By tradition, universities can be awfully "siloed" institutions, with departments and collegiate units missing chances for collaboration across disciplines on some of the most important issues of the day.

This can be tragic, as America's most compelling social and economic problems -- the persistent education achievement gap, the shortage of skilled health care workers, homelessness and many others -- cry out for integrated solutions that combine the best of what governments, activists and scholars in health, education, public policy and management have to offer.

As leaders of the schools of public health, education and human development, public affairs, and management at the University of Minnesota, we are part of a broad university effort to work much more closely together.

For all of us, a crown jewel in that effort is the University's Center for Integrative Leadership, launched in 2006. Working across university departments and with scores of partners in the broader community, CIL brings representatives of government, the private sector and other organizations together to tackle vexing social and economic challenges.

In light of CIL's critical role in promoting the common good, we were concerned by a recent Star Tribune article ("Bruininks steered funds to his new U post," March 8) questioning university support for CIL.

It is important to understand that CIL was launched well before the discretionary investments outlined in the story, and that those investments were made prior to any discussion about the president changing his tenure home to the Humphrey School.

We were particularly distressed by the failure of the story to describe the contributions of CIL. We stand squarely behind the university's wise and cost-effective decisions -- over several years -- to support CIL.

With quite modest funding from the university and the strong support of key donors, CIL has leveraged the time and expertise of scholars across the university to demonstrate that when leaders figure out how to work across the boundaries that frequently divide us, we can achieve dramatic results.

For example:

• Working with university public health and veterinary scientists, CIL is showing how cross-sector leadership can transform our capacity to improve food safety and food security worldwide.

• CIL is bringing together experts in the tourism industry and the law enforcement and transportation fields to demonstrate how better to address the scourge of human trafficking and the sex trade in Minnesota.

• CIL is helping public-health and public-education students at the university learn how, as future leaders, they can align health care administration and school leadership to close the education gap and reduce health disparities in Minnesota.

•CIL is mentoring teams of students from the university's schools of business, law and public affairs as they work together to address vexing social challenges like homelessness, prisoner reentry programs, or developing and marketing energy-efficient housing in rural Minnesota.

CIL is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we work together across boundaries. We're proud that faculty from our four colleges -- the Carlson School of Management, the College of Education and Human Development, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and the School of Public Health -- are working and teaching together in new ways largely due to the work of CIL.

And while each of our colleges does an excellent job of preparing future professionals within our respective fields, we know that when we engage across our institutions, we are, as a university, inspiring the innovative leaders that our society so desperately needs.

CIL is a tremendous success story, an example of how to do more with less -- relying on a cross-sector model that will be essential to the growth and development of our state and nation in the decades to come.

That is a story worth telling.


Eric Schwartz is dean, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; John Finnegan is dean, School of Public Health; Jean Quam is dean, College of Education and Human Development, and Sri Zaheer is dean, Carlson School of Management -- all at the University of Minnesota.