In my message last fall, I mentioned that a team of CALS faculty and staff was working on recommendations for organizational changes within the college. In December, the CALS Organizational Redesign Committee submitted its report, and since then we have been working closely with our academic departments to find the best course to take.
You might be wondering why we are exploring alternative ways to organize CALS. Funding for higher education is changing. As state and federal support of public universities declines, tuition takes on a greater share of the costs, and students and their families want to know that they’re getting an excellent education in exchange for their investment. At CALS, we want to exceed their expectations. My goal for the Organizational Redesign effort is to configure CALS in a way that ensures a bright future for our college, the students we teach, and the people we serve through our research and outreach.
Experts tell us that today’s students will likely work in a long series of short-term professional roles. To succeed in this “gig economy,” our students must learn to be superb communicators who can work in diverse, team-based settings. CALS can help them gain these skills by offering collaborative and interdisciplinary academic programs that draw on many perspectives, including the biological and social sciences.
By making our majors more broadly integrative and more closely tied to grand, global challenges, we can better prepare our students for postgraduate opportunities and at the same time grow our enrollments strategically. Recent trends show a decline in interest in some of our academic programs. A modernized structure in which majors with small audiences are repackaged into more interdisciplinary programs can help us counter these trends. So can improvements in our efforts to recruit and retain students. We can reach out to UW undergrads earlier in their campus careers. We can standardize, streamline, and expand our advising services as well as out-of-classroom and capstone experiences. All of these initiatives are in the works.
Changes to academic programs and majors are only in the discussion and planning stages at this point. It will be at least two years before we start admitting students into any new programs and longer before any current majors are closed. And all current students who have declared majors will be able to complete their studies in the fields they have chosen.
Also as a part of our redesign efforts, we are exploring partnerships within CALS that will make us more efficient and return the most on our investments. Soon, discussions with department chairs, faculty, and staff will lead to specific plans for newly merged departments or departmental collaborations that will enhance our academic programs, improve student experiences, and better support and invigorate our research and outreach missions.
I believe that these changes will strengthen our key external partnerships, which inspire and sustain us (and many of which involve our alumni). And no matter what changes we undergo, we will stay true to our signature strengths. CALS will continue to engage in cutting-edge science, support Wisconsin agriculture through applied research and outreach, and offer students a world-class education, including hands-on research and internships.
But only the best organizational structure will allow us to move forward and continue to serve our students and Wisconsin’s communities in new and better ways. I will do all that I can to keep you, our alumni and friends, well informed as we pursue these goals.