All you need to call yourself a "university" these days is a semi-pro football team and a rotating list of adjunct faculty willing to pay for their own on-campus parking...
I wrote that five weeks ago expecting readers would recognize it as a dig at what is a very popular institution hereabouts: Boise State University. The insult to the integrity of Boise State was just one more in a series that goes back many years in this column, and in my general attitude for many years before I ever started writing these columns.
Yes, I am admitting my snottiness about what is now the biggest, brashest university within Idaho's borders has been with me for a long time--probably since that cuddly little two-year community school--Boise Junior College--was so presumptuous as to grow itself into a four-year institution five decades ago. My attitude started as a school boy's affectation, I'm sure, propagated by the near reverence I felt for the surroundings I was immersed in at the time: the University of Idaho.
My Boise State prejudices have been challenged before. I have two brothers, both as smart as me and both more successful than me, who did all their college-level lawrnin' there, and just about every friend I've managed to hang onto is either a Boise State alum, a Boise State fan or both. (It has been generally agreed that if we wish to remain friends, we should speak neither of religion, politics or the f***ing Broncos.)
However, after that last opinion appeared (BW, Opinion, "President Me," July, 31, 2013), I was contacted by a Boise State professor who had had all he could take of my snobbery. I pass his response on only lightly edited:
"Like you, I find that living in this beautiful part of the country is marred primarily by the 'race to the bottom of the stupidity barrel' by our majority GOP politicos. One of the things you and I are likely to share is the powerful sense that Idaho would be a better place if the state's political structure were to offer education more attention, respect and critically, more support and resources. This is true for both K-12 and higher education. I believe you'd agree that the more education people receive, and the better that education is, the better the state would be. Schools, including all of Idaho's institutions of higher education, are Good Things.
"Given that, I want to ask that you reconsider something that you've been doing for a while: taking shots at Boise State University. Because of the recent prominence of the football team ... many assume that the disproportionate media coverage mirrors the actual emphasis the university places on its athletics versus academics. This could not be further from the case. I know this first hand. I understand why some folks might make this mistake. ... This misunderstanding is harder to understand coming from you.
"I have seen extraordinary growth in the academic reach of BSU since 1987. Many of the universities' programs are absolutely stellar, as is the case with the University of Idaho. These academic successes do not get much media coverage, but you and I both know that the universities' academic programs contribute much more to the welfare of the state ... than do gridiron athletics on Saturdays.
"Bill, please consider reigning in your criticisms of BSU. ... You, I, and the rest of the state benefit daily from the work done at BSU, work that has nothing to do with athletic success. I believe the U of I has value because it contributes to the state's educated citizenry, as it has for over a century. I believe the same of BSU. I'd ask that you consider joining me in celebrating both universities. Bashing BSU does not advance the U of I. Both are critical in moving Idaho in the direction you and I would love to see. Both need as much support as we can muster. Thanks, __________"
He didn't want his name printed, and I respect that. The points he made were persuasive enough to make me want to meet him--which happened--and during our conversations, he laid out many of the improvements he has witnessed in his 26 years teaching at Boise State. I was impressed with both him and his argument, which basically distills to this: Advocates for stronger education in Idaho--be it in the public schools or the universities--should not be squabbling over who is better at what. We must recognize there is a common mission, as well as a common threat to that mission--I would call it a common enemy--and for the sake of their futures as viable institutions, the only choice they have is to become strong allies.
As state officials sneak about pawning Idaho's education off to the most contribution-friendly operators; as evidence gathers that the privatization efforts--from charter schools to online colleges and politically motivated programs with catchy titles--e.g., No Child Left Behind, Students Come First, Teach For America, blah blah blah--are falling far short of being the miracle solutions they were originally cracked up to be; as our nation's ivied halls are being priced beyond the reach of middle-class kids, I have been immature in my attitude toward Boise State.
Aside from the advances that school has made in its academics, especially in an atmosphere often antagonistic to academics, I should have realized that any authentic educational experience is better than taking a few online courses and getting a degree through the mail. And even adjunct instructors are better than a disembodied presence on a computer screen, lecturing course material to thousands of students at once. I have been wrong, and going forward, I will speak ill of Boise State no more.
Just don't expect to see me at any f***ing Bronco games, OK?