Report reviews U’s grad program

by Coralie Carlson

A report released Wednesday by an independent think-tank criticized the University’s graduate program and urged the school to cut back on its offerings and change its research decision-making.
The Citizens League, a non-partisan group with a membership of 2,500, detailed five recommendations for improving research and advanced degree programs. University officials said the recommendations, except for program elimination, were in progress before the group offered its advice.
The report, “A Competitive Place in the Quality Race: Putting the University of Minnesota in the Nation’s Top Five Public Research Universities,” suggested:
ù forming a new University-state-industry partnership to fund research and technology transfer;
ù developing a measurement system to evaluate program quality;
ù cutting low-quality and low priority programs;
ù concentrating on areas that will increase significantly in quality;
ù improving faculty training and roles.
Groups like Citizens League regularly issue reports describing changes they would like to see at the University. While school officials generally appreciate their input, they are not bound to implement any outside suggestions.
In a prepared response to the report, University President Mark Yudof said he looked forward to further consultation with the group. “The problems that we agree exist, and the solutions we seek, are multi-faceted,” said Yudof, who did not address the program elimination issue.
This is the first study that has focused on the University’s slipping National Research Council rankings. The University dropped from No. 16 to 23 among large research schools between the 1982 and 1993 rankings.
“There has been a very gradual but very distinct slippage over many years,” league president Mary Anderson said.
Because the University has so many programs, it could not focus resources effectively, which League members say accounted for the fall in rankings.
“There’s a serious question about whether we can afford 165 graduate and professional programs,” said John Adams, a University geography professor and league committee member. He added that the University should be “energetic in withdrawing support” from ineffective programs.
The league did not state which programs should be cut or consolidated. “There’s no specific target set up here; it’s the principle,” Adams said.
Over the past five years about 30 programs have been quietly phased out and member Carl “Buzz” Cummins suggested during a press conference at the State Office Building that the University could eliminate another 30 programs.
Marvin Marshak, a committee member and University physics professor, suggested combining outdated programs and restructuring outdated departments. “Something that might be exciting in 1925 might not be exciting today,” Marshak said.
Cutting programs would demonstrate the University’s commitment to change, but league officials said that such actions will not necessarily save a lot of money. “We’re not talking about huge amounts of money,” Cummins said.
The league suggests reallocating the funds to high quality, high priority programs, which would be determined by rank, improvement costs, student surveys, graduate placement and admission standards.
Also emphasized was external relationships which could be enhanced with a new partnership between the University and industry. But, according to the plan, CEOs would have an unprecedented voice in research decisions, which, despite their support for a partnership, worries University officials.
Still, Adams and other league officials said the Northstar Research Coalition would finance research on campus and help stimulate and continue the development of the economy.