Credit: Wikimedia Commons


A report has just been released by a group called CLA 2015 (downloadable pdf available here).

An excellent article has appeared in the Star-Tribune that summarizes the situation:

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.

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.

Our problems have also been duly noted in both the Chronicle of Higher Education: U. of Minnesota’s Largest College Pleads for Resources, Plans for Downsizing and Inside Higher Education: Radical Ideas Considered for Arts and Sciences at Minnesota

So what is this all about?

Simply put, the College of Liberal Arts has been starved financially over the past three years.  Convincing data is presented that of all the Colleges at the University they have been hit the hardest.  And this college graduates about half of the undergrads at the U.

They are not really in a situation to do much about this, other than cut, and try to do it in the most sensible way.  They do not have the ability to do much about the financial situation because their hands are  tied by a feudal financial system as outined in the 2015 report:

Beyond the basic bottom line of budgets, there are specific issues in the interactions of colleges and central administration that should be addressed. For example:

1. Current budget procedures provide incentives for colleges to instruct in more and more areas for financial reasons rather than because of scholarly interest and expertise;

2. As implemented, the current cost pool model has few incentives for positive budget behavior (e.g., saving utility costs) or penalties for negative budget behavior (e.g., bringing new space online); and

3. As implemented, colleges have no consultative role in what is covered by the cost pools or their levels of funding.

The 2015 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 this is a sad commentary on the state of our university.

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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