Groups weigh in on Grad School restructuring

After more than four months of deliberation and discussion, the two work groups in charge of shaping a new direction for the University of Minnesota Graduate School are gathering public opinion for final proposals. The academic issues work group and the student administrative processes work group released restructuring proposals Feb. 3. The groups will reconvene in early March to finalize and present the proposals to Provost Tom Sullivan, who would move them to University administration for approval. The proposals focus on moving toward a more decentralized graduate school, where individual colleges have more control over decisions on issues such as financing, the quality of programming and minor curriculum changes. “You’ve got to do this where the rubber meets the road,” said John Finnegan, chairman of the academic issues work group and dean of the School of Public Health. “This will give the individual collegiate units far more responsibility, accountability and authority to deal with their own graduate programs.” Decentralization under the proposals would allow major changes in master’s degree programs to move directly from the colleges to the Board of Regents, bypassing the Graduate School. “If the leadership in the college has more input from the beginning, you will see better quality programs,” said Henning Schroeder, dean of graduate education. Doctoral programs, however, would still need to be approved in the Graduate School under a new review panel but would avoid going through the multiple levels of bureaucracy currently in place at the Graduate School. The overall goal of the work groups was to find out more about what graduate students want and need, Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the student administrative processes work group and dean of the College of Continuing Education, said at one of the group’s four public forums. “It was really important for us to put students first and find out which areas work better decentralized and which should be centralized,” she said. “We wanted to streamline the process of graduate education.” Representatives from the two committees have held four public forums on the proposal, and a fifth will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 in Walter Library. The public is encouraged to call or e-mail committee members with suggestions or comments. In the proposal, the role of the vice provost and dean of graduate education — a position currently held by Schroeder — would change to that of a leader and organizer, Finnegan said. “He is going to be a very key leader in graduate program development, strategic planning and accountability,” Finnegan said. “He will be a convener and a catalyst in urging new ideas and maintaining quality standards in the Graduate School.” Bringing the Graduate School into the 21st century technologically is also an issue addressed by the proposals. “This University has made major investments in technology to really enhance the undergraduate programs, such as APAS,” Finnegan said. “But they have not invested in technology in the Graduate School at the same rate we have at the undergrad program. We need to bring graduate education and programs into the digital age.” Other changes to the current system include more guidelines for graduate student advising for students and faculty. Changes to advising include creating more specific University-wide advising guidelines and providing rewards and incentives for effective advising. “For a lot of students, their time to graduation is heavily influenced by their advising, and with some students, their adviser is also their main source of funding,” said Mandy Stahre, president of the Council of Graduate Students. “Issues in advising can really affect students directly.” Some faculty, staff and students have raised concerns about the lack of detail in the proposal regarding some issues, but the committees have said this will not be a catch-all proposal. “These two reports together are not going to create a fully baked graduate cake, though it is definitely going to get you a long way there,” Finnegan said. “We recognize there are quite a number of other issues that are going to require some attention to detail we are not able to give.” Other worries have been whether the proposal will be able to be implemented, especially considering the University’s financial situation. “Overall I’m happy with the proposal, but we actually want to see it happen this time,” Stahre said. Notes in the report reference similar proposals from the past 20 years or so, none of which have come to fruition. “When we got into this we discovered that committee after committee has made the same recommendations for 20 years, but only a few of those changes have been implemented over the years,” Finnegan said. The proposal also plans to create a new group called the Graduate and Professional Education Assembly, which would likely meet a few times a year and function as a continuous forum for new ideas and discussion on issues surrounding graduate education both inside and outside the University. Budget issues have also caused the University to consider more centralized programs, which is the opposite direction leaders of the Graduate School want to go in, Stahre said. Despite concerns, the committees hope to use the opportunity to improve the graduate experience. “Undergrad education has really improved over the years, and I’d like to see the same dynamic happen with graduate education too,” Finnegan said. “Our students and faculty deserve it.”