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Monday, December 21, 2020

Top ten CLA facts and happy holidays

In a normal year — i.e., a year that is not 2020 — I would have delivered State of the College remarks early in the fall semester. This year, it seemed best to move those remarks to the spring after we’d made it through the fall and had some better sense of the state, University, and collegiate budget and fiscal situation. 

Two years ago we introduced the State of the College Data Deck, designed to provide an overview each fall of important information about the college. The 2020 edition is now available. My thanks to CLA Chief Financial Officer Brent Gustafson for his extensive efforts pulling the deck together and for his prodigious patience when I would suggest yet one more tweak.

Friday, December 4, 2020

State budget forecast and the implications for the U and CLA

 Minnesota Management and Budget, the state budget office, released updated state budget projections earlier this week. Their revised projections were favorable. Previously, the office had forecast a state budget deficit for the current year, Fiscal Year 2021. With the revision, the projection is now for a surplus for this fiscal year. This change doesn’t directly affect the University’s current budget, but it does reduce if not eliminate any requirement from the state for agencies and universities to find savings to plug a budget hole. 

The University, as President Gabel recently shared, does have a projected FY21 deficit of $150-175 million, spread across all units and campuses and including areas such as athletics, dining, and housing in addition to the academic enterprise. At next week’s meeting, the Board of Regents will discuss the tools available to address that shortfall. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Committee on International Programs established

The Committee on International Programs (CIP) is a new addition to CLA's consultative bodies. The committee’s purpose is to provide advice and guidance to the college on: 

  • the direction and development of international programs within CLA; 
  • issues affecting international studies, research, and students in the college and at the U; 
  • ways in which CLA’s activities link to broader international initiatives at the University of Minnesota; and 
  • responses to issues at the campus level on international-related matters. 
CIP will address issues related to the role of internationalization in teaching, research, and engagement and will consider ways in which internationalization promotes CLA Roadmap goals in these areas as well as the ways in which internationalization deepens collegiate and University goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Update on Civic Readiness Initiative

A year ago in my State of the College remarks, I announced the Civic Readiness Initiative and described it as building off of our strengths in the liberal arts:

Liberal arts disciplines excel at seeing the world through the eyes of others. In that sense, empathy is a skill and approach that is repeatedly provided to our students. A liberal arts culture is one that understands that if you expect to be heard, you must also be able to listen. This is not about timid and restrictive “civility,” but about the ability to engage in robust and passionate dialogue, discussion, disagreement, and debate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Final fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment results

As the scope and scale of the pandemic's effects on higher education became apparent during the spring, institutions across the country were concerned about fall enrollment. 

Some of the results reported by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center have been unsettling. Freshmen enrollment across the country is down 16% nationwide. First-year community college enrollment is down 23%. Total undergraduate enrollment -- which includes new students and continuing students -- across all types of institutions is down 4%. Four-year for-profit colleges showed an increase of undergraduate enrollment by 3% over last fall, but all other institution types were down. 

That's the national picture. CLA also saw the pandemic's impact on our enrollment, but fortunately not at the level seen nationwide. In CLA, we welcomed 2339 freshmen students in fall 2020. That number excludes a larger than usual number of deferrals to spring and fall 2021. Our 2019 fall incoming class of first-year students was 2607, thus we were down in 2020 by a little over 10%.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Workgroup on Curricular Opportunities

(This charge letter was sent to the members of the workgroup on October 15, 2020.) 

Thank you for agreeing to serve on the CLA Workgroup on Curricular Opportunities (WCO). 

The workgroup's charge is to think through curricular and programmatic opportunities for CLA. This list could include:

  • Opportunities that could provide inventive programs (e.g., minors or certificates) that span across departments or colleges that would be attractive for undergraduates in CLA or might be targeted outside CLA.
  • Post-baccalaureate possibilities (e.g., professional certificates around DEI or racial equity or analytics or health given the growing demand and interest in these areas).
  • Maintaining this year’s momentum of summer programming and enrollment. 
  • Making more complete use of our academic calendar through increased use of shorter courses. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

CLA budget facts 1001

Over the past six months, you’ve been hearing frequently from me and from President Gabel about college and University finances, respectively. Those communications have focused on the pandemic’s fiscal impact. 

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Allison Vaillancourt that took a step back from pandemic-influenced finances for a more general examination. The article is titled “What if Everyone on Campus Understood the Money?

Ms. Vaillancourt reports that, “Whenever I give talks on this subject to higher-ed audiences, I often ask them to take a pop quiz about their own institutions. . . . Most faculty and staff members — and a significant percentage of academic and administrative leaders — struggle to provide correct responses to all or even most of those questions.”

Monday, September 28, 2020

DEI summit, actions, and focus areas

On August 26, over 80 CLA staff and faculty members gathered virtually for our first annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit. The event, originally scheduled for March, was a coming together of departmental DEI committee members and representatives from every department and unit at CLA. The summit aimed to help connect resources and colleagues, discuss what has been successful in departmental DEI work, what challenges departments face in this space, and what the college could do to assist departmental DEI efforts. A similar summit will be held for CLA administrative units in October. 

Thirteen small groups discussed these questions and reported back to the larger group. A document collating the group conversations is now online, and I encourage you to take a look in whichever way and to whatever depth you’d like. There is a lot of lived experience and creative thinking to explore in the document. Let me know what resonates and what strikes you as action steps that CLA should consider. CLA’s leadership team will be reading through all of the group reports to identify some key themes for action.

Friday, September 18, 2020

First glance at fall enrollment numbers and welcoming new faculty

I hope that your transition into the fall semester has gone reasonably smoothly. Many of the issues we’ve wrestled with over the late spring and summer to get ready for the fall have now settled into the routine of the fall semester, if one can label anything “routine” these days. Students moved into the residence halls this week and previously scheduled in-person classes that were moved to online or remote status for the first two weeks of the semester will begin to meet in person on Monday. 

Over the course of the summer, concerns about student enrollment in the fall were elevated around the country given the unusual nature of instruction and the college experience during the pandemic. This concern was true for us in CLA as well. Although we won’t have the official University reporting until after the 10th day of instruction, here’s how things are looking at the moment. Currently, first-year enrollment is at about 2400, which is 150 below the target we were aiming for. (A little history: CLA’s target had been 2450 prior to this year but based on our solid recruiting over the past five years we advocated successfully in summer 2019 to increase the target to 2550 for the incoming fall 2020 class. I don’t recall “but what about the pandemic” being on our agenda for that meeting, alas.) For transfer students, the college is currently at about 1125 new students, which is 125 lower than our target. The college also granted around 130 requests for a delayed start by one semester or one year. Those 130 students are in addition to the 3525 first-year and transfer students mentioned above. I will report on graduate student recruitment and enrollment in a future message.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Budget contingency plans and update

 Over the past several weeks I’ve shared with you an update on how the college closed out fiscal year 2020 as well as our initial fiscal steps in response to the pandemic

The “initial fiscal steps” post provides information on what we submitted to central for “Contingency Plan 1” in response to the fiscal effects of the pandemic. That post also provides more general information and background on the process and the targets we needed to meet. 

In late July, we submitted a list of items for “Contingency Plan 2.” As with Contingency 1, these items needed to total $7.4 million. The items submitted for Contingency 2 included:

Thursday, August 13, 2020

"Back to school" unlike any year before

(Message sent to CLA alumni, August 12, 2020.)

Many in our alumni community have reached out with questions about what campus will look like this fall, what safety measures will be in place, what students can expect, and more. While we don’t have all the answers amid what is an inherently dynamic situation, below is an idea of what we anticipate. 

First, the University is asking all students, faculty, and staff to do their part by following the protocols of the "Stop the Spread of COVID-19” campaign. This includes social distancing, hand washing, taking temperatures, and more. All University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff, and visitors will also be required to use a face covering when in any enclosed or indoor space on University campuses and properties with face shields available for instructors.

And all academic spaces—University and departmentally administered—that are scheduled for in-person classes this fall will be stocked with sanitizing wipes for instructor and student use, as well as disposable masks for students who forget their face covering. 

Read at CLA site

Friday, July 31, 2020

Fall 2020 undergraduate enrollment preview

You’ve heard references to “summer melt” before. Summer melt refers to students who make a deposit confirming they will attend the University in the fall but then have a change of mind and do not enroll. Every summer comes with melt. Around the country, pretty much every higher education institution is carefully following the melt this year because nearly all institutions assume the melt will be higher. A higher melt can lead to enrolling a smaller class than expected, which can of course lead to budgetary challenges.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Budget results for fiscal year 2020

During the last academic year, I filled you in on the results of the Compact process, the fiscal challenges created by the pandemic and some of our initial steps, as well as some of the general pre-pandemic financial issues faced by the college. In that latter message, I wrote that “CLA’s budget has been basically sound in recent years, with end-of-year surpluses in fiscal years 2015 through 2018. In fiscal 2019, however, we had to draw more on our carry-forward and reserve funds than we’d prefer. We’ve been aggressive in faculty hiring and in other college and department initiatives that advance the CLA Roadmap, which I have viewed as absolutely necessary. However, we do need to be mindful to align our resources and expenses because reserves are not a well we can draw on excessively.”

We have now concluded fiscal year 2020 and the good news is that we held roughly steady with our draw from carryforward. The bad news is that we held roughly steady with our draw from carryforward.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Initial fiscal steps in response to the pandemic

In previous messages, I’ve discussed some of the financial challenges brought on by or exacerbated by the pandemic. As you’ll recall, the University developed a COVID-adjusted budget for fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021). And the University required every unit to submit spending reductions of 3% and 6% in what were labeled Contingency 1 and Contingency 2. 

For CLA, once we set aside the campus-level and system-level cost pools we must contribute toward, the 3% reduction for Contingency 1 amounts to 4.5% of the spending that we actually control. Our Contingency 1 target was $7.4 million in spending reductions. To use some budgetary jargon, that’s a lot. Our list of contingency reductions was due to central on June 20 and I want to update you on what we submitted. I’m grateful to the Council of Chairs and others who collaborated productively and constructively as we generated the list. 

These items were included on the 3% list submitted to central:

Friday, July 10, 2020

Supporting our international students

This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made changes around regulations regarding international students taking classes remotely or online. These changes would have significant deleterious effects on our students and our mission. 

As background: Pre-COVID, an international student in the United States could only take three credits of online coursework while the remainder had to be in person. During spring and summer, due to the situation created by the pandemic, a change in the regulations permitted all course work to be completed remotely while the student could remain in the country. The new policy announced for fall requires students at institutions like the U that are following a hybrid model (some in-person instruction, some remote) to have at least one course with some in-person content. The class itself could be a hybrid class. Students who do not receive some in-person instruction would be subject to removal from the country and, for new and continuing students currently outside of the country, an inability to enter the country.

Monday, June 29, 2020


In CLA, our commitments to research and creative excellence, to meaningful community partnerships, to being a place where one can thrive professionally, and to life-transforming instruction, provide us with a platform for meaningful impact in diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

From the unsettling of assumptions and the raising of new questions in the arts, to humanities and social science research on race, indigeneity, gender, and sexuality across multiple methodologies, the college has much to offer at this moment. Initiatives like the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshop and the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub bring together interdisciplinary scholarly efforts focused on issues of opportunity, race, and social justice. Collaborations such as the Race, Indigeneity, and Sexuality Studies Initiative and the Black Midwest Initiative have likewise been important arenas for this work. Supporting cross-departmental programs such as these, in addition to the work of our individual departments, provides a strong foundation for the college’s work in this area.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Statement of our mourning and our resolve

Today we move forward with resolve after yesterday’s memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis.

We grieve George Floyd’s death not only because we bore witness to the horrifying video of his killing, but because his life marks another African American life fatally devalued in a society in which racial inequities have stood for far too long.
Systems that allow for such atrocities must change. 


(A message sent to CLA faculty and staff on June 5, 2020.)


That’s a word that should have been said long ago, but it’s a word that runs like a river through the past few weeks.

It’s a word that inspires determination to achieve justice and accountability in the case of the murder of George Floyd, and to build a more equitable and just society. It’s a word that inspires neighbors to express compassion and help others with food, supplies, protection, cleanup, and financial support.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

On the death of George Floyd

(A message sent to CLA faculty and staff on May 27, 2020 and CLA undergraduate and graduate students on May 28, 2020.)

Disgusting. Infuriating. Tragic. Heartbreaking.

Those are words that came quickly to mind when I first learned of the outrageous and senseless death of George Floyd. To then watch a slow-motion killing is one of the most horrifying sights imaginable. And to see the cruel casualness by which it all happened, by which a man had his life taken away, was an assault to the senses.

Mr. Floyd was an African American man. It is difficult to fully understand what happened on Chicago Avenue without centering the basic fact that race ran through the entire sordid event.

I know that many staff, students, and faculty in our CLA community are hurting right now and grieving. For our African American colleagues and students, this event is one more distressing reminder of the danger and fear they, their family members, and their children must navigate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Initial outcomes from the fiscal year 2021 Compact process

I reported to you in January about the campus Compact process for fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1, 2020. At that time I wrote:

"In this year’s Compact process, CLA will need to put $1.84m on the table for reallocation. On the investment side, if everything goes according to plan -- the Regents approve tuition increases at the planned-for level, reallocation targets are met, and so on -- there will be about $7.75m for academic investments across the System, but much of that will be consumed by plugging budget holes at various campuses and colleges. Thus, the message is that there is not much available for additional investment, so only emergency requests should be submitted."

"If everything goes according to plan" may well be the funniest words ever written. They've got to be up there in the top five. Ah, for the innocence of youth and the warm and fuzzy memories of the halcyon days of January.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Commencement remarks to the Class of 2020

(These remarks were prepared for delivery for CLA's Virtual Commencement, May 16, 2020.)

Hello, class of 2020. In a typical year, I’d be talking with you from the stage at Mariucci. I’d be wearing a mortar board and academic robe, and you would, too.

I know this isn’t the Commencement that you -- or any of us -- imagined when you started your last semester here at CLA.

There’s something powerful about the traditional graduation ceremony. The music, the graduation gowns. Hearing your name, crossing the stage, receiving your diploma. And sharing that experience with your friends, family, and classmates. We’re all missing that traditional experience right now.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

CLA and Covid-19 resources

CLA's extensive Covid-19 resource page is at z.umn.edu/cla-covid19. This page includes FAQ, pointers to further resources, guidance by topic, and an archive of communications.

Research related to Covid-19 and pandemics by CLA faculty is at z.umn.edu/clacovidresearch

CLA is also participating fully in the summer curriculum related to the coronavirus and pandemics

Career Services for undergraduates and graduates both feature pages related to the career launch during a time of pandemic. 

CLA held a Town Hall for alumni and friends on April 17, featuring our Student Board president, several administrative leaders and faculty, and me discussing the college's operational response to the pandemic. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The pandemic and college and university finances

As we all work through the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for how we fulfill our mission at the University, some things have come into clearer view. Collectively, we are developing a better sense of the capabilities, upsides, and downsides of tools such as Zoom, and what works best in that environment. We see where our students and our colleagues are thriving and adapting, and where there are challenges. Daily, we learn where our colleagues need more time and flexibility to get to their work amidst other demands on their time at home or in the community. Policies and practices and requirements are being reviewed in departments and in college offices to see where they can be streamlined, converted to digital, or scrapped if not needed. 

Not yet as clear are the implications of the pandemic on the University’s and college’s financial health.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tackling the challenge of Covid-19 head on

(Message sent to CLA alumni and friends, March 17, 2020)

Dear Friends of CLA,

Throughout the past few weeks, and especially in recent days, the news about COVID-19 has increasingly occupied our thoughts and energy. The surge in cases across the world and in Minnesota have made us all think ever more of each other’s needs. 

In CLA, we have discussed our concerns for our students; our alumni, friends, and donors; our faculty, staff, and community partners; and all of those around us. We have shared our worries for friends, neighbors, and family members whose lives have been abruptly turned upside down through isolation, health fears, and the loss of income. Like you, we hear inspiring stories of clear-thinking, collaboration, and caring. I’ve said to you often that the disciplines of the liberal arts teach one empathy and how to see the world through others’ eyes. I have had the privilege from my vantage point to see that play out every day during these past weeks and days.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

American Indian student progress at the U of M

A recent report explored the improvement in graduation rates for American Indian students at the U. I’m grateful for the deep commitment and wide reach of our American Indian Studies Department and for faculty, staff, and students across CLA and the U whose dedicated work contributed to this improvement. The Hechinger Report conducted the research and MPR featured the news.

Responding to online harassment

CLA and the U are working to improve support for faculty and others subject to online harassment due to their research or teaching. Online harassment can happen from any ideological direction and certainly can have a chilling effect. As scholars, we expect robust feedback and disagreement when we enter into the world of ideas, and we don’t expect to be shielded from that. But hateful, profane, doxxing, and threatening “feedback” is another matter. A torrent of awful messages which can sometimes verge on the threatening or be threatening is another matter. Academic freedom is a paramount value of mine and of the college. The University has set up a page to guide faculty and chairs in the steps to take when harassment occurs. Please bookmark z.umn.edu/stoponlineharassment. In the college, we are continuing to examine ways to improve our responses when harassment occurs and to share recommended first steps.

Liberal arts as the front page of the newspaper

I often say that CLA’s work is front-page news, that every day our faculty study the most pressing challenges facing communities around the world. Whether it’s the economy, governance, literature, global and international issues, educational equity gaps, ethics, crime, the arts, film, race and ethnicity, transformations in media and communications, or much, much more, the research and creative work we do in the liberal arts is on the front page of the paper, whether in print or online.

Over the past six years, we’ve been working to do a better job supporting that work and communicating what we do. On the communications side, this video is one example, highlighting CLA faculty who are exploring topics spanning dark matter to political coups from the perspective of disciplines ranging from dance to statistics. (Previous versions of the research video: 2015; 2016; 2018; 2019 [Scholars of the College].)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

There’s research on that*

We believe strongly in the power of research, as we should at an R-1 institution, but it’s probably fair to say that many of us are not familiar with and don’t apply the findings from a very copious literature on how we can better boost student learning. Just like methodologies for our research or creative work, methodologies for effective teaching change over time. The students we teach are also changing, are more diverse, and have grown up in a world vastly different in many ways -- certainly technologically -- from that of previous generations. Whether you’re new to the University or want to take a fresh approach to a topic you’ve taught before, the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) can help you advance your teaching and engage learners. It’s a great resource and I’ve read of many instances where CLA faculty gained much from working with CEI. Be sure to check out the workshops page for short sessions offering practical tips for the classroom, grading, and assignments. (*With due credit to The Society Pages for the heading.)

Civic readiness and equity gap updates

Toward the end of last semester, we convened two workgroups to have an initial discussion on initiatives I described earlier in the fall in my State of the College address: the Civic Readiness Initiative and addressing equity gaps in our classes. The Civic Readiness Initiative helps students to develop their capacity to engage in productive discussion and dialogue across differences, expose themselves to diverse perspectives, and enhance their ability to see the world through others’ eyes; provide public-facing programming and events; and advance other goals including supporting research in areas such as news and digital literacy and societal polarization. Work on the equity gap concerns what kinds of information and strategies instructors would find helpful to examine and respond to disparities in grading at the course and department level. If you would like to learn more or be involved in these initiatives, please contact me.

Annual spring budgetary processes

As the new year turns toward spring, many annual processes kick into high gear in departments and in the college. And at the campus level, academic units engage in the annual Budget/Compact process with Central. I’ve described the Compact process in past years in terms so moving it has led readers to appreciative tears of joy. At least, that’s my interpretation and I’m sticking to it. If you’d like to learn more about the results of last year’s process or how the Compact process works, please follow the link above. For now, I apologize for the length of this budget overview but do want you to have the information.