and participation in the basic skills, body mechanics and terminology associated with jogging and power walking.

Yeah, walking. I guess nothing in life is so obvious that some college won't offer credits for it, right? Maybe even a master's degree. The thing is, these courses sound really sophisticated, and yet the subject itself doesn't seem, well, all that important. I mean, I learned things such as this in the Boy Scouts and didn't even get a merit badge.

The experts say they just can't cut any more of this stuff from the curriculum. Well, I'm no expert, but a lot of what they call indispensable looks like plain old featherbedding to me. Next, they'll have Ph.D. programs in Philosophy of Cheerleading, if they don't already. The governor wants to cut spending by 5 percent? Heck, I'll raise him 5.

There's one last thing I don't understand. Every time the subject of education comes up, all I ever hear about is growth. I hear it from the campus honchos and from professors, politicians, businessmen and guys who write newspaper editorials. It's growth, growth, growth, all the time. I never hear anyone ask whether our students are learning history, or literature, or science, or whether our college graduates will be able to continue the culture. All anyone talks about is whether enrollments are going up. And when you ask why growth is supposed to be so good, you just get a blank stare. Well, I guess when education loses its meaning, the schools still need a goal of some kind, right?

Well, I'm not as smart as those theology guys, but it just seems to me that growth can't be the highest thing there is. I mean, Plato and Shakespeare still should be important all by themselves, even if they don't create jobs and make the economy grow.

A couple of thousand years ago, there was a dude named Aristotle who was really smart. He said that there are branches of learning and education which we must study merely with a view to leisure spent in intellectual activity, and these are to be valued for their own sake. He invented a whole bunch of hard subjects such as physics, biology and logic, and he said that education was so important that we had to protect it from vulgarity. Our college presidents used to talk like that, too.

I wonder what Aristotle would think about higher education today, and how we've protected it? Hey, we've come a long way, baby.

Calvert is a former political science professor at Moorhead State University.

Source: John P. Calvert  Grand Forks Herald Thursday, July 16, 1998

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