New CLA dean seeks alum support

To help address a declining CLA budget, John Coleman plans to build relationships.

by Fernando Nunez

When John Coleman took over as chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007, he stepped into a department that was losing funding and top professors.

“It looked like the department might be in trouble,” said Scott Gehlbach, the department’s associate chair.

But after Coleman took charge, leaders of political science departments nationwide took notice and commended him for turning Madison’s program around, Gehlbach said.

“Today we are sort of the success story of the discipline,” Gehlbach said.

Now, Coleman is preparing to take on an even bigger role as dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. He will take his new post July 31, pending Board of Regents approval at its February meeting.

CLA, the University’s largest college, has experienced state budget cuts totaling more than $30 million since 2008.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to dedicate part of the state’s projected budget surplus to higher education, but Coleman said he won’t take that into consideration when making budgetary decisions. Instead, he plans to develop more relationships with University alumni and gain their support.

Coleman said the University needs to build long-lasting relationships with its alumni and community to get financial support and improve employment opportunities for CLA graduates.

“I hope that we can show that there is some great value here,” he said. “That CLA provides a lot for the state, [and] it provides a lot for employers.”

Coleman’s research in political science and campaign finance has influenced him to become a collaborative and communicative leader.

“I guess if you study politics and government, you try to develop a sense of what people are bringing to their arguments, what their concerns are,” he said.

As part of their working relationship, Coleman and Ghelbach check in over lunch together every month.

“It may not seem like much, but it’s actually very important,” Ghelbach said.

Laura Leitch, Coleman’s wife and a health care attorney, said her husband is an approachable and easygoing co-worker.

“I think people will find John to be kind, smart, funny and a pleasure to be around,” she said. “I think people will really enjoy getting to know him.”

Leitch said she and Coleman enjoy hiking, biking and golfing, and they are looking forward to moving to the Twin Cities and acclimating to the area and University community.

Even in difficult times, like when he took over Madison’s political science department, Coleman said he remains optimistic — partly inspired by his favorite baseball team.

“As a lifelong Red Sox fan, we went 86 years without winning the World Series, and then we won three World Series within a decade,” he said. “That to me shows that anything is possible.”  

Karen Hanson, the University’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, made the final decision on Coleman’s appointment.

Hanson said Coleman’s experience turning around Madison’s political science department makes her confident he can take CLA in the right direction.

“The department had become raided and very small, and he rebuilt it and rebuilt its reputation and is standing in its vibrancy when … the resources were extremely constrained,” she said. “And that takes enormous administrative ability.”