Northern Valley Beacon

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Sunday, January 08, 2006


Where will Laptop University be built?

The idea for a higher education facility in Sioux Falls which offers classes from all the state universities is not new. Faculty members were asked to form a study group many years ago and issue a report on plans that could provide a higher education center for Sioux Falls. Such a proposal was submitted. However, it was dismissed and ignored because it came from people who do the actual educating.

The study by faculty was so long ago that I do not know the precise time. I think it was in the late 1980s. It was not a flashy proposal. It was just a workmanlike job of making a careful estimate of the need for such a facility and the examination of a number of examples of such facilities that were cooperative educational ventures among many institutions. There was no question that some kind of provision was needed to increase the availability of higher education, including graduate programs, in Sioux Falls. Some of the possible models that were listed were:

Drake University; Illinois State University; Iowa State University; Northern Illinois University; Saint Xavier University; St. Ambrose University; University of Illinois (Chicago); University of Illinois (Quad Cities Regional Nursing Program); University of Illinois (Springfield); University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign); University of Iowa; University of Northern Iowa; Western Illinois University.

These cooperative facilities, and others mentioned in the report, are distinguished from the proposed Sioux Falls campus because they were planned and designed by full-fledged educators. The Sioux Falls campus was totally the dreamwork of regents Harvey Jewett and Terry Baloun. They came up with this plan and did not even tell their fellow regents, let alone involve any people in higher education. Both men have accrued credentials that make them uniquely unqualified for the job. They are not merely promoting a facility; they are designing it. And it has all the academic features of a fast-food takeout service.

Jewett was the principle author of a study of mass testing of the state's students a few years back. It was one of the most dreadful reports ever issued in the name of education. It contained every educational cliche and platitudinous idea that had been utttered in the last half century. It contained nothing based upon sound scholarship and research and knowledge. We are in possession of a business letter from Baloun that we have used as an example of the kind of document that should never be written.

We suppose the regents should be applauded because they finally got embarrassed that South Dakota ranks absolutely last in resources provided for research in higher education. The proposed campus seems to be part of those plans. The proposal, however, is significant more for its presumption, ignorance, and disregard for the people of South Dakota. Universities cannot be built as monuments to those who regard themselves in terms of feudal aristocracies.

A number of commentators have pointed out that other places in South Dakota need the benefit of higher education opportunities. Distance education with television and computers does not substitute for programs run by competent staffs in key locations. After cutting programs in the name of consolidation to save money, many students in South Dakota institutions find they cannot get the courses to finish their degrees in a timely manner. On the other hand, some of our largest universities have classses of hundreds of students. South Dakota has been involved in cost-accounting in higher education more than it has education.

South Dakota can use cooperative facility in Sioux Falls, but it has much to fear because of the people who are behind the idea and the way it has been handled. As now conceived, the plan would be an educational liability for the state--something it can ill afford at this time in its history.

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