By Dean James A. Parente, Jr.
Dean James Parente, Jr.
Photo by Kelly MacWilliams
Our long, snowy winter has finally drawn to a close, and the burgeoning colors of spring signal a long-awaited renewal. Spring in the Midwest also brings the threat of violent storms, but some of the greatest storms around the country center on the funding of education, especially public higher education, and strategies state governments are pursuing to balance their budgets. We read almost daily of looming deep reductions to higher education in several states and of proposals for dramatic increases in tuition. Public research universities are, of necessity, re-examining their priorities and devising new ways to fulfill their educational, research, and outreach missions with fewer resources from states whose citizens and economies they were founded to serve.
The changing landscape of American higher education—indeed, of higher education globally—affects all colleges and universities, both public and private, albeit in different ways. Of the many fields represented at a university, the liberal arts, especially the humanities, arts, and humanistic social sciences, are being subjected to intense scrutiny.
Some universities have reduced and even eliminated programs such as classics or philosophy that have for centuries been fundamental to a liberal education. Foreign language instruction is being sharply curtailed, even in commonly taught languages such as German and French, even as many institutions are expanding their internationalization efforts. The academic job market for Ph.D.s across the humanities continues to contract, despite strong student interest in these fields, and we are in danger of losing a generation of scholars and teachers whose research otherwise would have forged new paths in philosophy, history, literature and culture, and religion.
During the past year, the CLA 2015 Planning Committee—a group of faculty, staff, and students I charged in December 2009 to provide counsel about the long-term future of our college—has been meeting. Its report, issued late last fall, garnered much attention across the college and University for its eloquent exposition of the centrality of the liberal arts to every great university.
The report outlines steps we must take to ensure that the liberal arts at Minnesota will continue to thrive. It emphasizes the need for signature undergraduate, graduate and research programs, in which we will excel and by which we will distinguish ourselves among peer institutions. It calls for building greater connections with external communities and partners in accordance with our public mission. (You can read more about the report in this issue of Reach.)
The changes we are considering aim to ensure sustainable academic excellence at a time of reduced public resources. That challenge actually provides us an exciting opportunity to rethink priorities and devise new ways to improve research and education as we reaffirm our enduring belief in the fundamental value of the liberal arts.
The success of our University depends on maintaining a vibrant College of Liberal Arts as its strong foundation. Without the liberal arts, our deepest knowledge—of ourselves, our relationships to other cultures, the values by which we live, and the political, social, and religious institutions that shape our world—would be sorely wanting.
You, our alumni and supporters, are the best ambassadors for the core value of a liberal arts education. Please join with us in promoting the liberal arts in Minnesota and beyond. The future of our society and our world depend on whether we can make visible the myriad ways in which the liberal arts illuminate the most complex issues of our time and provide a sure path for resolving them.