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State of the College 2016

September 22, 2016

Thank you Tim. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon, and thank you to the CLA Assembly for hosting us.

The State of the College address is our annual occasion for a review of the past year of activities in the College and a discussion of some priorities going forward. But before we get into those details, I’d like to talk about something that was on my mind this summer.

It’s something that speaks directly to the importance of our work when we pull ourselves back from the day-to-day business we must attend to.

What I’m referring to is the vital role that the liberal arts play in building prosperous, equitable, and democratic societies.

We don’t always hear that about the liberal arts.

Just as a test, I googled “liberal arts are,” and the results were not flattering. “Worthless” and “useless” were the completions that Google offered.

Now that was dispiriting. But in the liberal arts, our foundational ethic is to view a problem from multiple sides and multiple perspectives. So I tried another test. I don’t know if this will cheer you up or not, but the top completions for “biology degrees are,” “engineering degrees are,” and “business degrees are” also came back as “worthless” and “useless.”

So, we’re in good company.


I said that the vital role of the liberal arts has been on my mind this summer, and I’m sure you can imagine why. It’s been, inarguably, a highly dramatic time. One tragedy on top of another: Orlando, Nice, Syria, Falcon Heights, Istanbul, Dallas, and more events this past week.

In times of such conflict, it’s natural for individuals and institutions to step back and ask what can we do? What is our obligation? And what can we contribute?

The answer, in our case, is that the liberal arts create the very building blocks of healthy and vibrant societies. 
It’s important that we say this, all of us. Not defensively and not just on behalf of our own disciplinary or interdisciplinary specialty.

Recently, I shared with a Board of Regents committee my thoughts on the value and vital importance of the liberal arts. I stressed, in particular, that a liberal arts education is unique in the way it builds three things: empathy and compassion, imagination, and community.

How do we build empathy and compassion? So much of what we do in the liberal arts is trying to see the world through others’ eyes—people different from me, people in the past, people of other cultures and countries, the artist, the characters in a play or novel, consumers, voters, those facing economic or psychological challenges, people with different political or religious worldviews than my own.

Seeing through the eyes of others is critical in nearly every occupation and it is essential to thriving communities. When we see through the eyes of others, we can better question our assumptions, challenge our beliefs, and serve each other.

The liberal arts teach us to act toward others with compassion, humility, and respect because we recognize there are multiple ways to look at the world.

How do we build imagination? Our students are encouraged to think creatively, critically, and analytically on questions such as: How do we want to live? What do we value? How do we become our best individually and collectively? What is a productive life? What is beauty? What provides opportunity? What enhances personal freedom? What motivates us and others? What policies and practices best promote the goals and values we choose to prioritize in our communities, in our democracy? In the liberal arts, our study of the present and the past develops imagination about what is possible and about possible futures.

And lastly how do we build the foundations for healthy communities and democracies? We in the liberal arts directly study how communities and democracies work. We offer insights about individual, group, and collective needs, wants, motivations, and tensions. Insight about what brings us together and what divides us. Insight about how individuals and communities thrive, whether in the realm of education, health, raising families, civic engagement, migration, environmental issues, employment, or other areas.

None of this means that in the liberal arts we all agree on the answers to these various questions and the solutions to the various problems, or indeed what the key questions are. At our best, we genuinely embrace and model diversity of thought and perspective, and we vigorously debate and discuss.

So when we are asked “why do the liberal arts matter,” I believe we can confidently reply that by building empathy and compassion, imagination, and communities, the liberal arts encourage the development of vibrant, healthy, prosperous, and equitable societies. This is vital work.

As we move forward, I urge us all to look at our work from this perspective.


Of course, as I was writing this, I knew I would—in some ways—be preaching to the choir. But I think it’s important for us all to reflect upon why we do what we do. And I wanted you to know some of the ways I define our work when I go out and answer questions about the value and contribution of the liberal arts.

And of course these general comments about the contributions of the liberal arts directly connect to our ongoing and daily work to make the College stronger with the CLA Roadmap.  This is an outstanding college, and we are always looking to become even better.

The driving vision in the College’s Roadmap is to transform the College of Liberal Arts into a destination college.

We are determined to have the College of Liberal Arts be on the short list for students across the country and indeed around the world when they are thinking of the preeminent places to earn their degrees.

We are determined to have the College of Liberal Arts be widely known for being one of the absolute best locations for faculty to build their careers.

We want the College of Liberal Arts to be among the first institutions considered when organizations, agencies, groups, and firms from the local to the global are seeking to engage with a higher education partner.

And we want our staff to see this as a place where they can be full partners in achieving our mission.

The 2015-16 academic year saw some significant progress around our Roadmap goals of readiness, research, engagement, and diversity. This year we’ll be launching a website where you’ll be able to track our Roadmap progress, but for now, I’ll mention some highlights.


In the area of readiness, we’ve seen great progress. I’ve already talked about how the work we do prepares our students to be engaged participants in their communities, so I’ll focus my comments here on our efforts this past year to prepare students for the world of work.

We've doubled the number of career counselors and rolled out a new model of providing career services assistance for all departments across the college. For the first time, our academic advising staff is at the recommended level of about 300 students per advisor.

Our staff has been revising the First Year Experience class to incorporate more aspects of career readiness into the course, and the number of organizations joining us for internship and career fairs continues to grow.

The number of first-year students who conduct research with faculty in our Freshman Research and Creative Award program has doubled, with over 70 faculty participating. And we’ve been providing additional financial support for unpaid internships.

This year we welcomed over 2500 new first year students and we will welcome 1800 transfer students. With the Transfer Student Initiative, we have improved orientation, added two new transfer advisors to our previous staff of one, offered additional slots in our MLK advising community to transfer students, and this fall we offered for the first time a "Transfer Semester Experience" course to help new transfer students succeed.

We also prepare our students for life after campus with inventive curricular opportunities. Among others in the past few years are several advanced proficiency certificates in languages, a renewal of the Chinese Language Flagship program, a reconfiguration of degree paths in statistics to more clearly serve students pursuing an applied path versus those pursuing graduate training, a minor in creative writing and a certificate in technical communication, and attention to a growing interest in health with minors in health psychology and public health, a BA/MA in health communication, and a new BA/MD program.

The good news is that the messages we hear from business, nonprofit, and other leaders is very supportive of the kind of education we deliver in the liberal arts. What we're doing with our readiness efforts is ensuring that when our students graduate, they’ll be able to articulate with confidence what they’ve learned, what they can do, and how it would benefit a given organization. This is important to both our graduates and their parents.


The College also had a busy year when it comes to promoting research and creative excellence. We had an exceptionally active faculty recruiting year in 2015-16 and we look forward to the surge of intellectual energy these new colleagues will bring us.

We developed new research support in 2015-16. The Talle Faculty Research Award annually provides $300,000 of support for associate professors within four years of their receipt of tenure.

At the department level, large gifts to the departments of Psychology and Philosophy were among those that provided resources to assist faculty research and professional activities.

And the Human Rights Initiative, joint with the Humphrey School, makes available another $140,000 annually for support of faculty research in human rights and complements our new master’s in human rights. This initiative highlights the College’s participation in addressing Grand Challenges, as does the large number of CLA faculty who participated in the University’s Grand Challenges proposal process across all five challenges.

Lastly, I was pleased to announce last year that we had raised the base graduate assistant stipend in CLA by about 14% to improve our competitiveness for top students and to ease some of the financial burden faced by our grad students. And through some one-time special funding from the Provost’s office, we were able to offer 14 of our CLA Graduate Fellowship recipients with a second year of support. Seven of these 14 chose to accept their CLA offer.


In the area of engagement, our faculty, staff, departments, and centers took on an impressive range of exciting and important engagement work this past year. Simply getting better at documenting this work is an achievement.

Staff in college offices and in our departments and centers have been working creatively to improve how we communicate about CLA research, engagement, and other news. These efforts have included the rollout of new websites for CLA units, new departmental newsletters, and a robust social media strategy.

We launched the Big Questions series, a joint production with Minnesota Public Radio to discuss important issues—such as the nature of protest and the achievement gap—from a range of perspectives, including CLA faculty and representatives of off-campus organizations and agencies.

We also recently completed a survey of our alums that should provide some excellent insight on what we do well and where we can do better.

And we’ve chartered a CLA Community Partner Engagement Workgroup, bringing together public engagement, alumni relations, development, and career services staff to strengthen and coordinate partnerships with corporate and community leaders.


Regarding our efforts to build a more diverse and inclusive CLA, we finished our diversity cluster hire of four impressive faculty members, with joint appointments in two departments each, and successfully recruited faculty of color in other searches. Thirty percent of the tenured and tenure track faculty hired in CLA in 2015-16 are faculty of color or American Indian.

In addition to the cluster hire, the RIGS Initiative under the leadership of Director Catherine Squires has begun a series of research circles around key areas where we have a critical mass of expertise in the college and across campus.

We were also able to give a strong boost to our recruitment of diverse graduate students through enhanced funding to CLA recipients of the University’s Diversity of Views and Experiences—or DOVE—Fellowships. These enhancements helped boost our acceptance rate among DOVE recipients to 73 percent, compared to a 54 percent average the preceding six years.

On the undergraduate side, enhanced advising and other services in the MLK Program run by our Office of Undergraduate Education has been well received and student interest has been sharply increasing.

To provide more opportunity and improve access to CLA, we also offered a record amount of scholarship support for students with financial need.

Finally, last year saw the launch of the Joan Aldous Innovation Fund to provide small seed grants for faculty and staff to test pilot projects to support both our engagement and diversity goals. About $125,000 was awarded across 25 projects.


To improve our ability to succeed in our vision of becoming a destination college and achieving the goals of our Roadmap, the College engaged in several operational improvements over the past year and asked our governance and other bodies to weigh in on important questions such as the length of the tenure clock, the senior project, the College’s support for centers, promoting international and global research and teaching in CLA, and our Compact request to the university.

Our offices of technology and innovation services, institutional advancement, and undergraduate education underwent significant structural changes. To improve communication and planning with departments, we altered the portfolios of our associate deans by naming an associate dean for arts and humanities and an associate dean for social sciences.

CLA staff make this place run. We have been working to improve our communication with staff across the college through restructuring meetings and adding new professional development opportunities. Over two dozen unit administrators and other staff are currently participating in an Administrative Leaders Program to build our depth and capability. I thank Chief of Staff Katie Louis, Chief Information Officer Jamey Hansen, and Director of Human Resources for their leadership developing this program.

We conducted the first departmental external reviews in many years, with reviews of our language departments and Language Center.

And we introduced a new three-year planning process with departments in the interest of working collaboratively on promoting excellence, achieving key goals, reducing perceptions of us-them relationships, and providing departments with a greater degree of certainty about faculty hiring—among other matters. I was particularly pleased with, and encouraged by, the quality of the conversations in the external review and three-year planning processes.


These are impressive achievements and we have our wonderful faculty and staff to thank for these accomplishments. I’d also like to thank those serving in leadership positions in our departments and centers as well as the leadership in our college offices for making these accomplishments possible.

Even as we celebrate these achievements, however, we are of course always aiming higher.

To advance our Roadmap goals, we will pursue a number of objectives in 2016-17, and I will outline a few of them here.

To move forward on fostering research and creative excellence, we will develop support for research groups to work on a question or topic for a three-year period. My objective is to fund two of these groups annually so that we ultimately have six groups in operation throughout the College at any one point in time, with two rotating in, and two rotating out, every year. Those of you familiar with Mellon’s Sawyer Seminars might think of this effort as similar to that family of research support.

We provided some additional faculty travel support in 2015-16, and I thank Chief Financial Officer Brent Gustafson for his efforts here, and we will be exploring our options for providing more. Expanded travel support is probably the single most-requested research need identified by department chairs and faculty.

I have also asked our new Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, Steve Manson—once he’s had a chance to catch his breath—to begin investigating a major idea proposed by the Roadmap Research Goal Team headed up by Professor Mark Snyder in 2014-15: a four-week “research innovation term.” The proposal’s implications are wide-ranging, including a change in semester length, so there are certainly many issues that would require vetting and discussion.

In addition to these initiatives that apply across the college, I have also asked Arts and Humanities Associate Dean Ana Paula Ferreira and Social Sciences Associate Dean Penny Edgell to consider pilot initiatives that might be attractive to the departments in their respective corridors.

To continue to establish CLA as a leading institution in promoting student readiness, you will soon be hearing more from Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Gary Oehlert about the Career Readiness Pathways Initiative, which is the initiative formerly known as career bundles and an idea promoted by our Roadmap Readiness Goal Team chaired by Professor Laura Gurak.

The Pathways Initiative is a program that engages students in a four-year conversation about career readiness. Pathways is framed around core career capabilities most commonly sought by private, public, and nonprofit employers.

Pathways will enable students to reflect, assess, and build their own capabilities through curricular and co-curricular activities, experiential opportunities, and alumni mentoring, and to articulate their capabilities and translate them to an employer's context.

Continued action on our diversity and engagement goals will also be on the College’s agenda this year. Two significant steps on diversity and inclusion are a cluster search in Islamic Studies as well as the creation of a collegiate diversity and inclusion committee to assess our progress and identify key issues.

The creation of such a committee was a main recommendation of the Roadmap Diversity Goal Team chaired by Professor Jo Lee. Katie Louis, Director of Public Engagement Amelious Whyte, and Jamey Hansen have been meeting with governance and other groups in the College to develop the diversity committee’s role and activities.

On engagement, we will continue to improve our communications to key stakeholders, as recommended by the Roadmap Engagement Goal Team chaired by Professor Phyllis Moen. And we will continue to explore collaborative initiatives that mutually benefit CLA faculty, staff, and students and potential partners. Associate Dean Ferreira is continuing to develop the concept and a plan for the Minnesota Humanities Engagement Hub.

Meanwhile, CLA’s 150th anniversary is coming up in 2018 and Chief Marketing Officer Scott Meyer is heading up efforts for a celebration of CLA that will provide substantial engagement with our alumni, friends, and the public generally.


All of these initiatives and goals—the advance of our Roadmap vision to be a destination college, our projects around readiness, research and creative excellence, diversity and inclusion, and engagement—will be enhanced in a big way by our Capital Campaign.

We are still in the quiet phase of the Campaign. This means that it won’t be launched publicly until the fall of 2017. But I wanted to share with you some of our thoughts about the Campaign at this point so you can get a better sense of where we are headed.

The Campaign will coincide with the University-wide campaign as well as our 150th anniversary. We have a campaign cabinet almost fully in place and they will meet for the first time at Homecoming in October. I am pleased that we now have Assistant Dean of Development Mark Baumgartner on board to lead our efforts in the Campaign along with our Campaign Director Kaylee Highstrom.

After completing a comprehensive feasibility study during the 2015-16 academic year, we have set our goal at 150 million dollars and we’ve identified three main categories where we will seek funds: student readiness; inclusiveness, access, and diversity; and research and innovation.

In the area of readiness, we are placing a priority on experiential learning scholarships that will allow more students to access the life-changing experiences of studying abroad, service learning, internships, and undergraduate research opportunities. We also are seeking support for an internship program for humanities Ph.D. students.

The second category is inclusiveness, access, and diversity.

CLA is already home to the highest percentage of students from diverse walks of life at the U. Fully one-third of our undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and transfer students make up 40 percent of the College’s undergraduate population.

But we know we can do better. Much-needed scholarships will help ensure the access and success of students who may require the support of additional resources to successfully navigate the University, excel in academics, and participate in campus life.

Diversity of thought and perspective is the very bedrock of what makes the liberal arts what they are. Thus, we will also seek funds to attract a more diverse faculty through research support and endowed funding.

The third and largest category is research and innovation. Funding in this category includes endowed faculty positions, graduate funding, funds to launch new projects and support ongoing interdisciplinary efforts, and funds to respond to short-term real-time opportunities.

We expect these funds will encourage innovation and scholarship, attract and retain top faculty and graduate students, and create the kind of supportive, dynamic, and intellectually exciting environment for research discussed in the CLA Roadmap.

The Campaign will make it possible for CLA to expand on the tremendous work you already do. 

Of course while we ask others to invest in us, we  have to continue to make decisions that demonstrate we’re using our resources well.

This means investing, but in a tight fiscal environment it also means reallocating or cutting where prudent, and prioritizing our highest needs. It means making every hire and every promotion and retention decision count. It means great mentorship of junior faculty and graduate students. It means being creative in how we deliver our curriculum where it will be pedagogically sensible. It means re-examining areas of our budget process to learn what we can do better.

Our ability to invest in is ultimately driven most heavily by tuition revenue, so being responsible stewards of our resources also means continuing to develop inventive new curriculum that meets the needs and interests of today’s students and leverages our areas of particular strength.


What I’ve outlined today—everything from our accomplishments of the last year to our hopes, goals, and plans for the future—speak directly to what I started off talking about: the contributions of the liberal arts in challenging times.

Our work in the liberal arts, as I said at the outset, offers hope, understanding, and perspective.

Our work in the liberal arts intersects with the major issues and questions confronting us individually and collectively.

Our work in the liberal arts asks the difficult questions.

Our work in the liberal arts prepares our students to be active participants in their communities and to thrive in their careers.

As the home of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, it is our job to analyze disparities and conflicts, to place them in historical, economic, and social context.

It is our job to bring a wide array of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to bear on important questions.

It is our job to explore people’s confusion, understand their sorrow and their hopes, and to provide our insight on how individuals and communities thrive.

Thank you to all our faculty and staff for what you do through your mentoring and instruction, your scholarship and creative work, and your service and leadership. It is your work that will produce the graduates, research, and partnerships that will have a positive impact on society and will make CLA a destination college.

In CLA, we have plenty to be proud about and we should always be in a position of advocating for, and not apologizing for, the liberal arts.

Thank you all once again for coming and I look forward to continuing our work together.