Regents approve plan, several colleges will change or close

Matt Graham

The Board of Regents passed a plan Friday that aims to make the University one of the world’s top three public research institutions within the next decade. The plan passed on an 11-1 vote.

One of the plan’s first steps will dissolve the College of Human Ecology, the College of Natural Resources and the General College and integrate their programs into other colleges by July, 1 2006.

The plan also calls for the creation of several new colleges that will emphasize interdisciplinary research.

University president Bob Bruininks called the plan “an essential part of a long-term vision and strategy to improve the University of Minnesota.”

But some plan opponents worry that elimination of General College and emphasis on being a top university will limit educational access for the working class.

Nathan Whittaker, a General College teaching assistant and General College Truth Movement founder, said he was upset at the results of the regents’ vote, but not surprised.

He called measures in the plan to encourage diversity at the University “empty rhetoric” and said his group’s work is not finished, despite Friday’s results.

“Our job now is to make sure that their empty promises are kept,” Whittaker said.

Among the new initiatives proposed to improve on-campus diversity is a consortium to work with economically depressed schools to better prepare students for success in college.

Regent David Larson said the expertise of General College faculty will be put to better use by focusing on preparing high school students for University success.

The sole dissenting vote was cast by Regent Steven Hunter, who said he agreed with the need for change but thought too many unanswered questions remain about future task forces.

But Regent John Frobenius said he could tolerate some uncertainties at this phase of the plan.

“This is a work plan outline far more than it is an organizational change,” he said.

In order for the University to avoid accusations of elitism, it will have to be transparent as the plan moves into its next phase, Frobenius said.

Regent Clyde Allen called his decision to vote in favor of the plan “both clear and painful.”

Passing the plan was necessary, he said, but he also said he sympathizes with the position of its opponents.

Ultimately, the board’s prevailing opinion was that maintaining the status quo would be potentially fatal for the University. The plan for the future, however, presents a unique opportunity for the University to propel itself forward using state funding and already-existing resources, members said.

“If you want to be great, you have to put your resources into your strengths,” Board of Regents chairman Dave Metzen said.