CLA Retools for the 21st Century

Can CLA maintain academic excellence in the face of fiscal challenge? Our blue ribbon committee says yes. The University's incoming president is impressed.
By Mary Pattock


Photo by Patrick O'Leary

Asserting that CLA is "the beating heart" of the entire University, a blue-ribbon panel has recommended ways to maintain the college's academic excellence in the face of daunting fiscal challenges.

Over a year ago Dean James Parente appointed the 30-member panel of faculty, staff, and students, and in November they submitted their CLA 2015 Committee Final Report to Dean James A. Parente. It has earned praise inside and outside the University.

The report establishes how the futures of the CLA and the University are inextricably bound together: every major research university requires a strong liberal arts core, and CLA students make up fully half the student body on the Twin Cities campus. "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," the report says.


Photo by Kelly MacWilliams

It warns that yet another round of budget cuts would irreparably damage the academic quality that brings renown to the college and the University.

Just as importantly, the report identifies steps the college should take to protect and promote academic excellence. Among them:

Play to our academic strengths.

Focus on academic fields in which CLA excels and where we can create new, exciting, and path-breaking programs to address the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. By concentrating on programs of distinction we can create a clearer, more distinct identity and role for CLA in the world.

Become more student-centered.

Focusing on our strengths will mean we can offer students stronger programs and more coherent paths toward their degrees. But student-centricity has deeper goals, as well—namely, to make the disciplines actually matter to undergraduate students in their own lives, and help them understand the disciplines as tools to be applied in many ways in real life. A pre-med student, for example, should know how studying Asian or African American culture will help communication with patients; a student who is management-bound should know how to use psychology and statistics in real life. Student-centricity means helping undergraduates take purposeful responsibility for their own learning, and become creative, independent thinkers, and lifelong learners.

Increase educational, research, and outreach connections.

The 21st century will only become faster-paced and more complex, requiring faculty and students to become broader and more agile in our thinking. We can do this with more contact and collaboration across various academic fields, and with deeper engagement with the community, which will help us shape research and education around real-world issues and concerns.

Enhance learning and administration with technology.

The value of technology is its ever-growing capacity to make learning more accessible by connecting—with knowledge, teachers, and learners around the world. We must move even more actively into technology-enhanced learning in all of its emerging forms.

Pursue new revenue to enable CLA to pursue these goals.

Offer new degree programs that build on current courses, summer and evening classes, and e-classes for non-degree students; pursue more external grants and fellowships; engage more private philanthropy.

"There's a sea change in higher education taking place across the nation and here in Minnesota," Parente said, "necessitating that we be smaller and more focused. The report imagines a strong and distinctive college that is bold in its commitment to excellence, but it also responds to the serious fiscal constraints within which we will need to operate. It establishes a principled foundation for recommendations that will follow."

The report has received student support. The chair of CLA Student Board's Academics Committee, Regan Sieck, told the Minnesota Daily that members were glad to see the document take a student-centric approach. "A lot of the conversations were about what's best for the student and what will attract students to the school and keep them here," she said. The Daily called the report "a sobering yet optimistic look at the issues the college must confront in the next few years."

The CLA 2015 report quickly drew the attention of the University's new president-designate, Eric Kaler, when he came to campus for his final interviews; he called it "masterful."

In view of the central role CLA plays in the University's educational mission, the report recommends adjustments in some of the U's fiscal and academic policies—changes that would protect the integrity of the college.

To date CLA has cut 60 faculty positions—about 10 percent of the total, as well as 177 course sections, 27 staff positions and 10 percent of its supply budget. It has increased class sizes while teaching the same number of undergraduate students, admitted fewer graduate students, and moved administrative units into smaller spaces.

The CLA 2015 Committee was co-chaired by Gary Oehlert, statistics professor and CLA's Associate Dean for Planning, and Chris Uggen, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and chair of the sociology department.

Parente asked faculty, staff, and students to respond to the report either in writing or at town hall meetings that were held last fall. He expects implementation to begin in spring 2011.

For the full report, executive summary, and news coverage, go to



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This page contains a single entry by CLA Reach Magazine published on March 25, 2011 4:21 PM.

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