For the Love of Learning

Portrait: Mary Hicks.

Mary Hicks
Photo by Everett Ayoubzadeh

I recently heard a group of really smart undergraduates talk about what brought them to CLA. The list of "competitors" for these students was a kind of who's who of universities—Chicago, North Carolina, Berkeley, and Northwestern, to name but a few. So why CLA? One reason stood out: the amazing professors.

The students talked about the thrill of learning from professors who were always ahead of the curve in their fields, being inspired to burrow into subjects they'd never even thought about before, and being invited to collaborate on research projects that just could end up changing the world. And they stressed again and again how much their professors—and yes, their TAs, too—cared about students and went out of their way to spend quality time with them.

It's easy to take for granted the brilliance and stature of our faculty. After all, they're part of the web and weave of CLA life. But the conversations I heard got me thinking: What makes them so exceptional? And why do they work so hard—teaching, doing research, writing books, creating art, advising and mentoring students, and serving the University in so many ways? It's certainly not the money. Most of them could earn far more with their talents in private industry.

I think the answer is simple: it's a labor of love. They love learning and discovery, and even more, they love sharing what they know with their colleagues and students, and learning from them as well. And they love seeing their discoveries take root in the world, transforming lives and communities. That's the ultimate jackpot.

But all of this is in jeopardy. The CLA 2015 Report warns that the risk of a "slide into mediocrity" is very real, given the enormous fiscal and political challenges we face. And yet, we remain optimistic. We truly believe in our own hearts that "CLA is the University's beating heart." How do we keep that heart beating? With a course of treatment that includes bold interventions like the 62 strategies recommended in the report.

For some of us, the treatment might feel a little like major surgery—to get better, we'll have to feel some pain, not to mention anxiety. But we're absolutely dedicated to the kind of inside-out transformation and renewal that will strengthen our college for the long haul. And driving us toward the fifteen goals outlined in the report is our core commitment to teaching and learning.

In the smaller, student-centric college that we envision, every student will have access to gifted and committed faculty members throughout their education.

That means we must build faculty capacity even as we shrink our college and realign our programs to address 21st-century realities. Just as "the liberal arts are the very core and essence of academic learning," CLA faculty are the "core and essence" of our college. We may define "best" in many different ways, but we probably all agree that no college can be "best" without a great faculty.

We're at a pivot point. As the economy took a dive in 2007-09, faculty raids subsided. We are now seeing a resurgence of raids, especially by private universities with deeper pockets. This is a serious challenge for CLA. We simply can't buttress our faculty with public dollars alone.

This is where you come in. We're asking you, our alumni and friends, to partner with us in new creative ventures to recruit and retain the A-list faculty everybody's clamoring for. And I don't mean just the academic superstars; I mean all of the brilliant, hard-working scholars and teachers whose lights could glow a whole lot brighter if they only had the resources. Just imagine a special research fund, perhaps $5,000-$10,000 for each of three years, helping a CLA scholar get a pathbreaking book published and into the hands of students; or a major gift for an endowed professorship or chair providing ongoing support for the scholarly and creative work that our students are so pumped about.

If you love learning, if you put stock in what those students are saying, if you care about public higher education, and if you care about the future of CLA and the University of Minnesota, this is your moment, and ours. It's time for all of us to step up and do what we can to help reinvent CLA for the decades ahead, so that it can be the strong, innovative, intellectually rich, student-centric college that we are all so proud of. I'd love to talk with you.

Mary Hicks
Director, Development & Alumni Relations
612-625-5031, hicks002@umn.edu

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This page contains a single entry by CLA Reach Magazine published on March 26, 2011 9:33 PM.

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