Merger task force takes temperature

Officials are inviting input on the possible merger of CBS and CFANS.

Meghan Holden

A task force of professors and students is weighing the future of two University of Minnesota colleges — and it’s asking for input.

The group is considering whether to combine the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. In the process, it will be listening to the concerns of students, faculty, staff and external stakeholders.

The University first announced the possible merger in September.

In January, the 19-member task force will send a report detailing the advantages and disadvantages of a combined college to Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Hanson and University President Eric Kaler will then make the final decision, though a date for that hasn’t been set, said Michael Sadowsky, the task force co-chair.

Listening sessions facilitated by University-hired firm The Inventure Group begin Wednesday and continue through Dec. 18.

In addition to the 11 listening sessions, the task force is reviewing more than 700 survey responses from students, staff, faculty and outside constituents, Sadowsky said.

Honest feedback from all stakeholders is vital to the report, he said.

“We want people to have the freedom to talk,” he said.

The decision will have far-reaching effects.

CFANS’ future is crucial to the state’s soybean production, said Paul Meints, research programs manager at the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

MSGA donates about $1 million annually to University research and extension activities, he said.

A combined college could be beneficial for students and the state, Meints said, provided it continues its extension service, through which CFANS gives research findings to the state.

“We want to make sure that the research we rely on continues to be excellent,” Meints said. “We need them to stay strong on our behalf.”

At the University, students, staff and faculty remain split on the possibility of a combined college.

Karen Sprengeler, CFANS student services coordinator, said students’ opinions within the college are “all over the board.”

Some students were concerned about access to courses, the school’s relationship with outside stakeholders and the continuance of certain CFANS majors, she said.

Sprengeler said she doesn’t have a set opinion on the combined college yet but will listen to other staff members’ thoughts at one of the designated listening sessions this month.

“It’s really pretty up in the air at this point,” she said.

Neuroscience senior Carly Dahl, who plans to attend a student listening session, said although she’s graduating, the future of CBS is important to her.

She said she’s worried that a new college could hurt CBS students when applying for jobs or to professional schools.

“They know your curriculum is very rigorous and it’s hard to get in, so you excelling in [CBS] means a lot,” she said. “I think that needs to be maintained.”