The future of liberal arts

The 2015 report provides a grim but realistic outlook for CLA.

Editorial board

The College of Liberal Arts 2015 CommitteeâÄôs CLA 2015 report, released Monday, takes a sobering yet optimistic look at the issues the college must confront in the next few years. Overall, it makes innovative recommendations that will not only help the college to weather the economic downturn, but also provide students with a liberal arts education that prepares them for the 21st century.

The mere existence of this report should raise eyebrows at the state Legislature, where our lawmakers have been slashing higher education funding for years. The report should be required reading for every one of them.

Nationwide, colleges have taken different approaches to deal with similar decreases in state funding. Many, like the University of Minnesota, have increased tuition and opened their doors to more private money. Some have shuttered entire departments.

The committee recommends greatly decreasing the number of CLA undergraduate programs and majors. Although it does not recommend outright âÄî as the interim report did âÄî that âÄúthe college should have half or fewer of the degree programs than it has now,âÄù the final report does envision a CLA with fewer yet higher-quality departments. The hope is to retain only âÄúsignatureâÄù undergraduate programs with distinct features that can draw students from across the country.

Included in the reportâÄôs vision are many excellent ideas, especially with regard to undergraduate education. Among the 13 recommendations its makes specifically for undergraduates, many fall under the theme of making programs operate in a âÄústudent-centric mannerâÄù and encouraging students to have more experiences in the larger Twin Cities community and globally, as well as making degree programs more flexible to accommodate studentsâÄô diverse needs.

This vision is much the same for graduate programs. Those that survive after cuts and amalgamations will be programs âÄúof distinction.âÄù Unlike changes to the undergraduate programs âÄî which do not envision a decrease in the total number of students âÄî the CLA 2015 report recommends that the total number of graduate students be cut so as to increase support for those who remain.

Overall, the tone of the report and the co-chairs who headed the CLA 2015 Committee are both realistic and optimistic. They acknowledge the challenges that the college faces but see the changes that must be made as an opportunity to improve the college for undergraduates, graduates, staff and faculty.

It is distressing that, as the report states, âÄúAny cost reductions would be futile if they did not protect undergraduate tuition revenue.âÄù Undergraduates, especially those from out of state, seem to be viewed as revenue-generators for the college while graduate students are a drain on the collegeâÄôs finances. ItâÄôs also distressing that out of all the UniversityâÄôs colleges, its largest one, CLA, has suffered the most in cutbacks.

Now that the report is complete, the decision to begin implementation of its recommendations lies in the hands of CLA Dean Jim Parente.  Students should still have a strong voice in the process and he should listen to them. Thursday and Friday, there will be two town hall meetings during which students, staff and faculty can voice their opinions. Even though these meetings will not change the reportâÄôs recommendations, it is an opportunity to influence how the recommendations are implemented. We urge anyone to take advantage of that opportunity.