In Graduate School restructuring, question substance over process

April 08, 2009

Once in a while, the University of Minnesota has the opportunity to do something really bold, to lead the pack of public research universities.
That time has potentially arrived with the effort to restructure graduate education, if we don’t allow ourselves to get mired in “process” questions at the expense of “substance” questions. Too often, at Minnesota, we avoid the substance questions and spend an inordinate amount of time snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Something is getting lost in the discussion over restructuring graduate education at the University, and I believe it is the substance question. Let’s be clear that a large, centralized graduate school is not the only way to accomplish the goal of excellence in graduate education. MIT doesn’t think so. Stanford doesn’t think so. The University of Pennsylvania doesn’t think so. The University of Chicago doesn’t think so. These are just a few of the major universities that have managed to keep their excellence high and I would daresay exceed Minnesota in a number of graduate education fields. So let’s be clear at the outset that there is no single way to build or to assure excellence in graduate education.
Models that have worked well for a century are not necessarily the best or most cost-effective models for the future. The time is here for Minnesota to take the next steps toward envisioning and organizing vibrant, innovative, high-quality graduate programs that are responsive to changing field and market conditions and that empower college faculty and deans to be responsible and accountable to make them so. For once, let’s have the substance discussion and try snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

John Finnegan
Dean, School of Public Health

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