[The Montana Professor 21.2, Spring 2011 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

Inveterate Stick-in-the-Mud and Cynic Undergoes Conversion

Richard E. Walton
Philosophy (Emeritus)

—Prof. Curmudgeon
Prof. Curmudgeon

Regular readers of this journal will perhaps recall my article in the fall 2009 issue subjecting the Regents "Transferability Initiative" to well-meant but perhaps rather acid criticism./1/ Now, only a little more than a year later I am forced to admit that I have seen the light. I'm a reformed man. I swear it. A psychotherapist acquaintance convinced me that the sort of response to change my article exhibited is unhealthy for me, and, in his words, "offputting" to others. "Change is progress," he counseled me; "Get on board!"

Now just witness my new attitude in action. Shortly before the beginning of the new calendar year I began to prepare materials for the course I had been assigned to teach Spring Semester under my post-retirement teaching agreement. This is an advanced ethics course I designed about 30 years ago using largely original materials, one that is unique in the MUS and uncommon elsewhere, at best. To my alarm, I discovered that the course no longer existed under the Catalog designation it had borne for all those years, "PHIL 325." A search through the materials supplied by the Registrar's Office as a guide to the new "Common Course Numbering System" revealed that my course was now apparently "PHL 324."

At first I was outraged, understandably so. Why must a course having no equivalent in the MUS be re-designated in an effort to make equivalence of courses apparent to readers of any of the various units' catalogs?/2/ But what an unhealthy response that was! When the more generous, imaginative angels of my newly tamed nature asserted themselves I began to perceive the advantages of this rechristening. 'PHL', as catalog shorthand for my discipline, is so much shorter than the traditional 'PHIL'—25% shorter, in fact. One can only marvel at the keystrokes, ink and paper this will save the MUS in future. And as for that number, 324, well, I've always preferred the even numbers: the odd ones are, after all, so very...well, odd. Moreover, there's no need for them. There are just as many even numbers as counting numbers altogether, the even numbers composing what mathematicians call an equivalent proper subset of the counting numbers.

And that brought to mind a thought. Rather than taking the habitual and unhelpful conservative response to the Regents' efforts to move the MUS forward my counselor advised me against, I could pitch in and help by offering them a suggestion! Eliminate the odd numbers, not just for purposes of our Common Course Numbering System, but for all uses in the MUS. Surely this, along with the new program abbreviations, would set an example of tidiness and efficiency worthy of emulation throughout American higher education. But just as I began to despair that such an action was beneath the dignity attaching to the august powers of the Regents and the staff of the Commissioner's Office which assists them in implementing their policies, my eyes lit upon a copy of a back issue of The Montana Professor, one which happened to contain an article I remembered particularly well, having edited it for publication, Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton's, "The Value of Funding Athletics: Cost is Everything if Value is Nothing."/3/ In my newly luminous, happy and healthful frame of mind a more fertile and substantive idea began to take shape.

I now happily realize that in any but the most prejudiced assessment of the Transferability Initiative in its full policy context it will be readily apparent that the Regents were merely making another good faith effort to transform the MUS into a smoothly functioning educational machine, one not confined by space, bricks and mortar, or other material considerations, producing degrees efficiently and in proportion to groups represented in the state's population. Now there is no greater barrier to that idealistic objective than institutional rivalries, and there is no greater fomenter of those destructive rivalries than intercollegiate athletics. To my shame I must confess that as a faculty old-timer who is even a graduate of what is now called The University of Montana-Missoula I take some perverse pleasure in seeing the Grizzlies shellac the Bobcats, as they did twice in basketball this year. And did you hear the one about the dog who would do back flips and bark riotously when he saw that the Grizzlies had won at the end of a televised Grizzly-Bobcat football game?

Now no doubt I have offended many TMP readers. But, you see, that makes my point. This institutional pride, jealousy, and rivalry cannot be tolerated if the MUS is to become the fully integrated, homogeneous single entity our far-sighted leadership envisions. How, then, to solve this knotty problem?

The brute force method, what I would dub the via negativa, would simply eliminate all intercollegiate athletics in the MUS. This approach would please some members of the broader campus communities and earn the MUS stature in the eyes of such critics of American higher education as Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, whose book is reviewed by Prof. Gonshak elsewhere in these pages. Moreover, it would save a great deal of money. But it would outrage a great many of those community members, as well, and, more importantly, the Regents would thereby lose all the advantages that Commissioner Fullerton described in his remarkable article under the concept of "branding."

Thus, my helpful suggestion: Rather than eliminating MUS intercollegiate athletics the Regents should consolidate—or perhaps better, integrate—them, fielding not 6 teams in each sport, but just one representing the MUS. This, too, would save a great deal of money. We would no longer have athletic directors on every campus; rather, we would have an athletics director as a member of the Commissioner's staff. We would no longer have head coaches and a covey of assistant coaches for every sport on every campus; instead, we would have one head coach for each sport, and one assistant coach posted at each unit of the system. The teams of course would effectively promote the solidarity and cohesion that Commissioner Fullerton described as one of intercollegiate athletics' great benefits. In its negative mode this reorganization of intercollegiate athletics would erode retrograde individual system unit identity, while on the positive side the System spirit that such reformed athletic activity would surely engender would be an invaluable asset in the Regents' noble struggle to make the MUS function as effectively a single, well-oiled higher education machine. A win-win initiative if ever there was one, and one which would certainly garner the immediate approval of the Legislature, whose favor the Regents covet.

Now there are certain practical problems to be worked out here, such as the location of each head coach for the teams, and the logistics of practices when players are drawn from several campuses. But these are mere roadblocks of straw that the Commissioner's expert staff, including its newly installed athletic director, will readily move aside. I shall not attempt to flesh out my suggestion in that direction by presuming to do their work for them.

I will, however, venture one final bit of advice. Our new teams cannot take the fields and courts under any of the nicknames now in use, or ever in use by any of the units. Thus, if historical research reveals that the Bobcats were originally known as the Prairie Dogs, or that the Grizzlies were in olden days the Whistling Marmots, or the Tech Orediggers once the Minin' Moles these nicknames are out, verboten. An entirely new nickname needs to be invented—a virgin one, so to speak. Fortunately, we need not bother sifting through old annuals and game programs; the choice is quite obvious. Our teams should be known as "The MUShers." Picture the happy results! Proud parents leaving MUS campuses after commencements clutching in one hand their child's diploma and in the other a bundle of MUS logo apparel with "MUSh!" emblazoned on it. At football and basketball games thousands of spectators will sway rhythmically together as they perform our version of the now traditional introit for athletic contests, "We will, we will, MUSh you!" As our glorious football team marches down the gridiron toward the goal line against the BYU Cougars, or some other opponent worthy of our new status, old Grizzlies and Bobcats will cry as with one voice "MUSh! MUSh!" With such an example before the world, can the merger of mosques and synagogues be far behind?


  1. Richard E. Walton, "The Regents' Transferability Initiative; One Participant's Demurral," 20.1 (Fall 2009), http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall2009/walt.html.[Back]
  2. My spontaneous outrage was no doubt redoubled by my having noticed the numerous other changes in the curriculum in which I had labored for more than 40 years. Courses were renumbered wholesale, and several were retitled by adding "Philosophy"; for example, what had long been "Medical Ethics," a staple in the pre-medicine program, also regularly made available to local medical professionals, was now "Philosophy and Bioethics." Then there was the fact that courses designated as philosophy were now being offered in some of the vo-techs. But I overcame my negative feelings by installing in my mind a firm belief in the great benefits in educational efficiency to be reaped in future by this application of the superior authority of Mr. Macgregor of the Commissioner's Office. Moreover, it's strictly of no concern to me; I'm retired—thank God.[Back]
  3. Doug Fullerton, "The Value of Funding Athletics: Cost is Everything if Value is Nothing," 14.1 (Fall 2003), http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall2003/dfull.html.[Back]

[The Montana Professor 21.2, Spring 2011 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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