State of the College 2015

State of the College 2015

Last year at my first State of the College address, I shared observations from my perspective as a new dean who had spent the months prior to arriving on campus and my early time on campus talking to as many faculty, staff, students, and alumni as I could. 

One thing that was clear in these conversations was the shared desire for the college to begin taking actions that are aligned with a strategic direction. We needed to act now to improve our situation, rather than wait for others to improve it for us. 

This year I’m especially pleased to highlight the progress we’re making due to the exceptional efforts of our faculty, staff, and students, and the opportunities we have as we continue on the road ahead. 

Prime Time for the Liberal Arts

We have accomplished much this past year, but it is just a start toward achieving our vision of making CLA a destination college.

What underlies all of these accomplishments is our deep commitment to the vibrancy and contributions of the liberal arts. 

Since my first day here I have been emphasizing that whether on campus or off campus, we will advocate and not apologize for the liberal arts. We will be on offense—and not defense—when talking about the College and the importance of the liberal arts. 

We act from the confident mindset that we have value to show, not from the fearful belief that we must show our value. If we are not optimistic and enthusiastic for the liberal arts, we can’t expect others to be. 

I believe those who think this is a difficult time for the liberal arts have it backwards.

The long-standing American tradition of a liberal arts education is more relevant than ever before. 

Across the country and around the world we see revolutions in communications, information, and technology. We see a revolution in the visual realm whether in the visual or performing arts or the Web and social media. But I would also say we also see an explosion in the presence of text in our daily lives from the time we read our first email in the morning to the last Facebook post, tweet, or blog post we read at night. 

We see pervasive challenges of governance, economics, health, education, and more. We see the challenge and opportunity inherent in cultural and philosophical difference. 

We see profound pressures creating tension within and between communities, we see remarkable occasions of communities coming together, and we see the sometimes difficult navigation between individuals and their communities. 

We see creativity and idea generation being at the heart of almost every growing industry, and absolutely needed in those that are not.

And we see interconnection like never before, with a third of the world’s population online, mobile phone subscriptions more numerous than the number of people on the planet, and over 1 billion people crossing at least one international boundary each year. 

All of these developments make this a prime time for the liberal arts. The liberal arts produce the research and creative work that help us define, understand, and address these developments. 

And in the face of such great and rapid change, a liberal arts education increases in value. Such an education gives graduating students, and through them, their communities, the knowledge and skills necessary for dealing with complexity, diversity, idea generation, teamwork, and rapid change. 

Preparing Future Thinkers, Leaders, Creators

I have said previously that a liberal arts education develops an entrepreneurial mindset. 

By this I mean that the liberal arts teach students to think ahead. To think from multiple analytical perspectives and bring many kinds of evidence to bear. To ask why and why not. To understand context and how we got where we are, and what the possibilities are for the future. 

The liberal arts provide grounding in both defining the questions as well as answering the questions. It is about answering society’s questions and questioning society’s answers. Studying and thinking about community and the individual is an aspect of almost every question in the liberal arts as we examine how communities are defined, change, prosper, weaken, divide, and unite. 

In short, the liberal arts are at the core of how we create citizens and how we create future leaders, thinkers, creators, and employees. A liberal arts education is an education for life. 

Transforming Lives

As I think about our work, three words are of special significance to me: excellence, opportunity and service.

Excellence is enabling and pushing ourselves to improve and not settling for good enough. It’s about providing the environment and support for faculty, staff, and students to do cutting edge research and creative work, and it is about doing that work.

Opportunity is the role we play -- or better yet -- the obligation we have to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for their professional lives and more generally their lives after they leave campus. We are Minnesota’s largest college and at the U we lead the way in the education of first generation and transfer students. We are Minnesota’s opportunity college and we must live up to that promise. 

Service is what we provide each other and what we provide our alumni and our communities, local, in Minnesota, and beyond. It is helping each other achieve our goals. It is a way of thinking. A day where we have helped someone else accomplish and achieve is a great day.

All of us in this room, and the faculty and staff throughout the college, transform lives. This transformative power ties directly to excellence, opportunity, and service. That is something we can take immense satisfaction in. It is also an opportunity for us all to take stock. 

We transform lives near and far through our research and creative excellence. So, ask: How is your department assisting and recognizing scholars doing first-rate research and creative work, and how are you helping your fellow colleagues who might be needing to gain or regain traction on their research? How are you helping graduate students do great research? What can be done better?

We transform the lives of students by providing curricular, experiential, career, and other opportunities. So, ask: What is your department doing to transform the lives of our students? What can it do better or different for both undergraduate and graduate students? 

We transform the lives of communities with service by sharing our research. Even if we were not a land grant institution, I would believe we have an obligation to serve our communities, our state, and beyond. So, ask: What is your department doing to share its expertise beyond the borders of campus? What can be done better?

Drawing the Roadmap

These themes of excellence, opportunity, and service were built into the Road Ahead address I gave last fall as I shared my vision for CLA to become a destination college. 

In those remarks, I outlined five goals that will help us to achieve this vision. 

These goals included: 

First, focusing on readiness so that our alumni will be the most desirable graduates available.

Second, having a relentless focus on research and creative excellence.

Third, leading and flourishing in the environment of grand challenges.

Fourth, emphasizing diversity to ensure the CLA community mirrors the community at large.

And fifth, deepening a culture of engagement for our alumni, community and state.

Each goal was assigned a Roadmap Goal Team, composed primarily of faculty and also including staff, students, and some alumni. These teams were led by writing studies professor and chair Laura Gurak; psychology professor and McKnight Presidential Chair Mark Snyder; communications studies professor Catherine Squires; English professor Josephine Lee; and sociology professor and McKnight Presidential Chair Phyllis Moen. 

Each team's focus was the same: how do we make the College great on this goal. 

Team members deliberated and shared their thoughts and guidance around the goal and produced a series of specific recommendations.

Nearly 100 faculty, staff, and students participated in developing recommendations. 

Through in-person College Conversations, discussions with governance groups, and online feedback, we heard from many more. 

After reviewing the feedback and the recommendations, we condensed the Roadmap to focus on the four goals of Readiness, Excellence, Diversity, and Engagement. Grand Challenges Leadership, formerly a separate goal, was deeply linked to the other goals, so we now consider Grand Challenges leadership to be one of our focus points within these goals, particularly through strong participation in the university’s Grand Challenges curriculum and research efforts. CLA was represented in the first round of Grand Challenge courses, and it is impressive that CLA faculty were involved in over one-third of the Grand Challenges research proposals submitted this summer. 

I am pleased to report that good progress was made on our Roadmap goals in the spring and summer. 

Progress Toward Readiness

For the goal of Readiness, we doubled our career advising and added internship development positions, serving across the college generally as well as for departments. Each of our departments can now access career services for their students, and donors provided us with internship stipend support. 

We nearly doubled the number of students who will be able to participate in our Freshman Research and Creative Award program where first-year students work directly with faculty. 

And we launched our career bundles or pathways project, which will provide students with guidance by bundling together courses, internship and other experiential opportunities such as study abroad and research, and alumni mentoring for a range of career paths. 

Progress Toward Diversity

For the goal of Diversity, summer funding for DOVE fellowship recipients was increased. The Race, Indigeneity, Gender, and Sexuality, or RIGS, Initiative was launched. CLA engaged in strategic no-search or exceptional hiring opportunities, and the College has begun a diversity faculty cluster search. 

Progress Toward Engagement

For the goal of Engagement, Amelious Whyte joined us, with the support of the Provost’s office, as director of public engagement, to help us database what we already do, provide advice to collegiate units on possible engagement strategies, and identify external partners for engagement opportunities. 

Our signature A Brighter U event was expanded to attract more alumni, and a new Bright Lights event to honor donors and student award and scholarship winners was launched. 

Through the efforts of Director of Institutional Advancement Scott Meyer and his team, including the students who form CLAgency, we have been rethinking and improving the communication of CLA research and creative activity so that we better convey the incredible array of exciting work being done in this college. An overhaul of the CLA website and several departmental websites (soon to be all) provided a more attractive and engaging interface to learn about CLA and our departments, programs, centers, and other units. 

Progress Toward Research and Creative Excellence

Finally, the goal of the relentless pursuit of Research and Creative Excellence. Attracting and retaining the top faculty and producing groundbreaking research, performance, and creative activities are foundational to our success. 

This is what attracts top graduate students. This is what attracts top undergraduates who want to learn from the nation’s and the world’s leading experts. This is what serves our communities off campus with leading edge research. 

Call it what you will: the catalyst. The energizer. The accelerator. The straw that stirs the drink. Without research and creative excellence, we cannot be great in our other goals or be a destination college. 

We have taken actions this past year and over the summer to promote the goal of research excellence. 

Faculty travel support was increased. We clarified tenure and promotion case expectations in instructions to departments, for example by emphasizing that cases need to be attentive to establishing the case for future productivity. 

Our Research Office offered an expanded suite of services for faculty, students, and departments and promoted research collaborations with other colleges. Regarding graduate funding, we know this is only a start, but we will be announcing some modest improvements as the year unfolds. 

One particularly exciting addition for faculty support is the new Talle Faculty Research Award. Funded by a generous gift from Ken and Janet Talle, this award will provide $300,000 of research support each year over five years, with about 8-10 recently promoted associate professors annually receiving an award. 

The time after promotion to associate professor is a critical one in the development of a scholar as new projects are launched, and a critical one for the College as we seek to retain our rising stars. 

The competitive Talle Award provides support for associate professors who are in their 1st through 4th year as a tenured faculty member. Proposals are currently being accepted for the first round of Talle Faculty Research Awards. We are fortunate to have donors and friends like the Talles who believe deeply in what we do in CLA and who want to invest to see us excel. 

These are some of the steps already taken to advance the goals of the CLA Roadmap. I want to thank everyone across the college who has been involved in these important first steps. 

In the Next Year

Over the coming academic year, we will continue to work on advancing each of these goals. A few highlights:

For Readiness, through Associate Dean Gary Oehlert’s leadership we will continue to work on developing pathways or career bundles that link together curriculum, experiential opportunities, and alumni mentorship, and we will continue to work on expanding financial support for internships and other experiential experiences. We want all of our students to have a meaningful internship or other experiential opportunity. 

For Diversity, as part of making diversity central to the mission and practice throughout the college, we will explore additional steps to encourage and promote a more diverse faculty and to assist in the recruitment of a diverse graduate and undergraduate student body. 

For Engagement, we will work on establishing the framework for the Minnesota Engagement Lab, a new college unit that will bring the interdisciplinary insights and expertise of our scholars and students in the humanities to the discussion of key public issues and challenges, and will promote public engagement through new and technologically equipped spaces. 

The Lab will bring together scholars, students, and community members to address challenges facing Minnesota citizens through focused projects, such as rural and urban access to food resources, histories of Minnesota immigrant institutions and neighborhoods, and literature and literacy services to communities. 

For these two goals of Diversity and Engagement, we will soon be launching an innovation fund supported by a generous gift from pioneering professor and sociology alumna Joan Aldous, and gifts from other alumni. We will use this fund to support small pilot projects in diversity and engagement. More details on this fund soon. 

For Research Excellence, with Associate Dean Alex Rothman’s leadership, we will continue to work on graduate funding, we will establish a graduate student board to better hear the concerns and benefit from the ideas of our graduate students, and we will pursue additional research support seed funding. 

We will have more information about our Roadmap plans for the year; how faculty, staff, and departments will be involved; and how we will stay on task in implementing the Roadmap at the Road Ahead 2.0 event in October. 

Across all of these goals, and in line with our vision of becoming a destination college, we will continue working on doing a better job of how we tell our story. We will continue to work on creating and putting into place clear, concise, and consistent messaging about the value of a liberal arts education and the wonderful accomplishments of CLA scholars. 

Administrative Reorganizing

In addition to the Roadmap, we moved forward on a number of other fronts last year as well. I will mention just a few. The college engaged in several significant administrative reorganizations, the most prominent of which was the adoption of a new corridor arrangement for departments and the college to interact. Each department now works with Professor of Portuguese Studies Ana Paula Ferreira, as Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities, or Professor of Sociology Penny Edgell, as Associate Dean for Social Sciences. 

The associate deans are a primary point of contact with CLA administration for department chairs working on strategy, planning, budgets, faculty and staff affairs including faculty hires, tenure and promotion cases, broad curricular matters, and implementing the goals of the CLA Roadmap. Similarly, the associate deans will help convey and discuss collegiate thinking, policy, and plans to departments. 

In addition to deepening our disciplinary strengths, the associate deans will also play a key role in identifying and promoting promising interdisciplinary connections across departments and across the corridors. 


Over the summer, I appointed the CLA Task Force on Internationalization, chaired by history professor MJ Maynes and including 12 other faculty and staff, with students to be added. This fall, the task force will begin its work. 

The task force was charged with a number of questions, with the central animating questions being “What does it mean for us at this time to internationalize or incorporate global perspectives into our teaching and research? Has this become a "mature industry" where we need to fine tune and refine what we do, or are there compelling new directions and ways to leverage our international strength? Is there an Internationalization 2.0?”

I am looking forward to the thoughts and recommendations of this task force.

Funding the Future

We are also in the early stages of planning our college capital campaign, which will be conducted alongside the university’s campaign. As part of this process we have been collecting ideas for possible funding initiatives, and have recently asked department chairs for their input. 

I invite any faculty, staff, or student who would like to suggest an idea to submit it to us at, or online at the Dean’s Suggestion Box on the CLA homepage. 

We can’t pursue every idea suggested, but hearing your thoughts will help us develop the case that we will present to prospective donors. Many of the initiatives I discussed earlier with regard to the Roadmap are, of course, ripe possibilities for help from our donors, alumni, and friends. 

Those are just some of the plans for this coming year. We will also be moving on more transparency in sharing data; rethinking aspects of our budget process to do better planning; analyzing our senior project requirement, and more. It will be a busy year. 

Why Are We Doing This?

I began my address on a somewhat philosophical note, so allow me to conclude in the same fashion. 

I have focused on some exciting opportunities, but we also face some less exciting realities. We came in 100 students over target for our freshman class, which is good news. The number of student credit hours taken in CLA has continued to decline, though, happily, not at the rate of past years. 

Over the next three years, the college will need to identify approximately, as a current guess, about $5-6 million for reallocation within the university’s compact process, and maybe more as part of the strategic plan reallocation process. 

We have ambitious goals, as I earlier outlined, to improve support of our undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. We want to improve the sabbatical system for faculty and we must stay competitive on salaries and start-up packages. 

These realities will require us to align our budget with our goals and in a manner that best promotes excellence, opportunity, and service. Along the way there will be difficult choices. 

If we are doing something that is not building excellence, providing opportunity, or serving others, we will need to ask: why are we doing it? 

What does it mean to be a great college filled with great departments? This year, we are involved in faculty searches that stretch across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. We are engaged in searches on human rights, health and population, American literature, history of philosophy, brain and behavior, photography, and more. As we all know, however, CLA departments historically have generally been smaller than our most highly ranked peers, so we will not achieve greatness by being larger than peer institutions. 

For us, building greatness and being a great college will mean making every hire and every promotion and retention decision count. It will mean great mentorship of junior faculty and graduate students. It will mean departments and units functioning collegially and making important decisions. When selecting a college, the quality of the faculty and academic programs is a leading factor for students. We control that through our decisions. 

We also are a great college if we make our college a great place to be. I mean this fully for staff and faculty, of course, but right now I am thinking about students. 

Gallup, the polling firm, has been conducting a large-scale project with Purdue University to study life outcomes of college graduates from a wide variety of institutions, both public and private. The first report from the project found that support and experiences in college were strongly related to long-term life outcomes for graduates. 

Quoting Gallup, “if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.” 

Now, we have things a little harder than our colleagues in other colleges on campus. Nearly every great research institution in the United States has a strong liberal arts core, but not all have a business school or engineering school or nursing school or medical school. In the liberal arts, by contrast, we compete with just about everyone. 

Also, we have an entire sector of other institutions, the private liberal arts colleges, that are attractive to students. So we need to stand out in a much more competitive environment. 

We can do it. We can do it by making great decisions that build great programs, and we can do it by providing the experiences and support in college that later link to graduates’ employment and life satisfaction. 

By way of example, departments such as Art and Statistics and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies have been working hard in recent years to rethink the organization of their curriculum. Others such as History have been aiming to identify and clarify the skills students are receiving in various courses. Psychology and Sociology have been promoting more internship opportunities. These are just a few examples. 

We’ve also seen the addition of popular minors such as Public Health and new certificates and curricular choices for students with natural science interests. At the graduate level, the Regents last week gave final approval to our new master’s degree in human rights, joint with the Humphrey School. This is a new program that builds on our strengths. 

In conclusion, I want to thank you for your warm and gracious welcome last year during my first year in CLA. I am optimistic and enthusiastic about our future. Together, we can make our wonderful college even stronger. 

In 1,000 days, we will be celebrating CLA’s 150th anniversary. Along with celebrating the past, I am confident we will be celebrating CLA being well along on the road to being a destination college.

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