State of the College 2019-20

New initiatives, ongoing projects, and accomplishments of the past year
Dean Coleman delivers the State of the College 2019 address
Dean Coleman delivers the State of the College 2019 address
View the State of the College video or see the 2019 edition of the State of the College Data Deck to learn more about trends in the college.

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

The State of the College is a time to acknowledge some of our successes, challenges, and opportunities as a college. It’s our chance to discuss some of our aims for the year ahead and take a look at where we’ve been the past year. 

Any way you look at it, 2018-19 raised the bar. It was the college’s best-ever fundraising year. In honor of our 150th anniversary, Governor Dayton declared CLA Day in the state of Minnesota, as did Mayor Frey in Minneapolis. We even had the I-35W bridge lit maroon and gold in our honor. It was a truly special year of reflection, remembering, and looking forward. The 150th also meant extra work for many of you in this room and I want to thank you for making it an enormously successful celebration. 

For the year ahead, we’ll want to build on last year’s momentum to advance a number of initiatives that I’ll outline today.

Civic Readiness

First, let me discuss our Civic Readiness Initiative.

For the past five years, we have been deeply engaged in CLA on our Career Readiness Initiative. In addition to expanded career services and employer relations led by our terrific Career Services team, we’ve set the standard for thoughtful ways to integrate career readiness into the lives of our students from Day One. Our departments have been involved in career readiness, and we have engaged our alumni in numerous ways in this work, including an outstanding series of “We are Liberal Arts” video profiles

Our work -- which emphasizes student acquisition of ten Core Career Competencies; has students engaging in the Reflect, Articulate, Translate, and Evaluate process to map their liberal arts experiences in and out of the classroom; and involves faculty through the Faculty Fellows program and in other ways -- has generated great interest around the country. Thank you to Associate Dean Ascan Koerner, Professor and Career Readiness Faculty Director Amy Lee, and Career Readiness Director Judy Anderson for your leadership. 

Those of us in CLA always knew that a liberal arts education prepares students well for successful and meaningful careers, so we were working from a strong foundation. But we also knew that there was a negative narrative about the liberal arts and career opportunities that we needed to respond to. We wanted to advocate and not apologize for the liberal arts, and we wanted to be on offense and not defense. Our Career Readiness Initiative did exactly that. It has enabled students and employers to see the connections between liberal arts education and great career outcomes more clearly. Rather than deficit thinking, our Initiative has been premised on -- and helped students recognize -- the many strengths they bring to the table, what we call their Liberal Arts Advantage. 

In the same way, we in the liberal arts believe we prepare students for lives of civic and community engagement. But here, too, like with career readiness, we can take steps to help students build skills and see the connections between their education and the next stage of their lives as civic participants. And here, too, we know there are some challenges. 

I don’t need to tell you that we live in an increasingly polarized political time. While that polarization has led to some well-publicized situations on campuses across the country in which speakers were shouted down or events canceled, those situations are relatively few, albeit dramatic and often concerning. 

More challenging on a daily basis is how to help students learn to engage in conversation and discussion across these lines of difference, whatever those differences might be. A 2017 survey of more than 3,000 college students conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that three-fifths of respondents said the climate on their campus stifled speech. They reported feeling that students blocked out views they disagreed with. And that’s not just a national occurrence. Here at the University of Minnesota, our Student Experience in the Research University survey, or SERU, shows similar results, which I’ve written about on my blog

At a fundamental level, the liberal arts are about questioning the boundaries of our own knowledge and understanding. We’re at our best when we employ a broad intellectual toolbox and a humility that recognizes that insights may be found across the political spectrum, across our disciplines, and across our many communities. Liberal arts disciplines excel at seeing the world through the eyes of others. In that sense, empathy is a skill and approach that is repeatedly provided to our students. A liberal arts culture is one that understands that if you expect to be heard, you must also be able to listen. This is not about timid and restrictive “civility,” but about the ability to engage in robust and perhaps passionate dialogue, discussion, disagreement, and debate. 

For these reasons, we will be launching the Civic Readiness Initiative, our effort to prepare our students to engage confidently in civic life and to demonstrate that they can do so, just as our Career Readiness Initiative prepares our students to launch confidently into the world of careers. And like our Career Readiness Initiative, our Civic Readiness Initiative will build off of what we do so well in the liberal arts while adding new experiences and opportunities for our students as well. 

Over the past six to nine months, we’ve had informal conversations with small groups of department chairs, faculty, and staff about what such an initiative might entail. I thank Sociology Chair Doug Hartmann, who has been doing a great job in initiating and convening these conversations. 

My hope is that Civic Readiness will provide a framework for preparing students for meaningful, productive lives as citizens and engaged community members.

As with Career Readiness, we’ll be able to leverage our curriculum and some existing infrastructure to create an initiative “greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Some of the efforts we will consider pursuing within the Civic Readiness Initiative are: 

  • A skills-based program to develop students’ capacity for expressing and exchanging ideas and engaging in difficult discussion
  • Media and social media literacy and their connection to civic discussion
  • Applied learning opportunities like internships, research, and community engagement activities for students to practice skills and gain new experiences
  • Seed money for curricular development, professional development, and research grants for faculty and staff
  • A new certificate program that provides a cohesive structure for coursework and applied learning opportunities and signals to prospective employers that an individual has the skills to manage challenging situations and hard conversations in the workplace; and
  • Dynamic public programming, including visiting professors or public intellectuals, to engage the community and model dialogue, discussion, debate, and disagreement.

Through the Civic Readiness Initiative, we aim to help students be better prepared to leverage the values and skills of a liberal arts education for civic engagement and public discourse. It is certainly not something they are seeing modeled in social media or in much of our politics. The job is ours to do in the liberal arts and we think Minnesota is the right place to do it. With its long-standing history of civic engagement, appreciation for social diversity, and commitment to public institutions, we believe that Minnesota, both as a state and a land grant university, is well-positioned to play a leading national role with this initiative, just as we have done for career readiness. 

Addressing the Achievement and Opportunity Gap 

A second area for our focused attention this year is addressing the achievement or opportunity gap. 

Nearly a third of CLA’s students are the first in their families to attend college. About a fifth are Pell-grant-eligible. Around 40 percent of our population is made up of transfer students, who are on the whole more ethnically and racially diverse, more low to lower-middle income, and more first generation than students joining us directly from high school.
College is supposed to be rigorous, challenging, and even unsettling. There will be setbacks that you have to overcome. That’s part of a college education. We expect that all of our students will have those experiences, and, in some respects, we want them to have and learn from those experiences. 

However, the students I mentioned may face additional challenges to succeeding on a college campus. For example:

  • Those who come from lower socioeconomic or underrepresented backgrounds can be caught off guard by college’s hidden expenses or unfamiliar cultural mores or be stymied by university jargon. 
  • Some may question their sense of belonging. 
  • Significant family and work responsibilities need to be balanced with their academics. 
  • Some live at home to save money, thereby missing out on aspects of college life that help students build community and establish support networks on campus. 
  • In order to work and meet family obligations, some attend college part-time, lengthening the time to degree and putting further into the future the return on investment of a college education. 

What all of these students have in common is this: they have worked hard, they have earned their way here, they belong here -- and we have an obligation to help them thrive.

Our Office of Undergraduate Education has done excellent work around achievement or opportunity gap issues. We are very fortunate to have nationally-prominent leaders like Alex Hines, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Access in the Office of Undergraduate Education, energizing our thinking in this space. This past year, we requested and received $185,000 in recurring funds through the Compact process for additional advising support and the implementation and expansion of programming, touchpoints, and bridging initiatives for students of color in CLA. 

For the most part, thinking and awareness about the achievement or opportunity gap has been a matter of attention within the CLA Office of Undergraduate Education. Some of us may be more aware of this issue at the macro level nationally than within our own college, and that needs to change. 

This year, I want us to focus on making the achievement or opportunity gap an issue owned across the college -- this is an issue for all of us to work on. 

A first step will be for all of us to develop a greater awareness of the patterns in our college. For example, did you know that the 4-year graduation rate for white students in CLA is 69% and for American Indian and students of color it is 60%? Or that the 4-year graduation rate for first-generation students is 7 points lower than for other students and that hat the 4-year rate is 9 points lower for Pell-eligible students than for other students? Or that if you are neither first generation nor Pell-eligible, your 4-year graduation rate is 70%, but if you are both first-generation and Pell-eligible, your 4-year rate is 58%, a 12-point gap? Add in race and ethnicity, and that gap spreads to 15 points. 

My guess is that most of us don’t know about those patterns, so that’s why increased awareness will need to be a first step in our collective ownership of these issues. When we drill down further to the level of the department or the individual course, we similarly aren’t likely to have great awareness across the college, so we need to address that as well. 

I’m influenced by my own experience here. When I was teaching a large introductory course with hundreds of students, I could receive a report that would show me the proportion of students getting a D, F or withdrawing broken down by students of color, majority students, gender, Pell-eligible, and so on. 

What that gave me the opportunity to do was to look at my class and ask “Why am I seeing these patterns? Why is the achievement rate so much better for one group than the other? Am I doing something in my course that might be inadvertently contributing to these patterns?” 

I believe some data-sharing of this sort would be very helpful here in CLA. Not to place judgment or blame, but as a powerful tool for an individual instructor and for departments overall. It’s saying, “Here’s some information you’ve never had. This is how things are breaking down. Now knowing this, would you make any changes, whether in assignments, exams, the reading list, discussion sections, pedagogical methods, and so on?” 

This is not to say that our only interest is in classroom outcomes. We would want to examine access to internships, research with faculty, service-learning, learning abroad, and other experiential opportunities to understand how these factor into student outcomes such as retention and graduation rates but also successfully launching into careers and civic life. 

I will be appointing a small group to begin considering some of these matters I’ve discussed and how we can elevate this to a concern we own collectively as a college, led by the great work in our Office of Undergraduate Education. If this is a project you would like to be involved in or you have some ideas or suggestions, please send me a note. 

Building an Ever-stronger Culture of Teaching 

The last initiative I’d like to discuss today is creating an ever-stronger culture of teaching in CLA.

Teaching obviously plays a large role in defining the experiences of our almost 14 thousand undergraduate and sixteen-hundred graduate students. While striving for research excellence is understandably first of mind for us as scholars, and the relentless pursuit of research and creative excellence is a core pillar of the CLA Roadmap, it’s as teachers that we have the most direct impact on our students. 

Our students benefit from being taught by the world’s leading researchers. As a student, it matters that you are taking your classes with the people who are writing the articles and the books and creating the art, not just assigning the articles, books, and art. It matters that you may have an opportunity to engage in research and creative work with those scholars. So we offer our students something special in that regard.

And just as we seek to excel in our research and creative pursuits, we seek to excel in our teaching. High-quality teaching improves the lives of our students, which certainly motivates us all. And high-quality teaching also furthers the reach and impact of our scholarship and our disciplines, which likewise should motivate us all. The better the experience students have had in our classes and the better they are able to articulate and share what they’ve learned, the further the impact of your research and teaching can spread. 

One of the ways that we’ve sought to strengthen the culture of teaching in CLA over the past few years is through the Career Readiness Teaching Fellows Program. The program was developed to help faculty better support students in understanding and articulating their Liberal Arts Advantage. But it has also served as an important catalyst for interdisciplinary conversations around teaching as an activity worthy of intellectual inquiry.  It has helped clarify our values as teachers in the college and what outcomes we hope to achieve through the courses we teach.

We’ve had 23 departments, nearly 70 faculty and P & A instructors, and about 20 graduate instructors participate. That’s impressive. Fellows have initiated conversations about teaching in their departments, asking their colleagues to share their pedagogical approaches and what does or does not work in their classrooms.

To celebrate our commitment to teaching, this year we will hold an inaugural CLA-wide Day of Teaching and Learning in early May. The goal is for us to come together as a community to share our insights and to learn from one another across disciplines.  

This year's focus will be on engaging diversity and promoting inclusion and accessibility across our curriculum. The day will start off with a keynote by Dr. Susan Ambrose, author of How Learning Works and Senior Vice Chancellor for Educational Innovation and Professor of Education and History at Northeastern University.  

The Day of Teaching and Learning will also include panels, discussions, workshops and much more. It’s being planned by a committee of faculty and instructors and facilitated by the Office of Undergraduate Education. CLA’s Day of Teaching and Learning is a public statement of the importance of teaching in our college. It’s an acknowledgment that what happens in the classroom is essential to how our students experience the values and advantages of a liberal arts education. And it recognizes that the better the experience our students have, the more the key questions and concerns of liberal arts research and creative work moves beyond the campus and into our communities and places of employment. 

There will also be other opportunities to gather this year as a teaching community. I encourage all departments, faculty, instructors, and graduate students to be involved. And I’d encourage not only instructors but anyone in the college interested in our teaching missions to attend these events and learn more. 

Continuing the Progress on Our Ongoing Work 

In addition to these new areas of focus, we will continue to work on projects and initiatives that are already ongoing. To name just a few:

  • We have begun working with our P&A Board about ways we might enhance the professional support and opportunities for our P&A instructors, building off of the multi-year contracts and first-time CLA Assembly representation we have added in recent years, as well as our discussions with departments on instructional staff issues in Three-Year Planning. My hope is we will identify three to five steps we can take to establish these positions more clearly as a fulfilling professional and career track with improved opportunities for leadership and engagement in department governance.
  • Our Three-Year Planning became an even more collaborative process last year, and we will continue that improved process this year, with much more up-front collaboration. 
  • In support of faculty research, we are the first college moving forward with fully-funded One Semester Sabbaticals, and I thank Associate Dean Jane Blocker for her great leadership on this issue. 
  • We’ve continued to enhance and better promote the research services provided to faculty, staff, and graduate students by our Office of Research and Graduate Programs and the research group in LATIS
  • Finally, in last year's State of the College address I discussed thinking of parts of our curriculum in a different way, in terms of hubs and spokes rather than the traditional Model T. This year I will be asking a Curriculum Innovations Strategy Team to pick up on that discussion and bring people together to think about what we might do with regard to moving forward on modular courses, our summer curriculum, implementing our digital and online strategy, and considering possible areas of opportunity for certificates or interdisciplinary minors -- and we could add more to that mix as well.  

Financial Update

Of course, advancing on our new and continuing priorities is dependent on resources, so I’d like to give you a quick overview of where we finished the fiscal year and what we’re looking at in the year to come.

As I discussed in my August monthly memo sent to all faculty and staff, while in recent years CLA has balanced its budget, the recently-completed fiscal year 2019 required us to draw more on our carry-forward and reserve funds than we’d prefer to do. Although we have been prepared to do that in order to invest in strategic priorities in hiring and other areas, carry-forward funds are a well we can’t draw water from too frequently or extensively before it goes dry. 

As I mentioned in my memo, various factors were at play last year. Most notably, final tuition revenue did not see the surpluses of previous years. With tuition providing about three-quarters of our revenue, we are highly tuition-dependent. In fact, we are more tuition-dependent than many private liberal arts colleges. Thus it is absolutely critical that we are focusing our instructional resources in areas of greater student interest and demand. Doing so will be absolutely critical as we move into our new sabbatical system. We don’t have the budget to spend resources on courses that are not attracting students. 

Our summer revenue also continued to drop. Some, though too few, of our departments did improve their numbers and benefited from our summer tuition sharing initiative. As a college, we need a strong summer surplus to balance our fall and spring spending. Summer is not a luxury for us, but rather is essential to our financial well-being. 

During the fall and across the coming year, you’ll be hearing more from me on these fiscal topics as we’ll need to identify ways we can operate more efficiently and effectively to ensure our revenues and budgeted expenses are aligned. That means looking at both the spending and revenue sides of the equation. Doing so will be critical to moving forward on the initiatives I mentioned earlier, ongoing issues like implementation of fully-funded sabbaticals, and our recurring goals such as improved graduate funding and faculty and staff compensation. 

Recognizing Our 2018-19 Accomplishments 

Now, while we certainly have to take our financial concerns seriously, we don’t have to fear them. Because as they say, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” and as a college we have accomplished remarkable things.

I said at the beginning that 2018-19 was a terrific year. So let me come full circle and share with you some specifics of what you accomplished. 

First, we are deepening our engagement with community partners. In addition to introducing our new Civitas Awards for community partners, our effort to establish the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub called for in the CLA Roadmap has been successful. The Hub will occupy a prominent space in the newly renovated Pillsbury Hall and during construction, a Hub pilot has been organized in Nolte Center. This academic year, the Hub will sponsor 5 exciting projects with community partners.

Second, we are improving support for our graduate students. We increased funding for graduate students, including greater support for writing fellowships and summer fellowships, along with giving our programs greater flexibility and control over many kinds of graduate student support. And we’ve added staffing to provide more timely student services, including in-person counseling and a growing array of programming designed to help graduate students move into a broad range of careers. I thank Associate Dean Steve Manson for his hard work and leadership on these reforms.

Third, we continued to support interdisciplinary inquiry with new Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshops focused on Democracy under Threat; The Black Midwest Initiative; The Many Faces of Reproducibility; Bodies that Haunt; and Collaborative Writing in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship. 

Fourth, we are hearing the voice of our staff and providing professional development opportunities. The CLA Indigenous Staff and Staff of Color Community has been doing great work, including a survey conducted of staff in the spring, and has ambitious plans for the future. And our Administrative Leadership Program continues to go strong, with three cohorts having successfully completed the program.  

Fifth, once again, we enrolled more new students than our admissions target. Our graduation and retention rates are at all-time highs, as is the diversity of our students. That’s a team effort involving many of you in college offices and departments. 

Sixth, staff in LATIS and the Office of Faculty and Academic Affairs improved our administrative processes by successfully piloting the Dossier Builder tool, a major innovation for preparing and submitting promotion and tenure materials. This reform is part of our broader effort to ensure we are providing high-quality, responsive services throughout the college. 

And, lastly, as I noted at the start of my remarks, we had the best fundraising year in CLA's history, raising over $31 million dollars, which is nearly $10 million over our previous record. Overall, we are at 93% of our campaign goal of $150 million, having raised $139 million to date with about two years to go. That doesn’t just happen. That happens because you’ve made this a college people want to support and invest in. 

This work shows that we are capable of extraordinary things when we work together. It’s work to be proud of. 

Thank You

What I’ve discussed today -- the achievements of the last year, the areas we’ll focus on in the year to come -- it all comes down to the hard work of many individuals and groups. 

It is your mentoring and instruction, your scholarship and creative work, and your service and leadership that keep this list of accomplishments growing.

From taking an extra moment with a student who is struggling, to putting the finishing touches on your latest publication, to helping a colleague, it’s the small -- and very big -- things that you do that make this college what it is and as successful as it is. 

You create excellence and opportunity. You help transform the lives of students who then go out and transform the industries they join, the organizations they run, and the communities they live in. Every single one of you -- regardless of what office or department you work in, what position you’re in --  is involved in that work. As you’ve heard me say, we seek in the CLA Roadmap to be a destination college not to pat ourselves on the back, but because the stronger our research and creative work, the better prepared our students for careers and civic life, the more inclusive and respectful our college culture, and the deeper our community partnerships, the more good we can do here on campus and far beyond. 

Thank you for all you do to make this an extraordinary place to work and learn. 

And thank you to all of you for joining us today. I look forward to continuing our work together and wish you all a great year!

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