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Loss of seminary could affect NDSU programs

The closing of Fargo's Cardinal Muench Seminary may jeopardize North Dakota State University philosophy and classical language programs.

Four faculty members who teach courses at NDSU are employed by the seminary, which will close after the 2010-11 school year for financial reasons.

NDSU officials are exploring how to fund those faculty positions and maintain the philosophy program, which has 47 majors and many other students who take general education or business ethics courses.

"If they go and we're not able to replace them, the major ceases to exist because we just don't have the resources to take care of it," said Dennis Cooley, associate professor and program coordinator.

Tom Riley, NDSU dean of arts, humanities and social sciences, said officials are working on a plan to maintain as many Latin and Greek courses as possible.

But preserving the classical studies major may be unrealistic because it has about five students enrolled, Riley said.

Since the Fargo diocese announced this month that the seminary will close, Riley said he's received about 40 e-mails and letters from people worried about the impact to NDSU.

"There are a huge number of students, faculty and interested people around who would like to have us be able to maintain philosophy and classical languages," Riley said.

Craig Rood, a 2008 graduate of the NDSU philosophy program, started a Facebook group called "Save NDSU's Philosophy and Classics Programs" that has attracted 580 members.

Rood, now an NDSU graduate student, said the university should be committed to the humanities, not just preparing students for a job. Philosophy, in particular, teaches critical reasoning, he said.

"NDSU graduates must not only be able to work but to think and to live," Rood said.

Philosophy classes are in demand at NDSU, with faculty taking on twice the number of students per semester than most faculty members in other departments do, Cooley said.

"We're bursting at the seams just with what we've got now," said Cooley, who is teaching two courses for free this semester.

To preserve NDSU's current programs, the university would need to fund about $200,000 a year in salaries and benefits, Riley estimated.

"That's a lot of money to find when you are in kind of a tight squeeze where budget reallocations are the norm," said Riley, referring to a budget deficit at NDSU.

NDSU Provost Craig Schnell said officials have a year to figure out how to fund the programs.

The equity funding request during next spring's legislative session will be key, Schnell said.

The collaboration between NDSU and Cardinal Muench goes back to the 1960s, Riley said.

"They've done us a tremendous service over the years," he said. "We all understand the difficult decision that they made."