Graduate ed. reform moves forward

Recommended changes focus on a decentralized grad. school with direct funding to specific colleges.

The process of restructuring graduate education at the University of Minnesota is moving forward, as work groups charged with developing restructuring recommendations plan to deliver their final report to Provost Tom Sullivan on Friday. Nearly three months after the recommendations were posted for public comment, the student administrative processes work group and the academic issues work group finalized their report Monday. The groups made many minor changes to the report but did not change the fundamental ideas from the original recommendations, Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the student administrative processes work group and dean of the College of Continuing Education, said. These recommendations focus on moving toward a more decentralized graduate school and giving responsibility and funding directly to colleges instead of going through the graduate school. This would give college deans and department heads more responsibility and control over decisions on issues such as financing, the quality of programming and minor curriculum changes. Most changes incorporated many of the comments the groups received and clarified language, Dean of Graduate Education Henning Schroeder said. The work groups were commissioned by Sullivan in September to create a comprehensive report with recommendations for the restructuring of the graduate school following a rocky start to the process. The University announcement in February 2009 that the graduate school would no longer be a free-standing unit but would be decentralized was met with anger and frustration about the lack of transparency and communication. Most of the recommendations save the University money by delegating responsibility to the individual colleges, he said. He also acknowledged that while some of the changes will require investments, especially the shift to more digital processes, the University has budgeted for this and has made graduate education a priority in determining funding. Despite the University’s budget concerns, the graduate school restructuring process shouldn’t be hindered or delayed, Schroeder said. The work groups had originally planned to have the recommendations to the provost by the end of March or early April, but there were some delays because of the volume of comments, Schroeder said. The groups wanted to go through each comment and decide if and how the issue could be incorporated into the final recommendations, he said. The groups held five public forums as well as personal meetings with graduate students, staff and faculty, and received many e-mails and phone calls throughout the process, Schroeder said. The groups have also been working to figure out the financial details of implementing the plan, Nichols said. “We had a subcommittee looking at the numbers to make sure we clearly understand the implications of implementing the recommendations,” Nichols said. “We want to be very sure-footed financially moving forward.” There is no deadline for the provost to approve or revise the recommendations, but he will try to move the process forward quickly, Sharon Reich Paulsen, associate vice president and chief of staff for the provost’s office, said. The provost plans to meet with the chairs of the work groups and Schroeder, he and will also discuss the recommendations with the Board of Regents and other University leaders like President Bob Bruininks, she said. The recommendations will also be posted on the provost’s website, she said. “There will be a transitional period, of course, because while some colleges well equipped for that shift, some may need support to figure out how to best make the transition,” John Finnegan, chairman of the academic issues work group and dean of the School of Public Health, said. Some of the changes recommended are already in motion, Finnegan said, especially the push to bring the graduate school forward technologically. “We need to bring a lot of the processes at the graduate school into the digital age, which is a process we’ve started but we need to speed up,” he said. One of the first major changes will be visible starting this summer, Schroeder said, when colleges, rather than a central graduate school, will have the funding and responsibility for recruiting students for fall 2011. The plan also reworks graduate student advising, increasing accountability for advisers and setting clearer guidelines for students and faculty — an issue graduate students have been especially concerned with. The proposal plans to create a new group called the Graduate and Professional Education Assembly, which would 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. While finalizing the recommendations moves the process forward, Finnegan said, the work is just starting. “This is really only the formal beginning of the process,” he said. “There’s still a boatload of tasks to faculty, staff and the University to move this forward.”