Proposals drive U makeover

Nina Petersen-Perlman

TEDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on the second round of realignment task force recommendations. Look for the second article Thursday.

The University must change the public’s perception of it as the “University of Lake Wobegon” if it wishes to achieve its goal of attracting the world’s best and brightest, according to a recommendation by the honors task force.

It was one of many suggestions made by the 11 strategic positioning task forces that reported their findings Dec. 16 after working since September, kicking off a 45-day commentary period that ends Jan. 27. The other 23 reports will be made public in the first half of this year.

Along with honors, the topics of the task forces ran the gamut from college reorganization to improved student support to new writing standards.

Honors

Honors task force co-chairwoman and political science professor Kathryn Sikkink said Minnesota’s top students aren’t aware of all the University has to offer and thus look for it elsewhere.

To attract them, the task force proposed changes such as creating a unified honors program to make it easier for honors students to take courses in a range of colleges.

“By accepting them not only into a college but into this program, we want to stress these students have access into the whole University,” Sikkink said.

The task force also recommended a Regents Scholar option for honors students who agree to live together in a residence hall for their first year and take a series of “grand challenges” classes together.

Sikkink said one of the most important recommendations the task force made was to expand fast-track acceptance for undergraduates into the University’s professional schools ” a perk Sikkink said would be available for anyone who met the criteria.

“We believe it would be mutually beneficial for both the professional schools and the undergrads,” she said.

Diversity

A common theme in many of the recommendations was making the University a more welcoming and appealing place to people of all backgrounds.

According to the pre-K-12 task force recommendations, which looked into ways to better prepare students for college, it is vital for the University to expend efforts in this arena as the state’s demographics change.

The report states that the number of white students will decrease as the number of nonwhite students increases, resulting in a doubled percentage of nonwhite high school graduates. Currently, one-third of nonwhite K-12 students in Minnesota don’t graduate, and according to the task force, the state work force will not be able to sustain itself without their improved success.

The task force suggests that the University research and fund effective early childhood education, strengthen its high school-to-college enrollment programs and create “high aspirations among all citizens and personal hope about the capability of our educational system to create success for all Minnesotans.”

Louis Mendoza, co-chairman of the diversity task force and Chicano studies department chairman, said room had to be made for diversity in the University’s realignment.

“There are no criteria for what defines the top three universities in the world ” it depends on doing a lot of things well,” he said. “If we adopt the notion that diversity is part of excellence in this complicated world we live in, I think we can achieve both.”

Writing

The report from the writing task force suggested making writing a greater priority.

Donald Ross, writing task force co-chairman and director of the composition program, said the recommendations weren’t based on a perceived writing crisis, but rather a general consensus from employers who wish graduates were better writers.

“It’s a crucial way to get students to think,” Ross said. “It shows the degree to which students understand the material and instructors can get a sense of their education.”

In the task force’s vision, first-year students will have a full year of writing instruction and each department will develop a baccalaureate writing plan that will incorporate writing from the major’s introductory course to its senior project.

Since the plans will be major-specific, “eventually students will have a lot more writing experience relating to their specializations rather than jumping from one to the next,” Ross said.

Commentary period

This isn’t the first time University officials have released task force recommendations during a break from classes.

Tom Sullivan, University vice president and provost, said the commentary period was extended to 45 days to overlap the first weeks of spring session so the University community would have time to respond.

“Comments will be very important to each of the task forces,” he said. “(Task force) members have been looking for them with great interest.”

The task forces will release their final recommendations to the land where “all children are above average” on Feb. 3.