George Starcher and The Future of the University

62 years ago, the University of North Dakota welcomed George F. Starcher and two years later, North Dakota Quarterly awoke from its 23-year, depression-induced slumber. In the first volume of its return, NDQ featured an article by then President George F. Starcher titled the “Future of the University.” Starcher probably did more for UND as an institution than any president since Webster Merrifield, and while overshadowed by his popular successor, Tom Clifford, Starcher remade the university as a modern institution adaptable to the new responsibility and expectations of higher education in the post-war world. Whatever one thinks of the modern university, at the University of North Dakota, George Starcher set the campus on that course. North Dakota Quarterly was part of that vision. For a retrospective on Starcher’s important term as president, check out the 1971 volume of NDQ where Elwyn Robinson tells the story of Starcher’s term in office. We wish UND’s new president Hon. Mark Kennedy the successes of George Starcher as he pilots UND into the heart of the 21st century. 

The Future of the University

George W. Starcher

It is never easy to look ahead and predict things to come. Yet it is essential that all of us at the University be continuously engaged in planning for the future. An educational institution, by its very nature, cannot stand still. Knowledge is ever growing, and ways of thinking change, too. Since we cannot know what new ideas the future may bring, we do not expect.a perfect blueprint for the University, accurate in every detail. But we can look ahead and see what the pattern will be like. If we are to meet the challenge that lies ahead, every step taken now must fit the larger pattern. Too often large complex institutions build only to meet a clearly evident present need.

We must always keep in mind our past history and the place of the University in the entire system of higher education in the state. The University was established by the territorial legislature in 1883 as the first institution of higher education in North Dakota. With the coming of statehood people felt the need for colleges distributed over the state providing specialized training. The Agricultural College, the School of Science, the School of Forestry and the five State Teachers Colleges all have special functions which we recognize as we plan for the future of the University. The founders of this University were interested in a “good education”, and from the beginning the people have insisted that emphasis be upon quality of education rather than upon size of enrollments or numbers of athletic contests won. The people who support a program of higher education of such variety and extent believe in the importance of all higher education to the state. The University will work with the other institutions in the state in seeking public support to strengthen and improve our total program, for what we all do is so interrelated that we can no longer afford competition for funds for one institution at the expense of another. Nowhere is it more important than in education to recognize that “the rising tide lifts all the boats,” for what helps one strengthens all. I believe the people will continue to support the Governor and the Legislature in any steps to continue the development of their University and Colleges along sound lines.

Good teachers and the excellence of their teaching are far more important than fine buildings in developing a great university. With this in mind, I believe that in the future higher salaries will enable us to meet the growing competition for distinguished professors who stand out as peaks of excellence in any university. The University will go farther toward relieving the faculty of concern for the future by securing added retirement benefits, insurance, and some form of protection against calamity.

The faculty will be spending even more time studying their courses and teaching methods. They will continue to search for better ways to do a better job and to keep· the unit costs of instruction at the lowest possible level consistent with an adequate program and effective teaching. Curricula will change – they need to if they are to be realistic and appropriate for tomorrow’s world. Better and more up-to-date equipment and teaching devices will be available. We shall probably teach fewer courses, always trying to improve the quality of our teaching rather than to multiply courses in a race to keep up with expanding knowledge. There will be more self-education by students Throughout the whole range of curricular and extra-curricular activities there will be more attention to character and responsibility as fundamental to the success, happiness, and usefulness of future University graduates.

Future Enrollments

It is always risky to venture a predic-tion of enrollments because so many factors, known and unknown, determine how young people will decide about their future. However, there are certain clear facts and signals we cannot ignore. We know that we shall have approximately 50 per cent more college- age youth in North Dakota by 1970. The increase in enrollment in all institutions of higher education in North Dakota in the fall of 1955 was nearly 20 per cent, while for the nation it was less than 9 per cent. If this means that a higher percentage of North Dakota youth of college age going to college, and/or that more of them are remaining in the state for their higher education, we can expect the trend to continue. If it does, we could have over 5,000 students at the University by 1970. This would be possible only if we have the housing and the facilities on campus to give them the education they will want and need. We are still a long way from realizing the aim of our founders – to make education possible for every boy or girl who has the ability and is willing to work. If we can see our student financial aids develop to the point where no worthy applicant is denied, then a prediction of 5,000 by 1970 is perhaps too low.

Student financial aid will grow. Many of our most outstanding schools have more than one-third of their students receiving scholarship aid, while state schools often exceed one in four. The people, who are concerned about realizing an equal educational opportunity for all, will see to it that there are more scholarships to be awarded on the basis of need to those able to profit from attending the University.

The physical plant will change. Fortunately, for more than thirty years a careful plan for campus development has been followed. There will be more attention to landscaping and many visitors will acclaim the campus one of the most beautiful in the country. We shall be dreaming of beauty achieved by appropriate placement of buildings and suitable landscape effects rather than by expensive architecture and elaborate horticultural displays not possible in the area.

A completed quadrangle unit of six dormitories can house one thousand men in the Hancock Hall area. A third dormitory for women west of Johnstone and Fulton Halls, with a dining unit, would give accommodations for a total of about five hundred women. Building in that section of the campus would force removal of the temporary service building. By that time we may be able to bring together all maintenance services in one unit.

A new administration building will add more than accommodations for widely scattered offices. It will permit better organization of administrative routines and provide facilities for procedures in accord with the best practices in university administration.

The future University may have a full day radio schedule and television outlet for educational programs produced on the campus. It is possible that North Dakota may undertake the support of a television network covering the state and carrying to schools and adults a systematic program of educational television. This would make it possible for every citizen to have access to the store of knowledge and cultural benefits from each of the state’s institutions of higher education as they share program time on the network.

An essential adjunct to the modern university is a program of convocations and performances that brings to the student body the constant stimulus of musical, dramatic, lecture, and other cultural experiences that require a large auditorium and a theatre.

Student Life

The future will see closer faculty-student relationships, better faculty counseling with students, and more student participation in committees. Custom will build traditions of greater student-faculty cooperation on committees concerned with fraternity and sorority affairs, athletics, social functions, radio and television. Students will participate in planning for their own welfare; and thus, they will know what is going on and have a part in it. They will seek advice of their elders, more than in the past and appreciate and respect even more fully the kind of responsibility that rests with the faculty and administration. The social life of students will be even better organized, with more emphasis on housing places as social units. Students will control themselves and be the means of achieving the basic aims of the University through their own concern for the intellectual and cultural life of the University, as well as for activities which develop social skills and cultivate habits based on sound character and a true sense of responsibility.

Academic Life

The future will see increasing emphasis on education for responsibility as a citizen. The development of personality and personal assets will be stressed both in extra-curricular activities and in the formal curriculum. Students will increasingly demonstrate that they want to prepare themselves to do worthwhile things rather than to pursue purely selfish and economic ends alone. They will want to include courses that emphasize character development and human relations skills.

The faculty will be continuously studying and revising their courses. Accelerating change will mean that lectures will have to be revised more often and be kept up-to-date. We shall get used to the fact that a course with a given title may be quite different from year to year. With a trend toward fewer and better courses, changing with knowledge, there will be modifications of basic degree requirements. Minimum requirements may be reduced in number, but there will be increased emphasis upon faculty advisement, as well as greater student interest in fundamental courses and in planning programs to give the best academic preparation for service in the world of tomorrow.

The University College will stress basic general education and preparation for specialization, but it will find two types of students not satisfied by present curricula. One is the student who is unable to meet the academic standards required for a degree. The other is the student who cannot or who does not wish to plan a four-year program, yet wants something that will permit two years’ preparation for some vocation. A two-year general and vocational edu- cation program in the University College is inevitable if we are to continue to meet the challenge of educational opportunity for all, on an equal basis, and at the same time maintain, high standards for our four-year degree programs. Moreover, a two-year program for some will help solve enrollment problems of the future by enabling certain students to complete their work in two years.

There will be new curricula and new emphasis in some of these we now have. Some programs will be curtailed. There will be a greater use of audio-visual aids and television in teaching. Discussion classes will be more common – perhaps combined – larger lecture groups. The case method of teaching, which was first adopted by the law schools, then taken up by the medical state and now by the business schools, will find its way more and more into the citizens undergraduate classroom as an effective way to teach certain courses. It will require a generation to develop the cases, to obtain the staff, and to secure general enough acceptance of the values derived from such teaching for us to have many of these courses. Curricula in areas now untouched will appear; for example, the appropriate program for the teaching of atomic physics and related phenomena will find an adequate place in our program.

Graduate work will develop. The state will see to it that we more nearly meet the demand for masters and doctors in North Dakota. Even if we are slow to fully recognize that this need is as important as others, we shall see that a program, comparable to what we do in the medical and law school for supplying these graduates is supported.


By the year 1970 the University will not be so large as to have lost any of its present advantages, but rather there will be more systematic attention to counseling and developing close faculty-student relationships both inside and outside the classroom. The physical plant – laboratories, shops, classrooms and lecture halls – will have to expand, with more attention being given to special-purpose classrooms. Funds appropriated for building in 1957 will not produce buildings ready for use before 1960. The first bulge from the increased birth rate, babies born in 1940, will be ready to go to college in 1958. If only half of an additional 1500 students need university housing, we shall have to add three large dormitories to what we have already scheduled.

Since the quality of what we do depends first upon the faculty, we must secure top people fully prepared for their tasks, with adequate personal and academic qualifications, from a market more highly competitive than anything we have ever faced. In addition to normal replacements we might have to add one hundred new staff members by 1970. The cost will represent an investment in the discovery and development of the most important natural resource the state possesses – its youth.

The road ahead must widen as the University grows in usefulness to the citizens of the state through curricula that will reach even more people and through increased research both pure and applied. The University has had a healthy growth; and it can now look to the future fortified in the strength of a sound administrative organization, a Board of Higher Education with vision and imagination dedicated to the ultimate good of the state, a well-prepared faculty, a vitally concerned student body, and loyal alumni. With the continued friendly interest and support of citizens, the respect of its institutional neighbors and the good will of the state’s elected officials the University will do its part to achieve the goal of a good education for more and more students.