CLA to clump disciplines

The college’s new dean unveiled a plan to simplify its structure and further its reach in greater Minnesota.

Taylor Nachtigal

The new leader of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts released plans Monday to rework the college into three distinct discipline areas and better arrange a complicated web of departments.

The University’s largest college will begin regrouping its departments next year into three areas — arts, humanities and social sciences — to simplify its current “overly complex and under-structured” layout, according to the plan. The college will also work to strengthen its ties with greater Minnesota to offer students more opportunities, like internships and alumni connections.

New CLA Dean John Coleman presented the plan, called the CLA Roadmap, to faculty members and students Wednesday at the McNamara Alumni Center. The dean said he hopes to produce high-quality graduates by improving existing programs and adding opportunities beyond the classroom, like research and networking.  

“We will become a destination college by renewing our commitment to community. This vision will unite our efforts and drive our hard work,” Coleman said at the event.

He said the changes will improve job placement for graduates, despite some concerns about the practicality of liberal arts degrees.

“During this journey, we will advocate — not apologize — for the liberal arts,” he said.

To oversee the three sections of the redesigned college, the plan calls for an associate dean to lead each “corridor.” Currently, four associate deans oversee the college. The areas they manage are undergraduate programs; planning, research and graduate studies; and faculty affairs.

Coleman, who’s in his first semester at the University, said it’s difficult to communicate with all of CLA’s 31 departments.

“The idea here is that every department knows that they’ll have somebody here who knows that department and all of its various pieces,” he said.

The plan also identifies five goals the college hopes to tackle: career readiness, research, leadership, diversity and community engagement.

“The world and the needs of our students and our society keep changing,” Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson said at the event. “We need to work together to shape a more nimble, innovative and integrative institution that will better serve our students, our stakeholders and the public.”

Both the CLA Roadmap and the University’s 10-year strategic plan focus on greater engagement with Minnesotans, Hanson said — a target CLA leaders say they hope to accomplish through the newly created Minnesota Compact, a forum for sharing research with community members.

The plan also calls for collaboration in research across departments and renewed efforts to earn grants for studies.

“Having the highest research standards attracts and retains top faculty, which attracts undergraduate and graduate students,” Coleman said. “High-quality students attract more great faculty. Research excellence is a virtuous circle.”

College leaders also plan to clarify expectations for academic majors, Coleman said.

Many parents and students have worries about the broad focus of a liberal education, he said, including concerns about employment prospects.

“Let’s eliminate that anxiety,” he said at the event. “We will do that by re-energizing our commitment to the community by graduating the best-prepared students.”

To implement the plan, Coleman will commission a steering committee and “issue groups” for the five goals in the next few weeks. They’ll report back to him with a progress update by Feb. 1.

It will take three to five years to completely implement the plan, Coleman said, but the groups will also identify issues to work on immediately.

Coleman said he hopes to strengthen CLA and show its “central importance” to the University.

“The liberal arts aren’t out off to the side,” he said. “The liberal arts are central to what a land-grant institution is about.”