An Update on Aligning Graduate and Professional Support

Dear Colleagues,

This past spring, I proposed a new model to realign our institutional support for graduate and professional education. The proposal was, in part, a response to concerns expressed by numerous faculty, staff, and students-- concerns expressed to me even when I was interviewing for my position at the University of Minnesota. The proposal is the product of considerable deliberation.

The details of the new model are informed by a set of conversations and analyses over the last two years, as well as by the work of the Special Committee on Graduate Education, which was convened in Fall 2013 by the Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) and me. In an April email, I asked that you share with me your thoughts, questions, or concerns, and I am sincerely grateful for the feedback you provided through many emails, meetings, phone calls, and hallway conversations.

I learned that there is general support for the concept, though also a felt need to clarify a few areas and to make some adjustments. As we proceed with this realignment, there will be aspects that will need careful attention, and we may need to make some corrective adjustments along the way, but please be assured that the revised model will keep budgets stable and will not disrupt the work of faculty or students.

To advance this effort at realignment, I’ve asked Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Henning Schroeder to transition to a new role, beginning in January 2016. In this role, Henning will lead the development of a professional education community, work with professional program leaders to assess needs and priorities, and develop an ongoing forum to sustain discussion of these matters. Henning’s expertise and relationships in both graduate and professional education make him especially well-suited for this role, and he will play a crucial part in launching this new administrative alignment. During the fall semester, Henning will provide leadership for both professional and graduate communities, while working with collegiate leaders to be sure that all our post-baccalaureate programs are appropriately situated to receive relevant administrative support.

I am enormously grateful that Henning will be taking on this role, and grateful for the leadership he has provided to the University in his role as Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education. Since his appointment as vice provost in 2010, and in his previous role as associate dean in the College of Pharmacy, Henning has been a tireless advocate for the importance of our post-baccalaureate educational and research mission, and he has been a visible leader of national and international initiatives related to graduate education and training. He led much of the implementation work that resulted from the University’s restructuring of graduate education begun in 2010, and he has always been a great champion of graduate and professional students and faculty, as well as an effective spokesperson on the importance of graduate education to the University and the state, nation, and world. He is ideally qualified to help oversee and implement this new restructuring.

Later this semester, as the lines of the administrative restructuring become more clearly defined, I will name a search committee to begin the process of identifying the next Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education. I anticipate that this individual will begin that role in early 2016.

With Henning’s help, we will continue to listen to your thoughts about how best to support graduate and professional education and we will continue to shape this administrative restructuring accordingly. I want to share with you now, however, some of the most common themes of the feedback I received this summer. While I have given a short response for each, I strongly encourage you to read the posted “frequently asked questions,” where you’ll find more complete answers. 

What problem is this new structure trying to solve?

Members of the University community experience graduate and professional education differently, depending on their programs, and it is understandable that it is not immediately evident to everyone what issues this realignment is intended to address. The short answer is that the current model does not seem to be grounded on an adequate justification for the coding of our programs. The new model--based on academic distinctions, rather than budget categories or historical habits of record-keeping--will help us respond to requests for program classification, alleviate confusion, and, importantly, mitigate cost pool tensions.

How does this affect my program or students?

Understandably, some wonder what this will mean for students, faculty, or staff. In the short-term, very little. Rather, this alignment provides a foundation for future discussions and administrative decisions. To be clear: program leaders do not need to change internal support structures or diminish or modify in any way any of the professional or research aspects of their degree programs.

Will programs be treated differently? Will we have to change what we call our program or our students?

Some interpreted the language describing the realignment as implying greater value for one community or set of degrees over the other. While there is a fundamental difference in the extent to which external or internal forces shape and ensure quality, the University continues to value both graduate and professional education equally. The feedback we received-- that some of the terminology describing this restructuring inadvertently suggested differential value-- was very helpful and will be considered carefully in future communications.

It must be acknowledged, however, that there is, even now, a concern about using terms like “graduate” and “professional” or “post-baccalaureate.” Please be assured that, while a working agreement on the meaning of these terms is needed for us to be able to communicate about these administrative matters, how students identify themselves or how leaders of academic programs communicate with students need not change. If, for example, students in a program aligned with the professional community have a history of and comfort with calling themselves grad students, they should certainly feel free to continue to employ that appellation.

What policies will apply to what programs?

A number of you raised concerns about the possibility of multiple, perhaps conflicting, policies, resulting in confusion for faculty, staff, and students. The previous effort to restructure graduate education was, however, notably successful in folding most programs under a common set of graduate policies. While it is possible that future conversations might lead to the conclusion that it would in some matters be helpful to tailor a specific policy to either the professional or graduate community specifically, the realignment will not by itself create two competing sets of policies.

How will this affect my program’s budget?

Finally, several inquired about the extent to which the realignment will raise the costs charged to their unit.This model creates no new administrative costs. The creation of the Special Assistant to the Provost position results from redirecting an existing associate dean position in the Graduate School. Any support needed by that position will be provided by existing Provost’s Office staff. Collegiate budgets will be held budget neutral during the year of implementation, with any future increases assigned only to those programs that benefit.

Thank you for your past and future feedback, and for your strong commitment to and support of graduate and professional education. Finally, please join me in thanking Henning for his years of dedication to graduate education and in supporting him in this important new leadership role.


Karen Hanson
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

Email sent to faculty and the administrative email lists (AEL) on the Twin Cities, Duluth, and Rochester on October 8, 2015.