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CLA State of the College 2012: Summary

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Summary of State of the College Speech - 2012
Dean James A. Parente, Jr.

Download the full text of the speech (PDF)

At the start of this academic year we are delighted to be able to celebrate some significant CLA successes:

- We have enrolled the best-prepared freshman class ever, and have launched the First-Year Experience and common reading programs to help them succeed.
- We are searching for 23 new faculty--the largest number of searches since 2007-08.
- We've received 4.1 million recurring dollars from Central Administration--the highest amount since 1998.

Nevertheless, we do face fiscal challenges arising from the larger national economic climate and from increasing public skepticism about higher education and the liberal arts.

It is critical in this environment to champion the liberal arts--the arts, humanities and social sciences--both internally and with the public at whose behest we exist. In doing so, our argument must be based on more than the usual claims on critical thinking and other skills on which the liberal arts do not have an exclusive claim.

We must instead focus on how the liberal arts are unique: specifically, on how they transcend disciplinary boundaries and address the totality of human existence.

In addition, we must demonstrate how CLA distinguishes itself from other liberal arts colleges. Programs must be distinctive not only for faculty accomplishment, but also for their unique approach to their field. With disciplinary boundaries becoming more porous, we will define CLA's distinctiveness not only by specific programs, but also by the way in which we imagine and integrate programs across the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Our plans for the coming year articulate and animate our distinctive signature, building on the recommendations of the CLA 2015 report and on departmental plans.

We will re-imagine humanities education.
A group of humanities faculty members has prepared a proposal that will be shared for comment early this term. The proposal addresses how best to prepare Ph.D. humanities students for today's academic careers, and how best to orient undergraduates to the humanities and to major fields in the humanities.

We will advance human rights.
Given CLA's faculty commitment to studies relating to social and environmental justice, equity and diversity, and human rights, we will initiate discussions, in collaboration with the Humphrey School and Law School, to plan a human rights institute, explore the creation of a professional masters degree in this field, and heighten the visibility of this clear signature strength of our college across the University and the nation.

We will promote science and the liberal arts.
CLA research in brain sciences, cognition and language, biophysical geography and climatology, and biological anthropology and paleo-archaeology addresses some the most central issues confronting 21st-century society. We will ensure that we have both the faculty strength -- especially in those areas of increasing student demand -- across these fields, and the state-of-the-art facilities needed to carry out 21st-century work. We are beginning to plan, with the College of Education and Human Development, a new district for behavioral and cognitive sciences. Anchored by a planned new building for psychology and linguistics, it will bring together CLA's psychology, speech-language-and-hearing sciences, linguistics, and cognitive sciences with educational psychology and the Institute of Child Development in CEHD, and our affiliated clinics, to create a distinctive Minnesota signature in these fields. Paralleling its existing focus on the physical sciences, our philosophy of science program will explore the development of new ties with the social sciences, an area of CLA strength.

We will support our faculty.
The creative work and scholarship of our faculty are the essence of our Minnesota signature. We must provide them the infrastructure required for their work, including resources to conduct surveys and pilot studies necessary to compete successfully for sponsored research. We will develop strategies so that colleagues across the college will have the funding to pursue their projects and professional development, and share their work nationally and internationally.

We will support our students.
In order to sustain the academic integrity of our strong graduate programs, one of our highest development priorities will be to fund fellowships for graduate students.  

At the undergraduate level, we will pursue a strategy to help students minimize debt and advance through their academic programs in a timely way. We will collaborate with departments in defining clear arcs for success -- from the students' first two years, through their specific major, to their postgraduate lives. Lack of such definition disadvantages any liberal arts program and its students, and poses a special problem for the 1,800 transfer students who join CLA each year.

We will enhance our second-language curriculum.
CLA has long been a leader in second-language education, and even though the University no longer requires a graduation proficiency exam, we continue to aspire to help more students become proficient enough to use their second languages in their major studies. I have charged a working group to establish standards for various levels of proficiency and recommend how to attain them.

I have intentionally not highlighted fiscal matters, having observed how, in the past, that kind of focus has impeded our ability to dream as ambitiously as we might about the future of the college. We have a balanced budget, but we have a structural deficit, an issue that we must resolve in collaboration with central administration by establishing a firm tuition base that allows for stable multiple-year planning.

Meanwhile, we must respond to President Kaler's strong support of CLA by setting our sights high.

Let us work together to become a national, innovative leader in liberal arts research, education, and outreach. Let us work together to continue to build a liberal arts college of which we can be proud. Let us demonstrate with conviction the indispensability of the liberal arts to the human experience.