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Benefits Could Be Substantial

Last week, state Sen. Gordon Crow looked like a man who had just had a cigar blow up in his face.

The Coeur d’Alene Republican unwittingly stirred up the North Idaho College campus by suggesting it merge with the University of Idaho. His reasoning was lost in the colossal tantrum thrown by, among others, NIC trustees, interim college president Ron Bell and students - an interesting coalition considering that just months ago the students unsuccessfully tried to recall three trustees.

One trustee accused the sophomore senator of being disingenuous. Another suggested that the community find someone other than Crow to be its representative. And Bell circulated a memo campuswide in which he said, “I welcome a frank and open discussion of new ideas” - and then did his best to fan paranoia and stifle debate.

Certainly, Crow could have handled the situation better. Before launching discussions with UI officials and state Board of Education representatives six weeks ago, he should have talked to NIC administrators and supporters. But those missteps shouldn’t detract from the fact that his idea deserves a hearing.

The Coeur d’Alene area, with its rapid growth, would be served well by a stronger UI presence. Prospective students and business recruiters would benefit from a broader range of undergraduate degrees. Several high-tech companies have cited a lack of education opportunities as a reason for not expanding onto Kootenai County sites.

“It’s arguable that there are several large, well-paying, clean industries that we could have landed here with four-year programs available,” said Crow.

Crow’s proposal, of course, has its downside.

NIC supporters have reason to fear that a merger would eliminate some of the college’s best attributes: low tuition, small class sizes, flexibility and professors who can teach full time because they aren’t burdened by research. Also, control of the college would switch from local hands to Boise (though some might wonder how much control the community has after trustees defied patrons this year by firing then-president Bob Bennett).

Until now, officials at NIC, UI and Lewis-Clark State College have worked well together. At the request of Board of Education President Judith Meyer, they’ve cut duplication and coordinated their North Idaho programs. Within a year, the UI plans to open Riverbend Research & Training Park, which will offer master’s and doctoral degrees, conduct research and include NIC’s vocational training programs and Workforce Training Center.

It would be a shame if turf wars were to break out now, arbitrarily blocking Crow’s intriguing idea and further progress. The future for postsecondary education in North Idaho hasn’t been brighter.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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