Candidates make cases for CLA spot

Four contenders for dean presented their visions for the college.
November 25, 2013

Four higher education leaders from across the country are vying to be the next dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts.

The contenders — Thomas DiPiero, John Coleman, Eugene Borgida and Stephen Esquith — discussed research, budget strategies and the role of a liberal arts education during public interviews at the University from Oct. 29 to Nov. 14.

Each candidate has held both academic and administrative roles previously, which College of Design Dean Tom Fisher, who chairs the search committee, said is required for the open position.

After former CLA Dean James Parente announced last spring his plans to step down from the position, a search committee began recruiting candidates and conducted the public interviews.

Interim Dean Raymond Duvall will hold the position until the new dean — who the University will announce by January — steps in next fall.

The search committee compiled the original candidate list over the summer with the help of Illinois-based executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. The committee narrowed the list further this fall, leaving five candidates.

The fifth candidate withdrew her name from consideration before her Nov. 21 public interview.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson will make the final decision, which is subject to approval by the Board of Regents.

‘The purpose of CLA’

Across the country, society undervalues liberal arts degrees, DiPiero said at his public interview Oct. 29.

DiPiero, the dean of humanities and interdisciplinary studies at the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering at the University of Rochester, said the new CLA dean’s duty is to combat this perception.

“We have to get out there and show that we are involved in every aspect of what goes on,” he said.

Nearly 14,000 students are enrolled in CLA this fall, making it the largest college at the University.

Esquith, dean of Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, said if chosen, he would work to attract and retain students by promoting the role arts and humanities play in society.

“The purpose of CLA is to contribute to the quality of life for the outside community,” he said.

Esquith said his experience creating the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities in 2006 would help him advocate for University of Minnesota majors outside of business and science.

His colleague, MSU physics and astronomy professor Wolfgang Bauer, said Esquith’s passion for the arts translates to how he interacts with students.

“The quality of life is really determined by the liberal arts, and he embodies that,” he said.

Borgida, University of Minnesota psychology and law professor, said at his Nov. 12 public interview that the college should increase internship opportunities with outside employers to show students they can make a living with their liberal arts degrees.

“I don’t think we do as good a job as we could to link these majors to employment prospects,” he said.

Borgida’s colleague, University psychology professor Thomas Brothen, said he could get CLA faculty to collaborate on ways to make a case for the liberal arts.

“He can lead us to the situation where we’re all working together to solve this,” he said.

Coleman, chair of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he’s a “fierce defender and believer” in the value of the liberal arts.

His colleague Melanie Manion, a political science professor at Madison, said Coleman has a long history of advocating for liberal arts education and is popular with his colleagues in the department.

“The stronger the liberal arts and CLA, the stronger and more profound can be the intellectual and instructional collaborations across colleges and schools, which benefits the entire University,” Coleman said.

CLA’s budget problem

In the last three state funding cycles, CLA has suffered budget cuts from decreased funding, which candidates Borgida and Esquith said is one of the biggest issues for the college.

This year’s budget relies on about $45 million from the state, down more than $30 million since 2008.

Esquith said the college should look for places it can save money and find new revenue streams outside of state funding.

“Going to the private sector is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Borgida, who has worked at the University since 1976, said at his public interview that to save money, the college must recruit competitive students and keep tuition dollars in CLA.

The college should also rely on forms of alternative funding and seek more donations from alumni, he said.

A focus on research

As dean, Coleman said, his first step would be making sure faculty members see CLA as “one of the prime places in the country to come and engage in their research.”

It is important to have the adequate resources available to conduct research, he said.

DiPiero said in his public interview that research should be an integral part of the CLA undergraduate experience.

“We need to find avenues for [students] to make and produce new knowledge in their fields,” he said.

Students should be involved in more faculty research and “imagination-grabbing” programs, DiPiero said in his public interview.

“There’s always different ways we can be educating students,” he said. “It’s not always in a three- or four-credit class.”

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