A committee proposes remaking the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts.
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 college should cut tiny majors, meld departments and cap administrative costs to prepare for an era of limited budgets, the CLA 2015 report says. At the same time, the college must fortify unique programs and retain the research that distinguishes it.
The goal is a smaller CLA, the report says, with "fewer but better programs."
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."
The committee is one of many that will release similar reports after analyzing costs across the U as the institution plans for stark budgets.
The CLA 2015's committee of 30 professors, instructors, staff and students spent the past year studying the college, and the recommendations will be reviewed at two public meetings this week.
The report resists fingering particular programs for removal. "This is no hit list," Uggen said. But it does:
•Suggest criteria the college might use to determine which programs must be kept and expanded or combined and cut. It proposes taking a hard look at the 30 major programs with fewer than 10 majors.
•Encourage the college to increase private fundraising.
•Consider adding professional and master's degree programs that could bring in extra cash.
•Rate programs by cost. The most expensive, per credit hour? Music, with its one-to-one instruction.
•Question the idea that each department needs its own chair, office and staff members. Perhaps two departments could share?
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."
By offering fewer programs, the college will be better able to focus on their quality, said Sieck, who is studying sociology and economics. She was encouraged by the report's focus on "programs that are doing interesting work that's unique and that draws students from around the country to come here."
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. So what's in that controllable budget?
Non-tenured teaching staff and fellowships for graduate students. Both are valuable, Uggen said, and both are vulnerable.
"But it can't just be about balancing the budget," he said. "That leads you to decisions that erode what really makes us distinctive, special, important."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168