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June 30, 2006

Farewell, College of Human Ecology

Today is the last day in the 100+ year existence of the College of Human Ecology at the University of Minnesota.

CHE large banner-b.jpg

Although we have been told that we have much to look forward to in our new collegiate home (a re-configured and expanded College of Education and Human Development), this day should not pass without noting that the faculty, staff, and students of the College of Human Ecology (formerly College of Home Economics) made many significant contributions to the University, to the State of Minnesota, to the U.S., and to the world.

CHE front McNeal-b.jpg

The history of the College is recorded in Journey Home: College of Human Ecology, 1894 - 1996, written by a committee of former administrators, faculty and staff, chaired by Keith McFarland, Dean Emeritus of the college. I won't repeat the history here, except to note that the first baccalaureate program in Home Economics was launched in 1900. So the College was 106 years old at the time of its elimination. Here are photos of the visionary deans that provided leadership for the college from 1900 - 2006.

CHE deans-b.jpg

Although my undergraduate degree was in psychology and my Ph.D. was in child psychology, all my faculty positions have been within Colleges or Departments of Home Economics, whose names were later changed to Human Ecology. That's a run of almost 30 years. As a newbie Assistant Professor back in 1977, I knew little about Home Economics, but knew that Child Development and Family Relationships was one of its sub-specializations. I came to have great admiration, affection, and respect for the discipline of Human Ecology. Although some of the field's detractors don't think it is a discipline, I strongly believe that it is. In fact, its conceptual foundation provides much richer ground on which to stand than is possessed by many other colleges in the university, which are mainly units of administrative convenience (e.g., Liberal Arts, Institute of Technology, etc.)

Descriptors of the discipline of human ecology include the following: interdisciplinary, holistic, systemic, ecological. Its domains of concern are about the application of the arts and the sciences to everyday life - but I don't mean that in a trivial sense. It's about the emotional dynamics of real families in which real children grow up; it's about ways in which educational programs for new parents help reduce the incidence of child abuse; it's about understanding the connections between children's lives in their families, their day care centers, and their peer groups -- and much much much more.

It will be critically important that the human ecological approach be brought forward and integrated into the new collegiate home to which we have been assigned. Fortunately, I think our "adjacent disciplines" have been moving in this direction as well over the past 30 years, so I hope that the interdisciplinary, holistic, systemic, ecological views that we have nurtured in CHE will easily be assimilated by our new colleagues.

As a relatively small college, CHE was able to be innovative and less bureaucratic than some of our larger sibling colleges. Despite the advantages of being nimble in this way, the trend at the U is clearly toward consolidation, centralization, and standardization. The pendulum has swung in this direction quickly and violently; I suspect it will swing back in due time, but probably not for a number of years.

So farewell to the College of Human Ecology -- to its traditions, its innovations, its humanistic values, and its wonderful people.

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At this point, we know what we have lost, but we don't know yet what we will be gaining. So the feelings of sadness have been palpable up and down the hall. Wnen I drove up the hill next to McNeal after being out of town and saw that the college's banner had been taken down, the sense of loss hit me one more time.

A ray of hope is that the university has hired a dynamic and visionary dean to lead the new CEHD; she'll be arriving October 1, although she is already making her presence known. I'm eager to work with her.

Transitions are always bittersweet, and it's only fitting to honor our history, even if the future holds promise. So on the last day of this venerable unit, hats off to the College of Human Ecology, its leaders, its students, and its many loyal alumni. It's been a good ride, and it's been my privilege to have been a part of it.

CHE front McNeal2-b.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at June 30, 2006 1:38 AM | In Memory / In Honor


This is wonderful, Hal. Thank you so much.

I first had that sense of loss you spoke of (re: the removed banner) the first time I walked past the main office and saw rows of ugly gaping holes where those past-dean photgraphs had been.

We're definitely in for some exciting changes. But I think many of us are also in for some moments that are, as you say, more bittersweet.

Posted by: Yvette at June 30, 2006 7:02 AM

Hal, we are truly part of a wonderful legacy and it is with mixed emotions that we now turn to a new college and bring out human ecology viewpoints to the table.

I know many of us talk about how change is difficult and that it can be a good thing for us but I can't help but think that with all of the many changes we've had this last year or two it would be nice to have some consistency, normalcy, and even dull monotony for a while. We all need things to settle a little.

Posted by: Kevin at June 30, 2006 9:48 AM

Wonderful! I generally like change. Change has the possibility of fresh perspectives and insights--as long as the collective knowledge and history is not lost along the way. I wonder. I hope the history and symbols of CHE, including pictures of our deans, is preserved somewhere accessible. I always enjoyed walking past those pictures and reflecting on the faces and the number women pictured. It was a powerful symbol. The possibility of something better will be diminished if the desire to retain the identity of what exists takes priority.

Posted by: Lynn at June 30, 2006 10:43 AM

Hal, Thank you for a wonderful tribute. Change is indeed exciting and allows for new learning and beginnings. I always recall a favorite quote by Picasso: "With creation, there is death". Even a beautiful new painting destroys a beautiful white canvas.

The College was outstanding...even great. The legacy of the College will speak that greatness in the future as others reflect on our history.

Posted by: Shirley at July 12, 2006 12:38 PM

Exelent! Good work!

Posted by: Wallace at June 16, 2007 1:52 AM