Academic journal article Educational Foundations

A Riverboat Gambler's Utopian Experiment

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

A Riverboat Gambler's Utopian Experiment

Article excerpt


My experience was the definition of transformation. The school was
transforming, daily. Everybody was transforming. It was so remarkable,
so energetic. Metro State transformed me from being a pharmaceutical
salesperson to a deputy press secretary for the governor of Minnesota
in 14 months. Is this a great university or what?

--Jim Lukaszewski, '74, (Metropolitan State University, 2011, p. 38)

On a cold November day in 1971, two women were walking in downtown St. Paul. They were inside a second story-level "skyway" (enclosed tunnels between buildings), Minnesota's answer to the harsh winds of winter. They paused before an ill-lit and unfinished office. Situated above Walgreen's Drug Store, newspapers of the era described the space as "austere" and "gloomy." '"This is a college?' one asked looking at the cardboard sign that read 'Minnesota Metropolitan State College.' Her companion shrugged. 'Things are different now, I guess"' ("Minn. Met State College '... To try the untried,'" 1971, p.14).

Its location was not the only unconventional characteristic of Minnesota Metropolitan State College (MMSC). In addition to having no campus, the school had no classes, no grades, no academic terms, and no lower division courses (Anderson, 1972, 1A). As one of only nine senior colleges in the nation, Metropolitan State was using these experimental methods to provide the last two years of a Bachelor's degree to non-traditional students. Before MMSC even opened its doors in 1971, Clark Kerr, the chairman of the prestigious Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, was proclaiming the school as "perhaps the most innovative institution of higher education in the United States" ("50 Enroll in College," 1972, p. 10).

In its first 18 months of operation, MMSC (now known as Metropolitan State University) became somewhat of a media sensation. Stories appeared in nine national newspapers and magazines, ranging from The Washington Post (Brettingen, 1971) and the U.S. News and World Report ("A Different Type of College," 1971) to The New York Times (Malcom, 1972) and the Saturday Review (Cass, 1972).

In a seven-year study of new experimental colleges including Metropolitan State, Gerald Grant and David Riesman found that "The utopian impulses are strong, representing a search for a more perfect union" (1978, p. 37). The authors also assert that these non-traditional institutions "approach the status of social movements or generic protests against contemporary American life" (p. 15). One of the most radical of those experiments was Metro State.

I found that seeking the "why" of Metro State was of little explanatory value. Sifting through variables of causation produces a bland sauce; as the historian John Lewis Gaddis quipped, "Aren't all variables dependent on other variables?" (2004, p. 53-54) "What" was Minnesota Metropolitan State College? Now there was a question ripe with explanatory flavor. Max Weber's research design for The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic used heuristic concepts to tease out the historical meaning of individual events and personages.

In the title of this study is used the somewhat pretentious phrase,
the spirit of capitalism. What is to be understood by it?... Such an
historical concept, however... must be gradually put together out of
the individual parts which are taken from historical reality to make it
up. Thus the final and definitive concept cannot stand at the beginning
of the investigation, but must come at the end. (1904-5, p. 47)

Answering the question "what" qualifies as a theoretical explanation when a phenomenon that is already known is "made more intelligible" by reclassifying it. Dray calls this "explanation by concept" (1993, pp. 30-31). Weber's sociological classic does exactly that: He sought to make more intelligible the rise of capitalism and the Protestant Reformation, and the relationship between them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.