Letter from the dean: March-April, 2008

tom-fisher.jpgDear Colleagues,

As you undoubtedly know, the long-time head of the School of Architecture and namesake of our Minneapolis facility, Ralph Rapson, passed away on March 29 at the age of 93. There will be a public memorial service in his honor at the Guthrie Theater at 10 am on Monday, April 21. Buses will bring people to the Rapson Hall courtyard for a reception around noon that day. All are welcome. There will also be an open mike in the court for those who want to remember Ralph in the space in which he worked for 30 years. Working up to the day he died, Ralph did what he loved to do, and that may be one of the greatest lessons he could teach any of us.

I don't need to tell any of you how busy the last month or two have been around here. There have been many lectures, symposia, and events and with eight faculty searches underway, with at least three candidates each, the calendar has been packed. I want to thank, publicly, the search committees and faculty who have given so much of their time, as well as the staff in the college and its various units, for your hard work and dedication. The new crop of faculty starting next academic year will not only invigorate us all, but also provide bridges among our various units in exciting new ways.

Such bridging will become even more important for all of us, given the Governor's recent veto of funding for a new Bell Museum, which seems, at this point, likely to stand and which means that our move to one campus will be delayed an additional year or more. We have done a number of things to forge a common culture across our two-campus divide, ranging from lectures and exhibitions occurring in both Minneapolis and St. Paul to the new graduating student show that mixes the work of students from all of our units. I welcome ideas of further things we might do to connect our various parts.

The new graphic identity of the college will offer one such bond. The college as a whole will have its first look at the design direction that our identity consultants, Spunk Design Machine, has developed at the All College Meeting, Friday, May 2, from 8:30-10:30 a.m. in the Riverview Gallery at the Weisman Art Museum. In addition a breakfast at 8:00 a.m., followed by an update on the college and a presentation of the graphic identity options, we will give out honors and awards to faculty for outstanding teaching, research, and outreach, to outstanding P&A and Civil Service/Bargaining Unit staff members, and to an outstanding student. Do try to come; you might be one of the winners!

Constitution and Compact
The college's constitution will certainly provide another, very powerful link among us. Please read the draft of the constitution, now available in .pdf format on the college's blog. And please come to one of the public forums on it to give the constitution committee your input today at noon in Rapson Hall and in 22 McNeal at noon on Friday, April 11. The committee has worked for over a year on the constitution and they have drafted a document that, once ratified, will take all of our involvement to make it work. Join me in thanking the committee at the forums for their diligent efforts over such an extended period of time; they all have strong constitutions.

On the compact front, we have not heard yet if we will receive any funding for the modest requests we made this year. The compact process now occurs every other year, and since this year was "off cycle," the University was open to only the most urgent requests. However, it turns out that the investment money that the University had to work with was almost exactly the same amount that the Governor has proposed cutting from the institution's budget, so we are unclear whether there will be any new funding from the University this year. The paradox here is that, even as applications remain very strong and the University has become the third most selective institution of higher learning in the state, after Carleton and Macalester, we are looking at a couple of lean years ahead of us, in large part because of the uncertainty in the national economy.

Centers and Continuing Education
This uncertainty has affected the availability of central funding for our research and outreach units. While some of these units have endowments and other foundation funds to draw from, the University has eliminated all central O&M funds for research and outreach centers and institutes, at least in our college, in the belief that these entities need to raise outside support, be it research money or philanthropic gifts, in order to support themselves. We will continue to work with all of our research and outreach directors to bring in as much funding as we can, and we have asked all of these units to develop strategic plans that will chart a path to their being self-supporting. Nevertheless, some changes may occur in our R&O units this year, not because we don't value what they do, but because we have not been able to raise enough financial support to maintain them in their current state.

Another area that the University wants to see become self-supporting is our continuing education program. We have struggled to get enough enrollments in our continuing education offerings, in large part because of the large number of alternatives now available to people that do not involve coming to campus and sitting in a classroom. As a result, we have decided to move away from the on-campus continuing education program we have offered in the past -- except for evening lectures, which will happen anyway and for which professionals will still be able to get continuing education credit. Instead, we have decided to focus on distance learning, combining our continuing education capabilities with InformeDesign, our well-respected research database, widely respected in the field. We hope, through this pairing, that we can offer the best continuing education and evidence-based learning through the existing delivery method of an established database.

Curriculum and Commencement
Developments with great potential have also occurred in our core educational offerings. The first students in the M.S. degree in world heritage studies will enter this fall, and demand for all of our degree programs remains high. Meanwhile, our faculty continues to respond to changes in our various fields. The retail merchandising program, for example, has received Regents' approval for two tracks in its BS program: an apparel track that allows students to focus on the sourcing and production of clothing, and a general track that enables students to study a wide array of product types. The School of Architecture recently won a national AIA education award for changes to its M.Arch degree, with spring semesters broken into 2, 3, 7, and 15-week units that will enable students to take a wider variety of courses or to specialize in particular areas that semester-long courses may not accommodate. These and other curricular innovations in the works reflect trends in higher education toward more choice, heightened flexibility, and a greater responsiveness to the individual needs and interests of students.

Finally, I hope as many of you as possible will attend the events around commencement. The graduating student show, "Roots of the Future," will be up in Rapson Hall, with an evening reception for students, families, friends, faculty, and staff on Friday, May 16, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. It will provide a great opportunity to take in a cross section of creative work going on in our various programs. And I hope as many as possible will attend our commencement, on Saturday, May 17 at 3 p.m. in Northrop Auditorium. (Laurie Gardner is still taking names of staff members interested in helping out with the event, so please e-mail her if you are interested. Kaywin Feldman, the new director of the MIA, will be our commencement speaker, and President Bruininks will attend our event this year. And who knows, we might even be done with winter by then.