Summary: 10/15/2007 08:49 PMPoliteness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota - New York Times
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October 15, 2007
Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Last week I spent a couple of days in western Minnesota, giving a talk and visiting some classes at
Gustavus Adolphus College. The campus covers a hill above the small town of St. Peter, and the wind cuts
across it like old news from the west. Gustavus Adolphus is a Lutheran college. I asked a couple of
students how it differs from St. Olaf College -- another Lutheran institution in a small Minnesota town,
where I once taught -- and they said, "They're Norwegian. We're Swedish."
Once, a town like St. Peter would have seemed like destination enough. After all, small farm towns with
good colleges are not that common. But now, more and more of the faculty live in the Twin Cities, an hour
and a half away, and, as one professor told me, the college describes itself to new recruits in terms of its
distance from a city, not its presence in a town.
I sat in on four classes, which were marred only by politeness -- the deep-keeled Minnesotan politeness
that states, as a life proposition, that you should not put yourself forward, not even to the raising of a
hand in class.
Things always warmed up, but those first lingering notes of hesitation were something to behold. I tried to
think of it as modesty, consideration for others and reluctance in the presence of a guest -- from New York