President Steven Poskanzer

Bridge Work

By President Steven Poskanzer

Carleton’s 2012 strategic plan calls for the college to “embrace collaborative opportunities with other institutions to enhance our academic program and save costs.” We have done this, and for good reason.

Responding to rising operating expenses, growing online delivery of academic programs and services, demands that we cover new fields of study, and other emerging challenges requires bold, forward-thinking strategies. We are convinced that working closely with other institutions can provide a critically important means of addressing these issues. If this approach is thoughtfully shaped and nurtured, it will also enable us to advance our mission and contain costs while maintaining our distinctive identities and strengths.

We have an obvious partner in St. Olaf, and we want to seize the opportunities that having two distinguished liberal arts colleges in one small town presents. In fact, since 2003 the colleges’ libraries have shared resources and databases. Library staff members called this project the Bridge, referring to Carleton and St. Olaf being situated on opposite sides of the Cannon River. In 2013 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the colleges a $1.4 million grant to enhance faculty and staff collaboration in library services, shared technology services, and academic programs. We named this initiative Broadening the Bridge.

At the end of the 2018–19 academic year, the Mellon grant came to a fruitful conclusion. What does our shared success look like? Together Carleton and St. Olaf chose and implemented a new library management system, which allows both schools to keep track of and manage their acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, subscriptions, and more. The college libraries currently share several staff members, including systems and e-resources librarians and, soon, a science librarian. Information technology staff from the colleges recently hired a security officer to keep us safe from hackers, and we are implementing a help desk application that will launch in fall 2019. We also now share a single Environmental Health and Safety Services office.

In the area of academic projects, a faculty committee awarded more than 80 competitive “exploration grants” for shared classes and learning experiences, including a new Carleton–St. Olaf education licensure program. As students at either college acquire the credentials needed to teach in Minnesota public schools, it’s now possible for them to take theory courses at one college and pedagogy courses at the other.

In my view, the largest obstacle to collaboration in U.S. higher education has been a tradition of autonomy and self-reliance at separate institutions. Here in Northfield, we’ve had to overcome anxiety—on both sides of the river—that school reputations might somehow be harmed by the collaboration. While I’d be the last person to diminish Carleton’s quality or distinctiveness (or what marketers would call our “brand”), we are not jeopardizing this by the kinds of initiatives I’ve discussed or by other good ideas yet to emerge. To the contrary, we are fortunate to have a partner college that shares many of our goals as well as our location. And I’m heartened that staff and faculty members at both colleges are seeking new ways, and new realms, in which to collaborate.

Among the ideas we’re discussing are the possibility of a shared major, shared and enhanced transportation between the colleges, systems to facilitate simpler cross-registration for courses, and joint human resources training for staff.

With Broadening the Bridge, we’ve taken significant steps to enhance the long-term health and success of both colleges. The work we have accomplished has generated more ideas and forged more trust across campuses than we’d even hoped for.

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