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CLA 2015

CLA 2015 Committee Final Report

CLA 2015 Committee Final Report
to Dean James A. Parente, Jr.
College of Liberal Arts - University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Gary Oehlert and Chris Uggen, co-chairs

Download the full report (PDF)

Executive Summary

This report is a call for renewal, collaboration, and partnership:

• The College of Liberal Arts must reorganize internally and become more efficient and more focused in order to provide better education for our students and better support for our faculty's path-breaking research.

• CLA must form collaborations and connections, not only within the college but also across the University and with communities and organizations outside the University.

• CLA must pursue these changes in partnership with central administration, whose support is needed to realize and sustain the vision of the college with adequate resources.

The College of Liberal Arts is not "just another college" at the University of Minnesota. With programs spanning the core subjects of liberal education and about half the students of the Twin Cities campus, CLA is the University's beating heart. The University and CLA are inextricably bound together so that success for one requires success for the other. The University of Minnesota aspires to become one of the top public research universities but can only do so with a strong College of Liberal Arts.

Even in the face of large budget cuts, CLA stands strong in its commitment to academic excellence--a bulwark against the slide into mediocrity. But the risk of this slide is very real. Another round of cuts of the magnitude of those taken in the past biennium will put an end to many of the graduate programs and much of the faculty scholarship that bring international renown to the college and University. If this distinction were eroded in the coming months and years, it would take decades to repair, if, indeed, it ever could be repaired.

We must work together to fortify the College and spur its transformation and renewal. This CLA 2015 Commitee Final Report to the Dean presents 15 goals for the college and 62 recommendations for reaching them. In partnership with our own collegiate community, other colleges at the University, the University's central administration, and the people of Minnesota, we can move forward to fulfill the tripartite mission of a land grant university and set the college on course for a successful 21st century.

Part I: Re-create CLA for a New Century

Anticipating a future with fewer resources, the college must recreate and reorganize itself so that it is smaller, with fewer but better programs. We must focus more narrowly on pursuing excellence in areas of our greatest strength. This means thinking imaginatively and radically outside of the structure of traditional departments and degree programs, not simply to reduce costs, but also to create new, exciting, path-breaking programs that address questions that will become important in the future. This openness and orientation to 21st-century realities will help us be successful in making the curriculum more student-centric.

The theme of a re-imagined CLA must be to make connections--between academic fields, with the Twin Cities community and beyond, among faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and between what we do and teach with what students and the people of Minnesota need. Technology must be mined for its maximum capacity to connect with new knowledge, new teachers, and new learners. Why is connection essential? It is the appropriate response to what the 21st century will demand of us and our graduates: greater intellectual agility, competence in the face of increasing complexity, deeper understanding of differences, and improved ways of living in common. This is another effort that will help us center our educational activities on student needs.

While renewed curricular orientation--the focus and connection cited above--will contribute to student-centricity, so can administrative and structural changes. For example, decisions about what courses are offered and when they are offered should be made based on what is best for students.

CLA must offer only undergraduate and graduate programs of highest quality and distinction. Yet the college cannot simply become a lean teaching machine. Distinction in CLA means fostering the faculty research and creative activity that has distinguished the college for a century, and, quite literally, changed the world. A standard methodology must be developed to assess quality fairly and appropriately.

CLA has one of the leanest administrations at the University, but we know we can become even more efficient. We can streamline certain administrative processes, construct a more efficient curriculum, use technology more fully, modify unit structures, and update collegiate policies.

We must seek new revenue through more external grants and fellowships, increased tuition from new degree programs that build on current offerings, summer classes, evening classes, e-classes for non-U of M students. In the light of reduced state support we must look to private philanthropy, especially among our alumni and friends. We must perfect and simplify the ways we describe to others who we are and what we do.

Part II: Renew Our Partnership with the University
We are prepared to act as a cohesive community in taking on the hard, even painful, work of rethinking, radically reorganizing, and shrinking the college. But fully 70 percent of CLA's budget is off the table when considering reductions: 40 percent is paid into University cost-pools set and controlled by central administration, and 30 percent is for core tenured faculty. Necessarily, budget cuts must be concentrated in the few remaining areas.

A careful review of the budget shows that the most vulnerable areas are non-faculty instruction (teaching assistants, teaching specialists, and lecturers), support for faculty research, and student services. Because we must maintain undergraduate tuition revenue (if we do not, the budget must be cut even further), the cuts must come mostly from graduate programs and support for faculty research. But cuts anywhere near the magnitude of those experienced in the last two years would decimate our graduate programs and research capacity and do harm to undergraduate education.

We look to central administration to partner with us to maintain the integrity of the college. CLA was the only college to see a reduction in its controllable budget from FY 2008 to FY 2011. While cross-subsidies are natural in any university, starving your major tuition revenue source is a dubious long-term strategy.

Beyond the basic bottom line of budgets, there are specific issues in the interactions of colleges and central administration that should be addressed. For example:

1. Current budget procedures provide incentives for colleges to instruct in more and more areas for financial reasons rather than because of scholarly interest and expertise;

2. As implemented, the current cost pool model has few incentives for positive budget behavior (e.g., saving utility costs) or penalties for negative budget behavior (e.g., bringing new space online); and

3. As implemented, colleges have no consultative role in what is covered by the cost pools or their levels of funding.
We need budget systems that provide appropriate incentives and disincentives while still funding necessary central costs, academic policies that encourage each college to play to its strength rather than play the system, and an atmosphere where units at all levels work cooperatively for the common good.

The two central questions of this report are how CLA should reorganize for a better academic future and whether CLA will have the resources to continue as a major research institution.

Even in the absence of any budget problems, CLA can, should, and must embrace change in the cause of academic excellence. Knowing how profound that change must be, we commit wholly to fulfilling CLA's foundational and central role as the "beating heart" of the University of Minnesota. At the same time, we acknowledge the limits of our power to succeed, and we seek to renew our partnership with central administration for the good of the University and, especially, for the good of our students.


Your comments and questions are welcome. Please attend an open town hall meeting regarding this report:
Thursday, November 11, 2:00 - 3:00 in the Influx Room, Regis (west bank)
Friday, November 12, noon - 1:00 in 402 Walter Library (east bank)

You are also welcome to email or the committee co-chairs directly,, or with your feedback.