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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lessons in how to make a state an educational and cultural wasteland

This post has been revised to correct the mangling of some copy when a word processor document was transferred to the blog.  

The corruption that characterizes South Dakota’s economic development efforts reaches deep into the economy and culture of the state.  The stage was set when the state changed its usury laws to accommodate the credit card banking companies that eventually came to Sioux Falls for their high interest lending operations.  The relationship of state officials to businesses with larcenous and coercive principles of fleecing the public grew from the obsequious to the collusive, as officials liked to think they were among the economic movers and shakers.  The coterie of economic rulers includes state officials, local government and economic development officials (recall that Huron and Flandreau also took flings at the Northern Beef Packers scheme), lawyers and law firms, and corporate officials, who insist nothing is criminal if you call it a business decision.

The business mentality in South Dakota has been ruinous to education in the state.  Education and research require an integrity and good purpose that are considered impediments in the business world.  When the business mentality intrudes into matters of academic research and the processes through which knowledge is created, it subverts and eventually demolishes those intellectual enterprises.  Two examples of how this works in South Dakota are the efforts to convert the Homestake goldmine into a underground research laboratory and the establishment of the Center of Excellence for International Business at Northern State University. 

When the proposal to convert Homestake into a national underground research laboratory was proposed, almost every major physicist, physics department, and scholars in related fields signed on in support.  The goldmine had ideal features that made it eminently suitable as a place to conduct underground experiments, and those features are why it was eventually selected by the National Science Foundation as the site for a national lab.  But the owner, Barrick Gold of Canada, had a business decision to make.  It did not want financial responsibility for an environmental cleanup of destructive pollution that it left behind from its operation of the mine.  It made eventual transfer of the mine for laboratory purposes contingent upon being relieved of responsibility for any environmental damage.  If it did not get its way,  Barrick threatened to shut down the water pumps that keep the mine dry.  Which it did. 

At that point, the scientists realized that real science did not have much chance to be done in circumstances where a corporation was intruding its attitudes and values.  The business mentality more adversely affects and is a greater danger to honest science than the physical phenomena that scientists conduct their experiments in mines to prevent from compromising their small particle research.  All but a very few scientists abandoned the hopes of having a premier research facility at the old Homestake Mine. 

Then Governor Mike Rounds tried to revive the conversion project by making it an economic development project.  In South Dakota, there are few people, especially among the state leadership, who understand that basic, reliable research cannot be done with the aim of devising products for making money.  The engineering that produces useful and high-tech devices, such as resulted from space exploration, is dependent on science.  Experiments which are contrived for the production of goods are unproductive and produce unsound conclusions that do not meet the standards of scientific knowledge.  The idea of operating the laboratory as part of an economic development program drove the national and international interest in the lab away and eventually the National Science Foundation, which had led the effort to convert the mine, withdrew its professional and financial support.  The lead scientists explained that the project was being developed in a way that is inconsistent with the objectives and standards of  scientific research.  The conflict between science and economic schemes was never explained or discussed as the issue that ended scientists’ interest in Homestake as the site for a major research laboratory.

Money contributed by Denny Sanford which created the Sanford Underground Research Facility has revived the mine-as-lab on a smaller scale than originally planned and important, significant experiments are taking place.  But there is an irony involved that keeps scientists restrained and cautious about its development.  The Sanford money comes from the usurious proceeds of a credit card company and brings with it the lingering aspect of the business mentality that is such destroyer of sound research, knowledge and education, which are the ultimate objectives of real science.


The establishment of the Center for Excellence in International Business at Northern State University on its face seemed consistent with academic and scholarly objectives.  However, as its programs developed, its emphasis quickly turned from the study of  economic and business practices to involvement in economic development schemes.  It was started during my last years as a fulltime faculty member, and I recall the concerns and skepticism about the program on campus, throughout the state system, and in national professional and academic organizations.  On campus, there was concern about a changing mission in the university.  It was established and continues to claim  the educating of teachers as a main part of its mission.  However, the College of Business had overtaken the College of Education in the number of students and programs it had.  This was exacerbated at one point in the mid-1980s when the College of Education lost its accreditation, which diminished interest on campus but set up circumstances in which NSU lost its eminence as the leading supplier of the state teaching corps to sister institutions.  On campus, the growing emphasis on the College of Business was felt in particular by the College of Liberal Arts as the course requirements in language, history, science, and social science were reduced for students to make room in their schedules for courses more germane to business.  One of the criticisms that came particularly from other state institutions was that the major in international business did not include a foreign language requirement.  And the College of Business took the English as a Second Language program for foreign students away from the College of Liberal Arts and established its own program.  There was a Friday night meeting among the college deans during which the changes in course requirements were made that was known as the Friday Night Massacre because it signaled that departments that offered majors in the arts and sciences were being reduced to service departments that offered token courses to meet the minimal liberal arts requirements for accreditation.  The vocational programs were in effect dictating the curriculum.  The decisions came down from the Board of Regents based on enrollment and course registrations.  The Board is business-oriented and often contemptuous about academic considerations. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, they tend to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. 

The Center for Excellence in International Business spawned an academic anomaly called the South Dakota International Business Institute which sponsored some institutes and other program for students and faculty, but quickly got into the business of economic development.  The development activities were supported by academic money and university resources.  In reviewing the academic programs at NSU, a new president was apparently troubled by a university program being devoted to the support of a commercial enterprise and found the arrangement inappropriate.  The SDIBI was removed from the NSU campus and quartered in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation where it was transformed into the South Dakota Regional Center, the main purpose of which its to recruit and managed EB-5 loans through which foreign investors in American companies can obtain visas for residence in the U.S.  The Regional Center and its handling of funds and contracts is at the center of the troublesome scandal revealed by the bankruptcy of the Northern Beef Packers.

There is much quibbling about the legal maneuvers which amount to a shell game about the Regional Center’s relationship to state government agencies,  and the ruling party which holds major responsibility for oversight is frantically denying, covering-up, and outright lying about government roles in a scandal in an attempt to skirt criminal charges.  However, the documents involved in setting up the Center for Excellence in International Business reveal the questionable establishment of the South Dakota International Business Institute.  A most telling event is that the law on which its establishment is based is repealed effective in 2015.

A key basis for looking at the relationship of the SDIBI  to the university is the Regents Policy Manual:

Policy Manual
SUBJECT: Relationship of Curriculum and Instruction to Statutory Objectives
NUMBER: 1:1013-9-
Curriculum and instruction at each institution shall conform to statutorily established objectives.  Planning and operation of curriculum shall be in accordance with individual institutional guidelines. A statement of the statutory institutional objectives must appear as a part of the catalog published at each institution.
---The Board recognizes and affirms its responsibility to serve as a catalyst for and as a resource to the economic development efforts of state and local governments. Faculty and staff expertise provides a valuable resource to various agencies of state government and to regional development efforts Inherent within this responsibility is the desirability of expanding programs and services beyond the physical boundaries of the institutions to provide greater access to quality higher education opportunities for South Dakotans. The Board acknowledges the programs and services offered by the private and tribal institutions in the state and the desirability of cooperation with these institutions in program articulation and delivery.
The NSU catalog in fulfilling its required statement of objectives states them this way:
Mission Statement
The legislature established Northern State University to meet the needs of the State, the region, and nation by providing undergraduate whicand graduate programs in education and other courses or programs as the Board of Regents may determine. (SDCL 13-59-1)
The Board implemented SDCL 13-59-1 by authorizing graduate and undergraduate programs in education to promote excellence in teaching and learning, to support research, scholarly and creative activities, and to provide service to the State of South Dakota, the region, and the nation. The Board approved a special emphasis on E-learning in the university curriculum and service.
Specific mention is made of the role that the Center of Excellence for International Business plays in college’s mission:

CENTER OF EXCELLENCE IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS In 1997, the South Dakota Board of Regents designated Northern State University’s School of Business as a Center of Excellence in International Business, with the goal of creating a nationally recognized program in International Business. The Center has created an International Business major focusing not only on international business courses, but also on language and cultural training. The Center also provides both students and faculty the opportunity to have an international experience through exchange programs, conferences, and other international experiences. Northern’s Center of Excellence in International Business also sponsors an annual international business conference that is ahettended by faculty, students and business people from around the world. The Center provides today’s students with the scholarly and theoretical foundations to become tomorrow’s international business leaders.nen
SDCL 13-59-1 cited as the authority for the college’s programs reads this way:

13-59-1.     Names, locations, and purposes of schools--Degrees authorized by Board of Regents. The primary purpose of Northern State University, at Aberdeen in Brown County, and Black Hills State University, at Spearfish in Lawrence County, is the preparation of elementary and secondary teachers, and a secondary purpose is to offer preprofessional, one-year and two-year terminal and junior college programs. Four-year degrees other than in education and graduate work may be authorized by the Board of Regents.
The establishment of the Center for Excellence and the SDIBI turned Regional Center which it spawned rests with the Board of Regents.
The state law on the purposes of higher education is:
13-48A-3.   Goals for postsecondary education. The Legislature hereby recognizes that the current goals for public postsecondary education systems and institutions are as follows:
             (1)      To increase the number of graduates for the state's workforce; and                                                                       
             (2)      To increase the growth capacity of the state's economy by increasing the innovation and development capacity of the state and by increasing the skills of the state's current workforce. (This section is repealed effective June 30, 2015 pursuant to SL 2013, ch 81, § 5.)
Note in particular the parenthetical statement at the end of the section announcing the repeal of the law:  (This section is repealed effective June 30, 2015 pursuant to SL 2013, ch 81, § 5.) 
The pertinent aspect to note in this repeal is the clause that authorizes economic development activities as part of higher education’s mission:    To increase the growth capacity of the state's economy by increasing the innovation and development capacity of the state…”
Somebody somewhere must have convinced somebody that economic development and honest education and research do not mix. 
Some tough facts regarding the development of South Dakota are that it ranks at the very bottom of the states for its openness and integrity of government.  It endorses low pay for fulltime workers so that they cannot afford food, shelter, transportation, and healthcare without assistance.  It has reduced public education to political indoctrination.  It discourages those with talent and ability and forces them to leave the state in search of opportunity and the benefits of freedom, equality, and justice.
The Homestake and Northern Beef-EB-5 events have branded South Dakota.  Its economic development notions closed the door to serious and significant science, but some work is till being done because of the laboratory efficacies of the old gold mine.  The state seems to be unique in its handling of EB-5 investors and money, and with that reputation what investors are foolish enough to trust it again.  Especially with the state legislature engaged in covering up the incompetence, the fraud, the criminality. 
At this time, South Dakota is the nation’s prime example of what subverting education and honest knowledge with shoddy, fraudulent business schemes does to a state morally and economically.  Decent people want no part of it.  

Update:  Word was released to the press today that President of NSU, Dr James M. Smith, under whose leadership the university bolstered flagging enrollments and academic programs, including the Center for Excellence in International Business, is one of two finalists for president of Murray State University in Kentucky. Murray State has an enrollment of 10,000 and a very strong liberal arts program. 

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