Dear Faculty and Staff,

We have engaged in a great deal of activity in the past several days. Since the announcement earlier this month related to changes to our academic portfolio at the College, we have moved forward on several fronts and are now at a place to be able to report on some of this progress.

As noted in the webinar and follow up communications, the next step in the process is creating a framework and implementation plan around key areas of focus. All of which is directed at advancing our future state. Implementation planning will begin in earnest in June.

This next phase continues the work recommended by our ad hoc committee regarding the future state of our university, which was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Trustees. Now an Implementation Steering Committee has been appointed to oversee several project teams, which are outlined below.

We are happy to report that two of our deans, Dr. Michelle Wieser and Dr. Darren Row, have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the steering committee for the implementation work ahead. The other members who have agreed to serve are Dr. Shelly McCallum Ferguson, Dr. Matt Nowakowski, Dr. Carolyn Ayers, Dr. Andrew Scott, and Dr. Nicola Imbrascio. I (Dr. Matt Gerlach) will serve as the executive chair.

We are creating four implementation work groups. These teams will commence their projects this summer and fall. They are:

  • Team #1 – Teach-out Process and Plans for Majors & Minors Being Phased-Out
  • Team #2 – Liberal Arts General Education Redesign & Integratus Teach-Out Work Group
  • Team #3 – College Operational Effectiveness Work Group
  • Team #4 – Design Opportunities and New Ideas Work Group – Set to begin late summer/early fall.

Frameworks, planning structures, scope and charge, and schedules for each work group are being developed. Further, team members for each of the groups will be identified shortly.

Other Updates

Student Outreach – Current and admitted students affected by the phase-outs over time have been contacted. Some students have had multiple conversations with faculty and staff (e.g., admissions and coaches). A clarifying note was sent last week to colleagues who have engaged in the outreach plans so that messaging to students is consistent. We are committed to ensuring that any student, current or incoming, may declare one of the 11 majors being phased out (as long as they declare it by April 21, 2023). One-on-one academic advising will be offered to these students to create an individualized academic plan to meet their degree requirements and provide a solid academic experience.

Clarifications – We are receiving feedback and questions about some of the communications that have gone out this past week. We know that messages must be clear and repeated several times due to the volume of information that impacts each of us, every day. A few key clarifications are provided here:

  • Our commitment to Liberal Arts – The second project team, noted above, will work on a plan for Liberal Arts and recommend the most promising approach to address this area. It will include a review of the best way we can deliver our liberal arts and general education in the future. The focused-work is getting underway and we continue to  state our commitment
    • Our Lasallian Catholic mission calls for a practical education rooted in character formation along with a deep grounding in liberal arts. Students will continue to be required to take liberal arts courses as part of their core requirements even though some of these subjects won’t be offered as majors. This well-rounded liberal arts core, coupled with in-demand majors and virtue formation, prepares students for excellent careers and ethical lives of service and leadership. 
  • Theology courses – Theology is and will remain part of our core general education curriculum. Simply put, theology classes will remain and we will offer a certification in this field. The theology major is not sustainable at this time due to very low enrollment for the last several years. If the future provides an opportunity for more students, we will happily consider it. We plan to appoint a work group later in the year to examine why almost no students are enrolling in theology at many Catholic universities like Saint Mary’s. Nonetheless, we remain deeply committed to our Catholic identity. In addition, we will continue to educate seminarians who take philosophy at Saint Mary’s. All seminarians complete a B.A. in Philosophy and take some theology courses. Last week Bishop Quinn and Father Burns sent a joint letter to all bishops who send men to the College Seminary and informed them of the needed changes. They have received very positive responses from these ordinaries.
  • Students Affected by phase-outs – In this area there remains an ongoing question: Can students really complete a major being phased out over time? Again, a clarifying document was sent out last week to those in touch with our current and admitted students. A consistent message is particularly important on this question. Our answer is this: any student, current or incoming, may declare one of the 11 majors being phased out (as noted above). One-on-one academic advising will be offered to these students to create an individualized academic plan to meet their degree requirements and provide a solid academic experience. In keeping with our student focus, we want all students to know their options and do what is best for them. We will provide them with all the information we can now – and more in the future – as we work with each student.
  • Arts – Our goal is to make our students’ extracurricular and co-curricular experience as full and well-rounded as possible, including in the arts. In the coming months, we will examine and plan what these opportunities and experiences will be and we will build out a valuable and inviting plan. The fourth project team (noted above) will be dedicated, in part, to making recommendations. We have reached out to all arts organizations in the community to explain the plans and affirm our commitment to the arts and are in close communication with the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA).

There is a Q & A resource for internal guidance on questions that continue to be asked. It is a living document.


A Win – Athletics student outreach and recruitment efforts are going extremely well. Athletics is 100% to goal for recruiting (113 students) and no current or admitted student affected by the changes have indicated they are planning to leave Saint Mary’s. Good job and thanks to our athletic director, our coaches, and athletics staff.

HomeStretch ‘22 Enrollment Effort – We continue the multifaceted HomeStretch ‘22 summer-focused student recruitment campaign. It is too early to see significant results. However, we will have an update on those efforts next month.

Thought Leadership – Please see two recent stories on Saint Mary’s future in context with Higher Education’s future. An opinion piece appeared in the Winona Post and Winona Daily News (digital so far, print expected). It relates to the “why” of the changes we are making, as well as, “what” the future ahead for Saint Mary’s will look like.

Higher education: Time for change | Opinion | 

A profile in the Catholic Spirit, distributed to 60,000 households in the Twin Cities (digital now and will be in the print graduation-themed issue on May 26). This spotlights Saint Mary’s and will be helpful for recruitment and benefactor efforts.

A priest, a psychologist and a college president: Meet Father James Burns –

Benefactors – Gary Klein, vice president for advancement, reports that conversations with benefactors, a key audience, have been going well. Although there is some sense of loss and disappointment, many understand the reasoning. An excerpt in a note from a ‘70 English major graduate:

  • I want to express how proud I am of you at Saint Mary’s for proceeding with those challenging decisions. This had to be both extremely difficult and, at the same time, obviously the correct course of action.

Benefactors are continuing to invest in us and our vision for the future, including some who have committed to supporting our summer implementation planning efforts.
We continue to monitor social media and are well aware how difficult our news has been to many alumni, particularly those with arts degrees, as well as in the humanities. However, we also remain focused on our future plans and potential.

You can expect another progress report in June as the implementation work gets underway.

These are challenging and difficult times for Saint Mary’s as they are for the majority of smaller, private, faith-based, residential undergraduate colleges. However, it is precisely the basis of our faith that provides both the motive and the assurance for our moving boldly into the future. Our very namesake and our patroness, Mary, trusted God as she uttered her “yes” to a daunting proposition and moved into the unknown. Similar to Blessed Mary and along with Saint Augustine, we believe and pray as if everything depends on God and we work as if everything depends on us.

Father James Burns, President

Dr. Matt Gerlach, Future Interim Provost and Dean of Faculties (June 1, 2022)

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