U weighs new college

After the CBS dean retires in June, the college may combine with CFANS.

Alexi Gusso

The University of Minnesota announced Wednesday it will consider creating a new college by integrating the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Just a few hours earlier, CBS Dean Robert Elde announced he’ll retire at the end of June after 18 years in the position. CFANS Dean Allen Levine stepped down in August and has been replaced by interim dean Brian Buhr.

Both Elde and Levine had discussed the creation of a new college in the past. With their departure, Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said now is the time to consider the possibility.

“It’s not good for either school to be left for a long time without a permanent dean,” Hanson said.

Faculty from both CBS and CFANS have worked together on research and teaching projects in the past. The potential new college would consolidate programs from both colleges.

Levine said the potential new college wouldn’t be radically different from its currently separate parts — at least not at first.

“It has to evolve, just like any other unit,” he said.

Elde said combining the colleges would make it easier for students to use biological advances to solve agricultural, environmental and medical problems.

“It really puts the needs of our students first,” he said.

This fall, the search for the deans’ replacements will be put on hold while a task force explores the possibility of a new college.

To be appointed in the coming weeks, the task force will include University faculty, alumni, industry leaders and others. Hanson said it will be “more complex” than previous task forces and that she has already heard from interested faculty.

Hanson said incorporating faculty from other colleges in the new structure is “not off the table.”

Both Elde and Hanson said the combination wouldn’t result in lower enrollment or staff cuts. This spring, CFANS and CBS contained 2,615 and 2,073 students, respectively.

The last time the University underwent any college rearrangement was in 2006, when two colleges and a department merged to become CFANS.

A ‘hands-on’ dean retires

Elde, a neuroscience professor, set a date for his retirement two years ago, but said writing the email to students about his departure still wasn’t easy.

Elde joined the University faculty in 1977 after getting his Ph.D. from the school three years earlier. He was named dean of CBS in 1995.

Scott Lanyon, head of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, said Elde excelled at putting the University’s best interest first.

“He’s a big picture kind of person,” Lanyon said. “That’s very refreshing.”

Lanyon said Elde made it a priority to improve the quality of undergraduate education at CBS during his time as dean.

Elde oversaw creation of Nature of Life, an annual three-day summer orientation for first-year CBS students at Lake Itasca. Through the program, he worked firsthand with students, assisting them with lab preparation and field work.

Elde said he didn’t have much contact with undergraduate students before becoming dean.

“That was a pretty new world to me,” he said.

Genetics and cell biology junior Samantha Franco was a peer mentor for the Nature of Life program and worked closely with Elde.

“He was very hands-on, kind and was always looking to help a student,” Franco said.

As a first-generation college student, Franco said Elde was an inspiration, helping her realize that graduating in four years and landing a career was possible.

“It’s really sad to lose him,” she said. “He knows students by name. … We are important to him, and he makes that known.”