In Praise of Higher Education

by Phil Johnson

When John Johnson of North Park University, son of my old football teammate at North Park, Gordon Johnson, called, a rare opportunity fell into our laps. John is in Development and he asked if I could arrange a meeting between North Park University President, David Parkyn, and Dr. Bob Elde (North Park ’69), Dean of the School of Biology at the University of Minnesota, while the North Park choir was in Minneapolis.

It was easy. Dr. Elde responded warmly with an invitation to President and Linda Parkyn and Doug Person of NPU and to Dr. Sandy Johnson (’65) and me (’60), to visit him at his office in the Biology Department on the Saint Paul Campus of the U of M.

David Parkyn, Bob Elde, Linda Parkyn, Sandy and Phil Johnson

It was a fine meeting. Bob Elde is doing a terrific job as a Dean at the University. He is also a major leader in Minnesota for addressing matters of public concern, especially environmental problems chairing several task forces. David Parkyn is another focused educator. Both men are fulfilling their educational callings on the front of “higher learning.” Both are clearly “alive and aware.” Small wonder that North Park is proud of them both.

Dr. Elde spoke about the “explosion in biology” and how the University is responding to the explosion. The new field of “genomics” entails intensive research as well as collecting, classifying, computing, and understanding the enormous amount of data generated. For example, if the data of one person’s genetic make up were printed on standard paper, it would create a stack 83-feet-high. I have no regret at not being one of those who has to collect and interpret the data and I can’t help asking, “what for?”

Both David Parkyn and Bob Elde have a good sense of “what for.” Each in his setting is providing for the education of the American people—the people of Minnesota, the people of the Covenant, the people of Chicago. They are focused on the personal education of young students, a one-by-one matter. And, they both have a vision of what our country, society, and the world need.

Dr. Elde spoke of “interventions” and “remedial actions” to reverse the deterioration, possibly catastrophic, of our environment. He said that China, for example, is bringing on one coal burning power plant every two weeks! That’s makes me choke and wonder how long it will be before the smoke gets here. Our county has done more damage to the environment for a significantly longer time than China and cleaning our own house is absolutely necessary, but won’t it be awful if the Chinese and the rest of the developing world begin to match and even pass us?

Against this dismal picture, Dr. Elde is hopeful. I was a bit surprised and glad to hear it. His hope lies in better understanding of life processes and of our earth that is gained through the study of biology. As we learn more, we discover that there are things that can be done to improve our situation. He said, “These young people are amazing and do amazing things.” They are a major reason for his hope.

Dr. Parkyn impressed me. He was completely in tune as Bob took us through the labs in the Cargill Building and the other facilities at Minnesota. It was easy to see that Parkyn is an excellent listener. These two important educators conversed, though, as host, Bob did much of the talking, and while the conversation flowed mainly between Bob and David, the rest of us were alive and aware and a part of it as well. Linda Parkyn shares the educational mission of North Park with David. She teaches Spanish using new methods similar to what the U of M Biology Department uses in its state of the art leaning center (the new type of “classroom”). Like Sandy Johnson, who wrote her PhD dissertation on the status of diversity in Fortune 500 companies, Linda Parkyn is passionate about diversity and is happy to be in Chicago. For her the diversity of the city is an exciting, challenging blessing.

Bob Elde expressed his long-standing gratitude to North Park and for the scientific education that was available to him as a student in Chicago. When he was at North Park, the National Science Foundation, stimulated by Spuknik, made it possible for him to take classes and do lab work at Argon Laboratories. After earning a PhD at the University of Minnesota, Bob went to Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on a Post Doctoral Fellowship. Then he joined the faculty at Minnesota where he has served continuously, except for another two years of study at Karolinska.

Sandy and I chimed in with Bob in praising North Park. I said North Park instilled in me confidence in truth. I was encouraged not to fear any discovery or question even if it seemed it might be a threat to Christian faith. Doug Person suggested the reason for this North Park phenomenon might be the attitude entrenched among our people and at North Park by P.P. Waldenström’s famous “Where is it written?” challenge to doctrinal and other received wisdom. Doug is right, I’m confident that is an important factor.

Both Dr. Robert Elde and Dr. David Parkyn are doing work that matters greatly. They know the importance of lifting the level of education for all people in our country and they are acutely aware of how important education is for a healthy civil society.

As I learned about the explosion in biological learning, the volume of the data to sort through, and the intensity of student work these days, I wondered how I would like being a college student now. As exciting as the scene described by Bob Elde is, the leisure of classic college life has my allegiance. The experience of college away from home after high school was almost too good to be true—classes a couple times a day, maybe a day in the week without any class, friends, food, as well as interesting courses. What briar patch could be better?

Still, chances to save our world lie heavily with young people. Bob said Rod Stieger, polar explorer, told him that his foundation focused on persons ages 17 to 27. They are the ones who can change our world if anybody can.

North Park University is in good hands. We hope that Covenant students will go to North Park in goodly numbers and that the faculty will have a strong cadre of teachers who come out of the Covenant Church. We are very blessed in America to have a civil society and it behooves us to cherish and enhance our civil society. To that end much thanks to educators like the Eldes and the Parkyns, and to schools like North Park, Minnesota, and the like, who create and foster the present and future of higher education.