Students divided on college merger

As the University forms a task force to explore combining CBS and CFANS, students are wary.

Roy Aker

University of Minnesota administrators are continuing talks of forming a new college by merging two existing ones.

But students are split over how the quality of education would be affected if the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences are combined.

University officials announced the possible merger earlier this month. They’ve since formed a task force to summarize benefits, concerns and recommendations in a report, due this spring, for Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson.

Of the 13 task force members, three are CBS faculty, two are affiliated with both colleges and the rest are CFANS faculty. Graduate and undergraduate student representatives will join the group but haven’t yet been named.

Sarah Anderson, who graduated from CFANS in the spring, said she hopes a merger wouldn’t tarnish the college’s reputation.

“People flock to CFANS because its programs are some of the best in the country,” she said, “so it’s important that [the University] makes sure people know they’re still invested in those programs.”

Fisheries and wildlife junior Ellie Bjorklund said she isn’t necessarily opposed to the merger but thinks the talks are part of “a large-scale
University push” toward increasing research.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to learn these talks have something to do with money,” she said. “It’s important to note the merger would have a lot to do with research and endowment.”

A release from Hanson’s office said the potential merger isn’t a cost-saving strategy for the University.

Discussions of the new college are driven mainly by research and higher education trends in biology, agriculture and natural resource sciences, according to the release.

CBS Dean Robert Elde, who announced earlier this month that he’ll retire next summer, previously told the Minnesota Daily that current students should see “no change” to their academic plans.

But microbiology sophomore Phil Cook said he thinks a merger could impact future students’ decisions. Being enrolled in a small college with a specific focus appeals to some, he said.

“I think students are attracted to the idea of smaller colleges within a large university,” he said. “Bigger doesn’t always mean
better.”

Cook said the University “shouldn’t underestimate the importance of what specific colleges mean for students.”

Biochemistry senior Pip Rasmussen agreed.

“Being in a specific college makes students feel their education is more specific to their future aspirations,” he said.

University policy doesn’t require faculty members to vote on the merger, but a vote is still a possibility as talks continue, according to the release.

University professor and Biotechnology Institute Director Michael Sadowsky, one of the task force co-chairs, said more details will become available in the following weeks when meetings begin.