Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Re-engineering the College of Liberal Arts

at the University of Minnesota

Central administration exerts great control over the fate of CLA through its management of the enrollment targets, the budget model, and the state allocations. Whether through intent or inattention, humanities, social sciences, and arts are experiencing substantial cuts in controllable budgets, while some other colleges have yet to sustain such losses.  CLA 2015 - Complete Committee Final Report

The biggest college of the University of Minnesota would shrink -- and hopefully shine -- in a revamping sketched out in a report released Monday on the future of the College of Liberal Arts.

The report is peppered with out-of-the-box ideas -- including changing the college's name and switching to a year-round schedule. "What if," it ponders, "graduate students gave the lectures and faculty met in small groups with the students?"

It also provides a dramatic picture of cuts that have already occurred and argues that the college that educates half the U's undergraduates has unfairly sacrificed. Budgets and bar graphs show "we have suffered the most," said Steven Ostrow, chair of the Department of Art History and a member of the committee.

The college has shed 60 vacant faculty spots -- about 10 percent of its total -- and 177 course sections, while teaching the same number of undergraduate students. After increasing class sizes, admitting fewer graduate students and shaving staff, "it's going to be tough to find another $1 million," said Chris Uggen, chair of the U's Department of Sociology and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.
"There's a very thin line before our students are really experiencing the dramatic pain that causes them to be here another year because they can't get access to the courses they need," he said.

"CLA will clean house, fortify itself and look to the future," the report concludes, "but that will do no good unless central administration supports the vision of the college and sustains it with adequate resources."

Implementing these ideas -- in particular, trimming programs -- will be difficult, said Regan Sieck, a sophomore and academic chair for the CLA Student Board. "We will always have students who are angry that programs are cut. But the necessity is quite obvious."

Taken together, the proposed reforms would save money, but not enough, the report acknowledges.

The college has limited control over big chunks of its budget. Because CLA can't cut from the cost of tenured faculty or "taxes" collected by the U's administration to pay for things like libraries and financial aid, any cuts must come from about 30 percent of its budget, what the report defines as the "controllable budget."

The report finds "CLA is the only college to see a reduction in its controllable budget" in three years. "Whether through intent or inattention, humanities, social sciences and arts are experiencing substantial cuts in controllable budgets, while other colleges have yet to sustain such losses," it says.
For further information, please see:

There may be found a link to download the full report

This committee is to be congratulated for doing an excellent job of laying out our problems.  Would that the administration of the University of Minnesota had done something like this a long time ago.  As usual, this problem comes down to priorities and money.  That things in CLA - our crown jewel - have deteriorated to such a state is a sad commentary on the present university administration. 

The report is an excellent illustration of what people other than those in Morrill Hall can do.  As Mark Yudof put it long ago:

To the best of my recollection, no great scientific discoveries, no insightful social science tracts, and no novels have been produced in Morrill Hall. No classes are taught in Morrill Hall. No patients are made well in Morrill Hall.
My point is that we must value delegating academic and other decisions to campuses, colleges, schools, departments, and faculties. Administrators can facilitate, they can help the deans to build better English or physics or public health programs, but they cannot actually do the building.
Help, or get out of the way!
The great universities of the world--whether Bologna 900 years ago, Trinity College-Cambridge in the 17th century, or Stanford and Berkeley today--are highly decentralized. Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer.


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