Task forces urge more cooperation across U

Nina Petersen-Perlman

IEditor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series detailing the latest round of strategic positioning task force recommendations. The second part, focusing on the Academic Health Center and metrics and measurement, will run Wednesday.

1nterdisciplinary scholarship and research will help the University reach its goal of becoming one of the top three public research universities, according to the latest set of task force recommendations, released Friday.

Three academic task forces and two research task forces recommended interdisciplinary strategies across the board, starting a public commentary period that is scheduled to last through April 30.

The final recommendations are due May 5.

Linda Thrane, vice president for University relations, said the task force leaders have tried to learn better ways to communicate from the first round of recommendations.

“This has been a learning process every step of the way,” Thrane said. “Undertaking something this huge that hasn’t been attempted on this scale; every day we learn something.”

The University’s realignment process will eventually touch every part of the University, so it’s important for people to pay attention to it, Thrane said.

“Strategic positioning is touching the University top to bottom, front to back,” Thrane said.

College of Liberal Arts

The major CLA task force recommendations include adding 44 faculty positions, starting a junior seminar program and thinking of ways to better combine CLA resources.

One of CLA’s problems as the University’s biggest college is that it lacks a sense of physical identity, the report stated.

Unlike the Carlson School of Management, which is housed in one building, CLA is spread all over the Minneapolis campus. Common meeting spaces would help solve this, said Robert Kudrle, task force co-chairman and Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor.

“You can’t measure community, but you can strive for it,” Kudrle said.

Another problem the report identified is high-demand entry-level courses lacking space and teaching quality.

The recommendation would have the University identify entry-level courses with high levels of withdrawals and D and F grades, and target them for improvement.

With a new emphasis on research, many professors are finding their time stretched between their teaching and administrative responsibilities, said Ann Waltner, task force co-chairwoman and history professor.

“We found a lot of faculty complaining about time spent on committee work or dealing with financial reports,” Waltner said. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and when you do one thing you’re not doing another.”

In following the success of freshman seminars, the recommendations also suggest starting a series of junior seminars. Taught by distinguished faculty members and capped at 25 students, the seminars would fulfill liberal education or major requirements and focus on interconnectedness.

Graduate reform

A major initiative recommended by the graduate reform task force would have the University establish an institute akin to Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute to support and promote interdisciplinary scholarship.

Like the CLA task force, the graduate reform task force identified the size of the University as a physical barrier to promoting interdisciplinary research.

There are also functional, bureaucratic barriers the task force would like to change to facilitate research across departments, said task force co-chairman Stephen Ekker, who is also an associate professor of genetics, cell biology and development.

“We wanted to build a system that would encourage the cross-fertilization of ideas,” Ekker said.

Science/engineering

The science/engineering task force would have the University join with the state and private sectors to form a Science and Technology Interdisciplinary Research Institute.

Faculty members would compete to spend time in the space and get external funding for their projects, said task force co-chairwoman Claudia Neuhauser, who is also the dean of the department of ecology, evolution and behavior.

“We don’t have an interdisciplinary research space here,” Neuhauser said. “We’re proposing that there would be research themes. There would also be external reviews to make sure the research is cutting edge and high quality.”

Research

As a pillar of the University’s realignment plan, two task forces were charged with developing strategies to improve research.

Research infrastructure task force co-chairman Marc Jenkins said that although research is a very important part of the “top-three” plan, it’s not of exclusive importance.

“I think research is very important, and it’s what makes the University different,” Jenkins said. “It should be a very important part of our strategic planning, but, of course, it’s not the only thing we do here.”

The recommendation concerning higher-level research oversight was one of their most important suggestions, Jenkins said.

Colleges are running their own research operations, he said, but to achieve their interdisciplinary research goals there needs to be more cross-collegiate oversight in the office of the vice president.