Skip to main content

Office of the Dean

August 2016

Dear Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to welcome you back to campus as we embark upon a new academic year after what I trust was a restorative and productive summer.

As I reflect upon my introduction to the College, I continue to be struck by my earliest impression of this as a place with a deep commitment to and engagement in the world beyond our campus. It is most certainly an appropriate manifestation of Purdue’s Land Grant heritage that in our scholarship and teaching, we are focused on how to address contemporary human challenges. Our focus on understanding and strengthening the human experience is an important distinguishing feature for the College. Our commitment to the application of our knowledge in both our scholarship and educational programs is a significant characteristic that differentiates this college and makes our work essential to Purdue’s commitment to world-changing research and transformative education.

I am particularly pleased with President Mitch Daniels call for Liberal Arts to HELP shape the academic experience of all members of the Class of 2020. At last week’s new student induction ceremony, he encouraged every student to “HELP yourself,” by taking at least one course each in History, Economics, Literature, and Philosophy. This recognition of the centrality of our disciplines to a Purdue education is noteworthy.

I have said before, we must continue to recognize and celebrate our impressive scholarly achievements, as well as our undeniable role on this campus in providing an exceptional education for all Purdue students. At the same time, we cannot dismiss the threats to our disciplines that reverberate across higher education in this country. Pressures and choices outside and also within the College continue to impact our enrollments. Between 2011 and 2015, the College’s enrollments (majors) declined by approximately 38%. Last year overall credit hours declined by 4% compared to the year before, and our share of credit hours delivered on this campus is now 19% (compared to 25% in 2011). We have 48 majors in the College, 20 of which have less than 15 students. As of Aug. 8, we have 193 classes with enrollments of less than 15 students. This represents over 18% of our fall 100-400 level classes. These enrollment trends vary across the College. Some units have experienced more dramatic declines, while other units have experienced modest recovery in majors and credit hours. Still, the overall trend is clear.

Despite these sobering figures, Purdue has maintained and strengthened its commitment to our college. We enjoy approximately the same number of full-time faculty, unchanged levels of support for our graduate students, and increased levels of support for faculty scholarship and creative activity. A recent analysis of internal grant programs confirms the positive impact of this investment on securing external grants and faculty productivity. We must not take the University’s level of support for granted. We must work tirelessly to reinvent ourselves, celebrating our accomplishments, energized by the opportunity for excellence that stands before us.

I believe this college is positioned to evolve and change to put us in a position to make-up for these enrollment losses and to counter lingering questions about the liberal arts that seem to be a consistent refrain in the media. We must play to our strengths in ways that strive towards excellence in all that we do. We must demonstrate the value of applying liberal arts disciplines to society’s problems, while showing that our fields are essential to the future of the modern world. In this way, we can emerge as a place known for our commitment to the creation of knowledge to improve society and educational experiences that prepare students for meaningful careers and inspired leadership.

As the Provost leads the university in a conversation about comprehensive excellence across the institution, we must work to define excellence through the quality and impact of our disciplines and for the College as a whole. The Provost and I aspire to the highest levels of excellence in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and we must actively work toward that goal in each of our disciplines

For our undergraduate majors, that means equipping them for the real world and real jobs.

For our graduate students, that means supporting an appropriate balance between teaching and research in our programs and helping those who want to explore careers outside the academy.

For all Purdue students, that means enriching their education with a broader understanding of the human and societal implications of their fields of study.

Last year, we made meaningful progress on many of these fronts. We are building off of existing advances, such as the Brian Lamb School of Communication’s three-year degree option and online master’s program, over fifty online undergraduate courses, and many vibrant overseas study programs, among other promising innovations.

The Aspire program provided 181 awards to faculty and the PROMISE program provided 185 awards to graduate students to support and disseminate the College’s scholarship.

The Innovate program supported 18 proposals, enterprising efforts to revamp undergraduate education programs, producing new and expanded programs in Medical Humanities, Human Rights, Disability Studies, and Global Studies. Efforts continue to create new programs in Sustainability Studies and Social Enterprises.

We raised minimum stipends for graduate students to $15,000, and many parts of the College have set-aside at least 20% of graduate assistantships to focus on research.

Our revamped undergraduate recruitment efforts yielded an incoming class that is approximately the same size as the year before, marking the first time since 2011 that we have not seen a substantial contraction in undergraduate beginner enrollments. The freshmen include nearly 15% more students from Indiana and over 30% more domestic non-resident students. We will know more about our entering class soon as these figures are subject to change before being finalized by the university in early September.

These are noteworthy results but much more remains to be done.

In the coming year, we will address our goals in many ways with the underlying theme of increasing enrollment, of majors and throughout all of our classes, as a consistent focus.

I have invested $150,000 in the Innovate program to support efforts to enhance the education of our majors and students across campus by reimagining gateway courses, creating Liberal Arts learning communities, and expanding experiential learning opportunities. The program announcement will be distributed this week.

The in-development integrated liberal arts program will bridge the humanities, social sciences, and STEM disciplines and illuminate the dynamic human relationships with the worlds of engineering, technology, science, medicine, business, and public policy. Scheduled to launch in Fall 2017, this program is a key part of our strategy to grow CLA enrollments among non-majors.

Efforts are underway to experiment with the creation of degree maps that will make it possible for students to earn dual-degrees in four years. We are exploring opportunities such as philosophy and computer science, anthropology and forestry, and political science and agricultural economics, among many other potential combinations. We are eager to consider new pairings that respond to the intellectual curiosity of Purdue students.

Several units are working to create three-year degree maps. While these efforts can give our programs an affordability advantage, they give us the opportunity to couple these three-year programs with graduate programs on campus and in partnership with universities around the country and globe to offer 3+1 and 3+2 programs. These advances can allow us to position our undergraduate educational offerings as a gateway to career-launching graduate programs.

As we consider curricular innovation, we will begin a conversation about our core curriculum, determining how those requirements, in conjunction with the University core curriculum, function for students who want to pursue degrees in liberal arts as either a first or a second major.

This year, our career services in the College will grow and turn to a focus on job placement. We will open a dedicated CLA career center in Beering Hall that will work in partnership with Purdue’s Center for Career Opportunities, expand staff in this area, and work to develop partnerships to help our students in their efforts to secure internships and careers. The Job-Ready program again will provide support to students who accept unpaid or low-paid internships to launch their careers.

In all of our efforts to increase enrollments, the College administration will look to the academic units as partners in our endeavor. The staff in recruitment, with support from the marketing and communications team, will provide tools to assist faculty and staff in their conversations with prospective students and will share opportunities to be a part of our recruitment plans.

In support of scholarship and creative endeavor among our faculty and graduate students, the provost and I are pleased to again offer financial support with $500,000 for the Aspire program and $150,000 for the PROMISE program. Both program announcements will be sent this week. Responding to the decision to eliminate the university’s instructional equipment support program, I have worked with the heads to increase S&E funds by an overall average of 47% across the College to offset the impact of this reduction.

The task of communicating the value of applying liberal arts disciplines to address contemporary human challenges is not an easy one, and it is not ours alone. But as we build upon our strengths and our shared commitment not only to this college but also to engaging in crucial dialogues aimed at bettering the world around us, I have every confidence that we will succeed, thrive, and grow. Our pride in our accomplishments will empower us as we face the work before us.

Ours is a broad agenda. We will attack the challenge before us on many fronts. It will require significant effort and often a willingness to consider new ways of thinking. The struggles in the liberal arts are not new, but as we try new things, develop new programs, and muster our collective wisdom and creativity in new ways, we will be limited only by the limits of our imagination and our will. Together, we can emerge as a leader in innovative liberal arts education and scholarship.

I look forward to working toward that goal.


David Reingold

David A. Reingold
Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal Arts