CLA report outlines plans to cope with budget cuts

The CLA 2015 report released Monday identifies challenges and trends facing the college.

Conor Shine

Bigger classes, discontinued programs and fewer teachers could all become a reality for the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts over the next few years.

A report released Monday offers a plan to weather another round of imminent budget cuts by reimagining how the school does business.

The 50-page document identifies challenges and trends facing the college. It proposes a set of goals to define the collegeâÄôs mission, encourage creativity and collaboration and help position the college for the 21st century.

âÄúThis is a moment when the college is under big budget pressure, and you sort of have to plant your flag in the ground and say this is who we are,âÄù said Gary Oehlert, associate dean for planning and co-chair of the CLA 2015 committee that compiled the report.

The question of how the college can maintain its quality and distinction in the face of continued budget cuts shaped the report, Oehlert said.

The report lays out the collegeâÄôs budget situation, detailing how nearly $12 million in cuts in the past two years has led to 60 fewer faculty and 177 fewer sections taught.

If a similar cut were made this year, the collegeâÄôs options include raising class enrollment caps by 10 percent, reducing advising and technical support budgets by 20 percent, cutting faculty research support and reorganizing administration.

However, these cuts would save only about $4 million, leaving a potential hole of about $8 million that would âÄúdecimateâÄù research and graduate education.

Members of CLAâÄôs student board got an early look at the report, and Regan Sieck, chairwoman of the boardâÄôs Academics Committee, said the group was glad to see the document take a âÄústudent-centricâÄù approach.

The report outlines 60 recommendations for the college in areas like teaching, diversity, efficiency and research.

For students, recommendations include giving degree programs a more defined progression and increasing service learning and community engagement.

âÄúA lot of the conversations were about whatâÄôs best for the student and what will attract students to the school and keep them here,âÄù Sieck said.

With the state facing a $6 billion budget deficit and the UniversityâÄôs financial outlook uncertain, CLA will have to make âÄúfundamental internal changesâÄù to how it is organized and how it educates students, the report states.

Oehlert said the college canâÄôt continue to distribute cuts evenly like it has in the past, and instead must identify core areas to protect.

Doing so will mean reducing programs the college offers. But as programs close out, Oehlert said others will be strengthened and opportunity for new programs and areas of multidisciplinary study will arise.

âÄúWeâÄôre a world-class research institution,âÄù Professor Chris Uggen, another 2015 committee co-chair, said. âÄúHow do we make that come alive so that our students get the benefits of that?âÄù

The college has many strengths, Uggen said, including its faculty, student research opportunities and location in a metropolitan area âÄî but it needs to do a better job of capitalizing on these advantages to make unique, distinctive programs.