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Ryan Johnson, Published February 04 2013

MSUM looks to reorganize colleges, departments

MOORHEAD – The traditional divisions of colleges and departments at universities might only make sense to academics, but a proposed change at Minnesota State University Moorhead could make sense to everyone – and better prepare students for the modern workforce.

A 13-member academic realignment task force, made up of faculty members, deans and administrators, has spent nearly a year looking at the issue and weighing its options, said Anne Blackhurst, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

The plan calls for reorganizing MSUM’s colleges by career clusters rather than the disciplinary divisions that have long been a fixture of America’s higher education system.

That would involve moving around existing academic departments and bringing them together in new ways, Blackhurst said. For example, a proposed College of Arts and Media would house mass communications, as well as music, theater arts and film majors.

“We’re trying to simulate those working environments within our colleges and give students the opportunity to work together with students pursuing careers that out in the workforce would have to work together and collaborate,” she said.

The plan wouldn’t change faculty or academic administrator numbers, she said, and wouldn’t cut any majors now offered.

But Blackhurst said it could bring about new majors. For example, merging science and health programs under one new college could make it possible to offer training that would prepare students for the booming medical device industry.

The task force also envisions possible new “centers.” Blackhurst said one idea is a Center for Global Health Care Leadership, which could combine elements of business, science, health and psychology.

Student Body President Russel Ferguson said there are some concerns, especially as the state’s budgetary woes have led to big cuts in higher education funding and an increased demand for greater efficiency at public institutions.

He said student leaders see the plans as an “exciting process” that could help better prepare students for their futures.

“If you think about high school and then the real world, with tons of tough jobs that you need a knowledge base for, college is really a stepping stone in between,” he said. “While it’s its own journey, it also has to prepare us for what’s coming next.”

Blackhurst said the task force used several sources of information, including public forums, Minnesota and North Dakota data about projected high-demand occupations over the next decade, and similar processes Arizona State University and St. Cloud (Minn.) State University have gone through in recent years.

The group studied several possibilities, narrowing the ideas to one final recommendation that will be discussed at today’s faculty senate meeting.

Students, too, will have a chance to weigh in from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday during a town hall meeting at the Comstock Memorial Union Ballroom.

President Edna Szymanski will make the final decision, and if she approves the plan, Blackhurst said the goal is to fully transition to the new model by May 2014.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587