Coralie Carlson

Richard Leppert and his supporting cast want to rebuild the University’s film studies program — and they’re not alone.
With administrative backing, money from the University’s $1.2 billion legislative request could help make Leppert — the chairman of the cultural studies and comparative literature department — realize his cinematic vision.
How did the film initiative earn the favor of administrators and a place on the University’s budget? Magic, many administrators say. But behind the special effects stands the compact process.
Compacts are planning and accountability processes between department heads, deans and the provost. Administrators create exhaustive in-depth reports on the progress of their department or college and propose new programs — such as the film initiative in the College of Liberal Arts.
University President Mark Yudof transplanted the idea from the University of Texas-Austin. Before the compacts, deans presented academic outlines to their supervisors, but the process was less rigorous and focused less on accountability.
“We’re not just planning and giving money away; we’re really evaluating what we do,” said Bob Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
Now Bruininks, second in command to Yudof, meets with deans three times a year to identify weak areas in the colleges. Deans propose ideas and present problems facing their colleges so the provost can assess their needs and prioritize items for the overall budget.
Film initiative: take one
Although the University offers an undergraduate degree in film studies, the program doesn’t even belong to a department.
Professors from several other departments, like cultural studies, art history and foreign language departments, keep the program alive.
Last year, Leppert and other CLA faculty members developed a plan to give film studies a high profile and a departmental home in the cultural studies and comparative literature department. They wanted to hire more faculty in other departments who specialized in film, so the University could offer more classes. The plan also included offering film production courses, developing a graduate program and working with the state film board to coordinate the school’s training program with the growing film industry in the Twin Cities.
In constant consultation with faculty members, Leppert integrated their plan into the department’s report to CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone.
Rosenstone backed the proposal and, following more consultation with faculty, he included the film initiative in the CLA compact report to the provost.
Though Leppert received word that Bruininks was excited about the idea, the provost put it on hold.
“It didn’t get funded last year because very little was funded last year because there was no money,” Leppert said.
The cutting-room floor
Speaking before the University’s faculty Senate Committee on Educational Policy earlier this month, Rosenstone singled out the lack of money as one of the problems in the compact process.
Writing the CLA compact absorbs months of his time, Rosenstone said — there needs to be an incentive for such work.
Rosenstone also suggested moving the compact process to a two-year cycle to coincide with the budget request at the Legislature — also a two-year track.
The dean said he’d like to see the planning and budgetary process linked more closely. Moving to a two-year cycle would also cut down on the workload for administrators.
“It kind of grinds the college to a halt every time the Compacts come up,” Leppert said. Bruininks himself said he conducts at least 60 meetings a year to review the Compacts.
At the University of Texas-Austin where Yudof first implemented the plan, compacts worked on a biennial cycle.
Leppert also suggested extending the deadlines so department chairs have more time to develop ideas in line with the provost’s goals.
But praises for the new planning system outweighed complaints.
Lance Brockman, chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, said the compacts foster cooperation between departments.
Along with Leppert and Rosenstone, Brockman said the compacts required the department to become more focused and be more accountable.
“We may never get a dollar because of the compact process, but we will be better as a result,” Brockman said. “Its ultimate strength is it really causes the department to think about it’s need.”
Film initiative: Aaaand action!
Leppert and the other advocates of the film initiative resurrected their plan this year.
But at the dean’s request, Leppert took the extra time to expand the proposal — which now includes visual arts such as television and photography.
Collaborating with faculty and the State Film Board, Leppert drafted a supplementary report and Rosenstone compiled the film provisions in the 1998-99 CLA report.
This time, Bruininks was able to take action. Now the film initiative is tied to new money in the legislative request.
While there are no provisions in the request specifically for the film program — legislative requests are seldom that specific, Leppert said — money from provisions to bolster undergraduate education could benefit film studies. For example, the University requested funds to hire 100 new professors. If the state Legislature funds the request, some of those new professors could be film specialists.
With the backing of the University, the future of the film initiative now sits in state legislators’ laps.
“I think if it succeeds, it will be this year,” Leppert said.