Reshaping the U

Nina Petersen-Perlman

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1or the past year the University has undergone a process of self-inspection, charging 34 task forces with holding a magnifying glass to every nook of the system to see what’s working and what isn’t, which programs need to be scrapped and which need more resources to flourish.

The process has been christened “strategic positioning,” a title encompassing everything the University has done and will do to launch itself into the stratosphere of the world’s top three public research universities. The term means to leave no corner untouched, said Sharon Reich Paulsen, assistant vice president and chief of staff.

“The University is trying to move forward and think about the future as the world changes and as societal problems and challenges change and get redefined,” Reich Paulsen said. “So the University as a public research institution is prepared to continue to evolve so we can best address the challenges that society faces.”

Yet some say they still confused as to what this realignment process will mean to them in the coming years.

If people have heard of anything, it’s the shift of the General College from being a two-year college for marginalized students before they transfer to another degree-granting college to a one-year program as a department in the new College of Education and Human Development.

The General College’s downsizing has caused the loudest strategic positioning dissent, but it is not the only way the University will be affected.

Six colleges will be reorganized into three starting July 1. Along with the General College, the College of Human Ecology and the College of Natural Resources along with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences will no longer exist as separate entities.

The task forces also have recommended an overhaul of how the University views subjects like diversity, faculty culture and research.

The information is out there; the University administration has sent e-mails to the community encouraging them to get involved in the process and has included links to the task forces’ recommendations.

But some students hit “delete” on those e-mails without opening them. And if students do make it to the Web site, the number and length of the hundreds of task force recommendations could be overwhelming.

Students especially can’t be expected to sift through line after line of bureaucratese to find the nugget that speaks to them in particular.

“If we don’t move forward, we’re going to move backward,” Reich Paulsen said. “If we move backward, that doesn’t do students any good, and it doesn’t do faculty any good, and it doesn’t do the state of Minnesota any good.”

Staff: A time of uncertainty (Morrill Hall)
Students and faculty members in the colleges to be blended this summer won’t be affected in any dire way by the mergers.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty members will keep their jobs, and students in programs and departments that will be affected will be grandfathered into their new college, said Carol Carrier, vice president for human resources.

It’s the staff members of those colleges who work in the seven functional areas of finance, human resources, communications, student services, IT, development and alumni relations who are most likely to be lost in the shuffle, and many are still unsure where they’ll be working after July 1.

Carrier said the University hopes to be “heavily into” the process of deciding how many staff members will be needed in the new colleges by the end of April and into May.

For those who won’t have a place at one of the three new colleges, Carrier said there’s a good chance there will be a place for them in another part of the University.

“We hope that our good people will be with us when all this is over, whether it be in one of the three colleges or somewhere else at the ‘U,’ ” Carrier said.

She said there was a “continuum of needs people expressed” in response to the change. Some retired, some have found new jobs and some are still waiting.

“Some people wanted to start to look at different things right away, others said they prefer to wait and see how it goes,” Carrier said. “We saw that as a normal thing.”

Representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, which represents University clerical workers, said they were upset with their exclusion from the realignment process.

Gladys McKenzie, Council 5 business representative and AFSCME Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker called the University’s treatment classism.

“We’ve been through a number of University reorganizations, and staff aren’t called to the table as equal partners to form decisions,” McKenzie said. “We’re the people that know what it takes to support a program because we do the work, but we’re not asked.”

Walker said not much has been made of the staff’s uncertain future because those who don’t know if they’ll be able to keep their jobs are afraid to say anything.

“People worry about speaking up about this sort of thing because they’re afraid of retribution,” Walker said. “Everyone wants to keep their job or be assured there’s a place for them.”

Arts research: Still valued? (Rarig Center)
Many realignment initiatives focus on improving research at the University.

The metrics and measurement task force listed the amount of grant money received and the number of patents approved as two ways people will know when the University has reached the “top three” level.

University officials have said there still is a place for arts and humanities at the University, but their research is not going to bring the big bucks.

Lynn Lukkas, an associate art professor in the area of time and interactivity, is doing research on a series of biosensor projects she’s been working on since 2001.

The pieces use a person’s heartbeat or breath as triggers to manipulate images and sounds.

“I try to find ways to think about ways for the individual to interact with art through technology,” Lukkas said.

Lukkas has been able to take the semester off from teaching to finish her project through a grant from the Institute for Advanced Study, which promotes interdisciplinary scholarship.

Arts funding is much harder to come by than funding for science, technology and medical research, she said, and it’s symptomatic of a national attitude toward the importance of the arts.

“There’s a direct return that’s monetary and social that people can tag (with science research),” Lukkas said. “It’s hard to justify putting money into the arts when you’re looking at research that would profoundly affect disease, but they can’t be pitted against one another.”

Interdisciplinary work like hers can help bridge the gap between the arts and sciences and give both areas a mutual understanding, she said.

The College of Education and Human Development (Appleby and Burton halls)
Of all the changes to come out of the realignment process, none has had a higher public profile than the end of the General College.

It will be restructured as a department in the new College of Education and Human Development (along with the College of Human Ecology’s Family Social Science department) this summer.

College of Education and Human Development Dean Steve Yussen said the new college will incorporate the best attributes from the General College, such as its intensive advising.

“The new college will be much more involved in undergraduates,” Yussen said. “It will undoubtedly incorporate some of the best practices the General College had.”

Yussen said everyone from the three colleges has been committed to “rolling up their sleeves” and working together to ensure a smooth transition.

“There’s been a remarkable absence of animosity or bitterness,” Yussen said. “That’s been one of the nice things about it.”

Design College (Rapson Hall)
The College of Human Ecology’s department of design will join the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, making a move some say should have been done decades ago.

Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, said the college’s previous dean Ralph Rapson called for the change as early as 1954.

“It’s better late than never,” Fisher said.

Fisher said it isn’t likely any departments will dissolve because of the blending of the colleges, as there is a high demand for all the departments.

Fisher said the most likely impact on students is the opportunity to interact across areas and disciplines, which will help prepare students for the real world.

“Design is inherently an interdisciplinary way of looking at the world and operating,” Fisher said.

Medical students (Moos Tower)
Third-year medical student Rob Schleiffarth has been researching congenital heart abnormalities in mice.

After receiving grants from the Minnesota Medical Foundation, the Lillehei Heart Institute and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Student Fellowship, he took last year off to concentrate on his research.

The administration was supportive of his year off, Schleiffarth said, by helping him retain student status so he wouldn’t have to pay back his loans right away.

Across the board, realignment initiatives recommend increasing research opportunities like Schleiffarth’s to all University students. Academic Health Center task forces in particular focus on the importance of research coming out of the medical fields.

Schleiffarth said he wasn’t required to do research, but wanted to because it would give him a leg up when he applies for his medical residency next year.

“I like to tackle problems and figure out a game plan,” Schleiffarth said. “When you apply to a residency it’s one of the things we are compared to with other medical students. (By doing research) you set yourself up to be a completive applicant.”

Schleiffarth said he thinks the strategic positioning research initiatives are good because they will increase the University’s prestige among its peer institutions.

“I think it will bring a lot more notoriety to the University,” Schleiffarth said. “The research is a big component of how universities are graded nationally, and that would help.”

College of Human Ecology (McNeal Hall)
More than 700 people joined College of Human Ecology alumni and gathered at McNeal Hall April 7 to say goodbye to their alma mater.

In a storytellers’ event, alumni told stories about their experiences in the college, from rushing a friend to the emergency room after she swallowed a dressmaker’s pin in a rush to finish a project, to dusting off a dropped ham and pretending it was a new one for an assignment in the Home Management House.

Catherine Solheim, an associate dean at the College of Human Ecology, said in a speech during the event that it was important for people to gain closure.

“In situations of loss, rituals give us space to acknowledge our grief, and move us to create new realities when something important to us ceases to exist,” Solheim said. “They are necessary for closure, giving us a specific point in time when we turn to the work of imagining our future.”

The department of design will join the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Family Social Science will move to the College of Education and Human Development and Food Science and Nutrition will move to the new College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Allison Stratton, an interior design sophomore, said she probably wouldn’t be aware of the change if she didn’t work at the college.

“It’s a transition rather than a closing,” Stratton said.

College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (Coffey and Skok halls)
The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and the department of Food Science and Nutrition – all from the College of Human Ecology – are set to form the new College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences on July 1.

College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences dean Charles Muscoplat said changes to curriculum will happen, but not right away.

“As things go by, you will see some natural consolidations of programs,” Muscoplat said.

Departments that are similar, like bio-based products and biosystems engineering are ones that are likely to merge.

“I think they’ll grow to share a curriculum,” Muscoplat said. “We’re always changing curriculum. I think that’s a normal process of offering new majors and eliminating old ones.”

Graduate students
The emphasis on research put forth by the realignment task forces has the ability to be both a boon and a burden to graduate students, said Sara Kempner, president of the Council of Graduate Students and a fourth-year child psychology graduate student.

“There’s a lot of good things and bad things it can do,” Kempner said. “If the University is receiving more grants, it will increase the number of research opportunities available on campus.”

Grants also create funding opportunities, enabling professors to afford hiring students as research assistants, Kempner said.

The other side of the coin is that research opportunities can draw professors’ time away from their other responsibilities, such as advising.

“As we pressure our faculty to receive grants, it could potentially take away from time advising and mentoring,” Kempner said. “Grad students work very directly with faculty. As change of faculty demands progress, it will have a huge impact on what opportunities are available to us.”

Kempner said the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Minnesota Student Association have worked hard to get students involved with realignment, but it hasn’t been easy.

“Grad students are a very busy group of people, so it’s hard to take on all the issues going on,” Kempner said. “Not every grad student is aware of what’s going on.”

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay attention to it, Kempner said.

“This is definitely an issue for both grads and undergrads,” Kempner said. “Every grad student will be impacted in some way.”