Ralph Kingsbury: For North Dakota's Universities, Enough Is Enough

I have had enough. I say that with great sadness about the other love of my life. Well, the other love beyond my family. As for them they stand alone and nothing else is even close. I am talking about the next two of life’s loves.

My one love has always been farming. There is nothing in my life approaching watching a combine lumbering into the setting sun with a sky filled with the dust of hours spent in a wheat field and hearing the sound of those slugs of wheat being thrashed. If you understand anything about eternity you know you are looking at God’s soul, so I believe.

I know there are other things that affect other people in similar ways. For me, I easily understand the cowboy and his horse. I even can imagine a professional athlete feeling like that, even a financier.  A lawyer? Well, let’s not get carried away.

But there is one other thing that affects me like farming, that makes me feel what is being accomplished is something beyond a job. That is teaching. As for me, it is college teaching..

After a few years as a real college instructor and also including different experiences (Enlisted men and officers through the University of Maryland’s Far East Division in Korea while I was part of the 7th Infantry Division on the DMZ – which it wasn’t, demilitarized that is – and airmen and women enrolled in Embry-Riddle at GFAFB only a few years ago while it still was an air base) I had the opportunity to move into a new area of college administration that was just starting to be developed. Like most new things there were a lot of changes in what it was called and in the definition of what it was.  After a decade of changes and redefinition, today it is mostly known as institutional research.

Some who consider themselves the intellectual soul of the academy consider what IR does as just another useless bureaucracy on the campus. I would tell those arrogant eggheads it was people like me who defended people like them. Believe it or not, state legislators, or those responsible for appropriating the money for public schools, or raising the money for private schools didn’t simply decided to hire four philosophy Profs. Someone had to figure out a way to justify that number instead of three, or even one, or that a liberal arts education wasn’t an education without philosophy.

We did that all across campus. Sometimes I thought we really accomplished something. Other times it was a frustrating life.

What did happen, or so I think, is that I really learned what the academy was. I understood more than most what it took to run a university. More important, I understood what a university was. What made education successful, and what really was a failure. We defined the difference between a college like Mayville or Dickinson, as compared to a research institution such as UND or NDSU.

In North Dakota in those eleven institutions there were some successes, and there were some failures. Some of the best teachers you could ever ask for taught in North Dakota. Some of them were from North Dakota. Some came here from out of state.

I have been acquainted with students at Ivy League schools, and in North Dakota. Some of the best students were from North Dakota schools. They could hold their own against those snobs from the Ivies.

In those times as a North Dakota resident all you needed to get into a North Dakota college was a North Dakota high school diploma. There were students who should not have been there. I saw students with straight Fs, and they really tried. I, oh never mind, we know. We know.

Some said even then there should be standards. There should be a way to measure the students chance of successfully completing a degree, but others argued that because of the lack of a standard education across North Dakota in the first grade through high school we couldn’t know how intelligent, much less how well prepared the students were.

Not having room to go further in this column, here is what I say with great sadness after watching the North Dakota higher education system over the past decade or so, this fall I am going to vote for the constitutional amendment to change the governance system.

After about 70 years of running as it was supposed to, not perfectly, but acceptably, over this time it has been proven again and again-and again that is no longer the case. There have been too many unqualified appointees. There have been too many mistakes, decisions of poor judgment, and even felonious actions never pursued by the appropriate authorities.

It just keeps happening. It is time for a change. The change may not work and we may have to change the change, but what is now can be no more-anymore.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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