Universities are some of the best-kept secrets in America.

Even though tens of millions of people have college degrees, live near a college or pay taxes to support colleges, the public knows little about how they operate.

Public officials, parents of college students, community leaders and the news media are kept away from colleges, often told by university officials: "Trust us! And by the way, send more money!"

Even students who attend college are in the dark about how financial aid and scholarships are awarded, why faculty members have tenure and why they have to take courses that seem irrelevant to their success in life.

I intend to use the question-and-answer format - as well as humor and criticism - to shed light on how universities work.

Question: Why can't I get a waiver for math? I have a math phobia.

Answer: Ah, the famous phobia.

We have several varieties of phobias in our universities: math phobia, science phobia, foreign-language phobia - and I have not even mentioned exam phobia, term-paper phobia, and so on.

There are three major reasons why colleges do not waive certain courses.

First, it costs money to waive a class. If we waive many courses, we will lose lots of money.

When you sent in your application to your college, you agreed to take about 120 semester hours of classes. If we keep reducing the number of courses you have to take, ultimately we will have to raise tuition to capture that income. As a result, all students may end up paying higher tuition so some can get waivers.

Please don't give us more reasons to raise the tuition.

Second, the faculty spent years designing the curriculum for each major. You may not notice the logic, but there is a certain sequence, called prerequisite, for each course. The logical progression through the curriculum in your major gives you broad knowledge of your field.

Introductory courses in calculus lead to higher levels of math and eventually to statistics. Statistics are vital in many majors.

Third, some students think the curriculum is like a buffet. You can pile whatever you like on your plate, and leave out the broccoli (math), beans (science), and brussels sprouts (foreign languages).

They claim that their stomachs get upset when they take these courses. Worse, some claim that they have the phobias mentioned above, and they will get so stressed that they will have nightmares.

I say, fill your plate with math, science and foreign languages, and you may be surprised by how much better you feel.

Send your questions and stories about college to Dean Ali Malekzadeh at askthedean@gmail.com Please include your name and hometown for possible publication. Ali Malekzadeh is a former administrator and faculty member at Arizona State University. He is dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.