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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Can nurses keep NSU healthy?

One April day in 2021, the president of Northern State University suddenly left the campus.  He was obviously fired, but by whom and for what was never revealed publicly.    This summer he will take over the presidency of Minnesota State University Moorhead.  His hiring to be president of a larger university in the region serves as a rebuke to whatever took place at Northern.

The general public has no idea of what took place at Northern.  The South Dakota press doesn't get much involved in anything but processing press releases.   And local news coverage in Aberdeen is sporadic, at best.  Actually, there are no media left in the area that actually practice journalism. No one is asking from the perspective of public interest if Northern State is operating as a university of free and open inquiry or if it is under political control.  It is doubtful that anyone really cares.

Shortly before that day the president left, legislators had circulated the draft of a letter to him threatening to fire him if he put a plan for diversity at the university into effect.  Apparently, someone found reason to carry out the threat.  Which raises issues about what kind of place NSU is.

With the ditzy governor issuing directives to the Board of Regents defining for them what  universities are  and what they can do, one can assume that Northern is being managed as a political department of state government, rather than an independent academic institution.  Noem wrote to the regents  that liberal ideologies have compromised universities throughout the land and she orders them to do something about it.  That is a nakedly political charge and brands the state system as being reduced to an indoctrination center for small-minded and fallacy-driven conservatism.  As a retired professor who once headed the faculty union in the state, I could not recommend sending a student to a college system presided over by a peevish and ignorant shrew.  There has been some mild whimpering from the faculty about the Noem nonsense, but a competent, functioning faculty would quickly and emphatically make clear that the governor in no way represents the competence and integrity with which they carry out their work.  To not do so raises issues about the academic competence and integrity of the system.

In the past, the South Dakota faculty had a union through which they could address their professional concerns.  That is no longer the case.  The governor and legislature passed a law banning college faculty unions.  And that raises questions for prospective students and their parents  about education delivered by a faculty  cowed into a state of subservience by domineering and ignorant political bullies.  The ban violates a basic premise of authentic scholarship in that it limits freedom of inquiry.  It cancels academic freedom.  What is most significant is that no one seems to have objected to having a fundamental academic right and procedure taken away.

For students and their parents who are interested in educations that employ critical inquiry, Northern has a questionable history.  In the past, it was once censured by the American Association of University Professors and  had to correct its  administrative practices to get off the censure list.  Building and maintaining a sound academic reputation has been a struggle at Northern, but it has had faculty members that strove for a competitive reputation for the college.  However, it also has operated with a portion of the faculty willing to concede their academic freedom and collegial privileges in order to keep in the good graces of authoritarian administrations. When a faculty union was established, Northern professors were in the leadership in gaining and utilizing collective bargaining to improve the professional status of the faculty in the state.  The faculty has since abandoned collective bargaining as a means of exercising shared authority in the work of the universities. And the fact is that NSU is under pressure to be a political indoctrination center and not an institution of academic freedom.  

 With the closing of Presentation College this summer, Aberdeen lost a facility for training nurses. Up to this time, Northern was not involved in educating nurses.  Within the state higher education system, SDSU was the primary campus for training nurses. The Regents have now authorized NSU to start a nursing program.  The closing of Presentation College is a blow to the community, but Northern's expansion to include degrees in nursing restores an important medical education resource to the region.  But this expansion of Northern's mission comes at  the same time that its scholarly authority is being diminished by a governor and elements in her political party.  The college will have an arduous task in establishing cooperative programs in nursing education with local hospitals and clinics, but there is a public demand for developing such resources.  The nursing program at NSU will start in the fall 2024.  

If educators establish and run the nursing program, it should be a credit to the University.  The problem is if University leaders and the Regents can protect the system from the governor.  She is a threat to education.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States