No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Holy Jeez, Fargo/Moorhead. All right. Let’s all snowmobile over here and have a calm discussion like adults.

There are some serious panties in a bunch over an article I published two days ago on Slate–that has gone viral, bee-tee-dubs, whee!–that highlighted the findings in this article published in Fargo/Moorhead’s local paper, which was brought to my attention by the wonderful Fargo Jones, a reader. I used the information in that article, as well as whatever other publicly-available information I could find on the situation, and trusted that those news sources were accurate. I did not contact the MSU-Moorhead administration for comment, because that is not what you do when you are muckraking! Also, I am an opinion columnist, so I do not have to represent “both sides” of anything. And anyway, the admin and their admin-speak had been widely quoted elsewhere, and I was not impressed at their crocodile tears as they explained their drop in enrollment–that they caused, by attempting to make the university more selective without a backup plan!!–would just, alas, necessitate faculty cuts, and then went back to their $150-200K salaries and gazed upon the school’s multimillion dollar “wellness center” with its personal TVs and rock wall.

There has been some talk in Slate comments about how they should suuuuuuuuuuue, and I will tell you why that is both misplaced and dumb.

It is misplaced because I am not “raking MSUM over the coals”–I am fighting for your university, and I am highlighting a national trend that needs to stop before there are no regional public universities left. I teach at a regional public university, so I know that local non-Harvardy working-class kids are just as deserving of education as fancypants kids are–and in a lot of ways they’re just as good. I am fighting for the survival of a type of institution that serves our country well, and does good things, and makes people better.

It is dumb, because as you can see in the article, I and my editors were very, very careful to equivocate in all language regarding the cuts: “may,” “might,” “seeks to,” etc. This has not happened yet, and it is entirely possible that the national scorn heaped on this admin might cause a correction in course, or heightened scrutiny upon a president whose short-sighted enrollment tactics caused this kerfuffle in the first place. Whatever they are calling it, however they are spinning it, they are seeking to fire faculty for no cause, and I want to stop them.

My point in the article–and on the radio, and in interviews–remains the same: what in the everloving fuck is the point of having enrollment if there is nothing to enroll for? A skeleton-crew “general education” program with whatever English, Phil, and foreign language faculty would allow themselves to be hired back at half the rate, is not fair to these kids, and it is not fair to the faculty. And if it happens here with no outrage, make no mistake that it will continue to happen all over the country.

But it hasn’t happened yet, and my article was very aware of this. You cannot accuse someone of libel or slander or whatever, for saying “may,” “might” or “seeks to.” You cannot sue a tautology. You cannot even refute a tautology. It is a rhetorical trick, but it’s one that keeps us out of trouble. “Either the MSUM administration will fire half its faculty or it won’t.” That is just a fact that is always true.

At any rate, I am bowing out of this fracas now, because it is Thanksgiving and I need to be with my family. I hope you are also spending Thanksgiving with your family, if you are American and like that sort of thing, and please do the world a favor and don’t do any shopping between now and Saturday.



14 thoughts on “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

  1. Read your piece about Moorhead State. I live in MN in a town called Bemidji with it’s own state college. It did this two years ago. Same damn thing. They now don’t teach German or French either. Here’s some article links.


  2. I appreciate your intellectual insight and your desire to make things better. Kudos to you! At least you are trying to make a difference. To those that may hate, “Shut up! What are you doing?”. Don’t be bothered. I am currently living in Moorhead, MN; just three blocks from campus. The education system needs work and people need to be informed. I applaud you!


  3. This is good stuff. I ended up with a B.S. from the U of Minnesota business school (Carlson School of Management) and later earned my law degree from Minnesota. But, as an undergrad, I took seven semesters of history (three with the same history prof) and a humanities class (among other liberal arts courses). My two favorite profs? That history prof and that humanities prof. I liked that history prof so much that in law school, ten years later, I took a graduate-level history class with him for fun as a side class. Here’s the thing: Those two profs and the coursework I studied with them were the best thing that ever happened to me, educationally. They opens a whole new world to me, intellectually, that I had never before experienced (and may never have experienced without them). Now, I’ve been practicing corporate law for over 20 years and much of my pleasure reading is really an extension of what they first excited me to think about (looking at the world broadly). So, I think it’s vital for a legitimate university or college to offer a broad range of liberal arts courses to students, whatever discipline they may end up focusing on for their degree. I don’t have some strong criticisms of the humanities, regarding the heavily politicized way in which they now tend to be taught, but that does not detract from my fundamental belief that the liberal arts are essential for a good education.


  4. Your article was needed. People need to know what’s happening. Yet still no one addresses the true individuals who suffer at the hands of administration: the students. Many of us are in turmoil, especially those who have already been dealt the fate of our program’s kiss of death. Nice way to spend Thanksgiving; stressed to the max about how and when to graduate now that course offerings will be even slimmer… not to mention that the scholarship opportunities we had been promised are now being stripped away. Its a sad day when one is no longer proud to be of what’s soon to become an alma mater.


  5. This makes me so sad. I am a 2007 grad of MSUM. I majored in East Asian Studies, Language and Culture and History. These departments and instructors were in my opinion the best in the University. Even during my time there 2004-2007, I saw departments failing, like the American Studies department, not due to lack of interest from students but lack of investment by the system. The “intellectual pursuits” are waning. On the plus side McDonald’s will have a large hiring pool of physically fit business majors.

    Thanks for your article and posts about this. People need to know.


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