No merger, but a closer relationship

CBS and CFANS may share faculty, facilities and other resources.

by Meghan Holden

After a proposed merger drew mixed reactions from the University of Minnesota community, two colleges will strengthen their ties while staying separate.

As the search process for deans of the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences begins, the two colleges are outlining ways to collaborate after plans for a merger fell through last week.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson made the final decision Wednesday, after a University task force released a report showing that many stakeholders opposed the merger.

“There’s plenty on our plate,” Hanson said.

CBS Dean Robert Elde and CFANS Dean Allen Levine announced plans to step down last year, prompting the merger talks.

Though it rejected the idea, the task force  made a handful of recommendations to improve efficiency by sharing resources across the two colleges.

“The more we can have a culture around here of collaboration, the more we’ll reach the real potential of this University,” said task force member Scott Lanyon.

The task force report, which cited feedback from internal and external stakeholders, found it could be beneficial for the colleges to share faculty in order to decrease redundancy in curricula.

Lanyon, head of the CBS Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, said the University’s current budget model makes it difficult for professors to teach outside their colleges.

“Right now, we don’t do those kinds of courses very often,” he said.

In the report, CFANS students said they would like the option to pursue CBS minors and courses that are currently unavailable to them, and CBS students said they would like access to the CFANS career center.

The task force also recommended the colleges share statewide research and teaching facilities, like with the Itasca Biological Center and Cloquet Forestry Center, in order to maximize use of resources.

In an email to CFANS faculty and staff last week, interim Dean Brian Buhr said that by increasing its work with CBS, the college would stay current with “technological and societal changes in the biological, agricultural and environmental sciences.”

“We can do more to collaborate, and we will,” he said in the email.

Buhr will serve as interim dean until the University selects a permanent one, which likely won’t happen before the end of summer. Hanson said the University will appoint an interim CBS dean this semester.

Other recommendations from the task force report may be included in the deans’ job descriptions, she said.

The ideas in the report will be reviewed by a team of faculty, staff, students and administrators — a strategic planning workgroup that Hanson leads — and may be used in a 10-year plan for the Twin Cities campus.

“Now we need to figure out how to move forward and still gain benefits,” Lanyon said.