Strategic plan gets faculty criticism

Some voiced uncertainties with the strategic plan at a Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday.

Taylor Nachtigal

Many faculty members have reservations about the plan that will set the long-term course for the University of Minnesota.

A group of faculty voiced their uncertainties with the University‘s strategic plan at Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, with many calling for it to include clearer implementation plans and specific goals for increasing diversity.

The plan — which President Eric Kaler  called a “road map for reinvigorating the University of Minnesota” at the meeting — aims to make the school a leader in solving global problems through fresh curriculum and research and by increasing collaboration across disciplines. 

The Board of Regents will vote on the plan this week.

While the plan states the University’s desire to address diversity issues, philosophy professor Naomi Scheman said she’s concerned the plan doesn’t adequately address both racial and economic diversity at the school. 

The plan failed to make specific goals to address diversity and social justice through curriculum and research, she said.

Scheman said increasing the number of faculty of color and retaining them could help diversify the University.

She suggested using cluster hiring, or hiring many faculty members for interdisciplinary positions, to attract and retain faculty of color.

Sociology professor David Pellow, who said he has handled some cluster hires at the University, said the plan does include the idea of cluster hiring, but it should include how it could boost diversity.

Others criticized the plan for not clearly addressing the role racism plays in the global issues the school hopes to tackle.

At the meeting, Zenzele Isoke, an assistant professor in the gender, women and sexuality studies department, called on the University at the meeting to “bring out strong language about ending racism.”

She said the discussion on diversity should be “intimately interwoven” with the University’s strategies identified in the plan to solve global challenges.

The working draft of the plan identifies three “grand challenges,” or global issues like climate change and creating sustainable food systems. The University wants to address these items by increasing its research and focusing curriculum on the issues in upcoming years.

Increasing interdisciplinary work, the plan says, is key to solving the challenges.

During the hour-long discussion on Thursday, faculty also questioned Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson on how the school would implement the ideas laid out in the expansive document.

Anthropology professor Bill Beeman said at the meeting that he’s concerned faculty won’t have the time or money allocated to them to work on the grand challenge-focused curriculum and research.

“I don’t see anything in the plan that really commits to finding these additional resources,” he said.

Beeman also said adding more interdisciplinary work, in which faculty work across departments, is complex and will cause problems when it comes time to allocate funding for individual colleges and departments.

“There are significant financial difficulties in working across colleges,” he said at the meeting. “This infrastructural problem is really a more general problem that must be solved if we want to go forward as a major educational institution.”

Hanson emphasized at the meeting that the specifics of the plan aren’t yet finalized and the document will continue to evolve once the regents approve it.

She said two separate teams will establish implementation priorities within the plan and another will assess the financing of the plan.

She said faculty concerns are important and will be considered when the University starts implementing the plan.

“We want to move quickly, but we want this to be a collaborative process, so we’re going to be talking about various ways in which we can reach out in this next stage,” Hanson said at the meeting.