CLA gets feedback on looming cuts

Faculty, staff and students attended a town hall meeting to voice concerns and criticisms.

Taryn Wobbema

An interim report released Friday detailed the College of Liberal ArtsâÄô long-term goals to revamp the college and help it survive the financial downturn. About 60 individuals from the college met Tuesday to provide feedback. The report centers on offering fewer but greater quality programs that will benefit undergraduate and graduate students. It mentions cutting the number of program offerings in half and leaving 40 open faculty positions unfilled. The report was written by the CLA 2015 committee, a 30-member group formed to tackle the 2.75 percent budget cut levied on each University of Minnesota academic and support unit. It has since moved on to the long-term issue of identifying the programs and activities that should receive more funding and those that can be cut. âÄúWe knew the worst thing we could do was stay exactly the way we were,âÄù CLA Dean James Parente said. The final CLA report is not due until mid-October. Statistics professor Gary Oehlert, the committeeâÄôs co-chairman, said the conversation will continue, as will the challenge. The committee will have to find ways to transform CLA into a smaller college with a more narrow focus while still maintaining the number of students and retaining prestigious faculty. Faculty expressed concern over how the college will cut programs and positions while still educating undergraduates and attracting graduate students. Thirty percent of CLAâÄôs budget relies on state funding, and whatâÄôs left comes from tuition. When broken down, the state provides CLA with about $3,350 per degree-seeking student. According to the report, other University colleges receive greater sums. The College of Biological Sciences receives about $10,000 per student, for example. The report states that, because of the UniversityâÄôs tenure policy, cuts to CLA will have to come from areas other than layoffs. CLA employs more than 1,000 faculty and supportive and administrative staff. It houses more than 16,000 students, according to fall 2009 data from the UniversityâÄôs Office of Institutional Research. âÄúThis is going to sound very harsh, but it is reality. Most of CLAâÄôs budget is salary and fringe benefits. Saving money means someone doesnâÄôt get paid,âÄù Oehlert said. In TuesdayâÄôs meeting, members of the CLA community offered praise for the 2015 committeeâÄôs effort to include everyone in the discussion process. Faculty and graduate students then raised concerns about programs and departments that could be found on the chopping block in the near future. The committee wrote that it wants to see CLA develop âÄúsignature undergraduate programsâÄù and âÄúgraduate programs of distinction.âÄù Professor Christopher Uggen, co-chairman of the committee, said he wants to see the college aspire to âÄúfield-shapingâÄù work. Faculty members expressed concern at defining terms like âÄúsignatureâÄù and âÄúdistinction.âÄù They also took issue with UggenâÄôs idea that professors are âÄúcreators of knowledge.âÄù Theater arts and dance professor Sonja Kuftinec said some fields, such as womenâÄôs studies, do not create new knowledge but critically examine existing ideas. These arenâÄôt neutral terms, Kuftinec said. They carry implications as to which programs will have access to resources. Oehlert said each program will be evaluated individually to match the programmatic diversity within the college. Kaylee Highstrom of CLA external relations attended the meeting. She said the changes are like a puzzle. âÄúYou can put it together a different way and it is a completely different picture.âÄù -Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter.