CFANS-CBS merger scrapped

After a task force advised against combining the colleges, the University announced it will keep them separate.

Cody Nelson

The University of Minnesota has scrapped a possible merger of the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

A task force charged with studying the potential merger found that many stakeholders opposed combining the two colleges, according to a report released Wednesday.

In an email to the colleges Wednesday, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson said she would abide by the recommendation but work to strengthen the relationship between the two colleges.

“… [M]erging just these two colleges could result in undermining their respective missions,” the committee wrote in its report, adding that it received “overwhelmingly negative feedback” as it weighed the merger.

The report said students, faculty and staff members expressed concern with losing each college’s unique identity as merger talks progressed.Paul Porter, a CFANS agronomy and plant genetics professor, said the merger’s size presented a challenge in itself.

Porter also serves as chair of CFANS’ Undergraduate Policy and Review Committee. The two colleges are different enough to make a merger difficult, he said, echoing concerns outlined in the report.

“We have slightly different cultures, slightly different objectives and somewhat different philosophies,” he said. “How that would all merge effectively would’ve taken a real genius.”

Undergraduate student bodies from both colleges told the task force they were concerned with how each institution has different academic and professional goals, the report said.

Some students told the task force they were concerned with losing the atmosphere of a small school provided by the colleges’ relative small enrollment, the report said.

CBS and CFANS are similar in size. CBS housed 2,005 undergraduate students in the fall, compared to 1,939 in CFANS.

Tricia Wagner, a junior in CBS’ genetics, cell biology and development biology program, said it’s comforting to be in a smaller college within a large institution.

“When you know that you’re going to see familiar faces in your classes and your labs, it’s a little calming,” she said.

The possibility of a new college was first floated in September. A merger had been discussed for some time, but talks accelerated after then-CBS Dean Robert Elde announced he would retire.

Former CFANS Dean Allen Levine stepped down in June, making last semester a crucial transition time for both schools.

Hanson formed the task force early in the fall. The group studied the merger for months through public meetings and interviews with deans and department heads in both schools.

Though a complete merger is off the table, the task force said it identified areas in which the colleges can work together in the future. Possibilities include reducing redundancies between the colleges, integrating outstate facilities, and collaborating in teaching and research efforts while keeping the colleges separate.

The University will begin acting on the task force suggestions right away, Hanson said in her email Wednesday, and she will continue to update the colleges on any progress.

“I do understand that this process created a period of uncertainty for the CBS and CFANS college communities,” she said in the email.

Jim Cotner, a professor in CBS’ ecology, evolution and behavior department, opposed the merger while it was being discussed. Based on talks with his colleagues, Cotner said, he wasn’t surprised the merger failed.

“I’m glad to put it behind us,” he said.

 

Tony Wagner contributed to this report.