Depending on the 'very simple frontpage' you need, I recommend using the existing Course Categories for this rather than a meta-course. If you create a course category for each department you can provide a description (which can include images and hyperlinks) and the courses within that category (department) will automatically be listed below the description.
Here is a link one of the two course categories on our demo Moodle site, http://moodledemo.waikato.ac.nz/moodle/demo/course/category.php?id=1. You can see I've added a description "FLAX helps automate ... page." and the two courses within this category are listed below. Note that we are using the basic theme here so making these pages 'prettier' is possible!
If you would like your 'simple frontpage' to contain activities you will need to create a meta-course. If you make sure the 'My Courses' block is displayed on this course then all courses the user is enrolled in/associated with will display on that block.
I hope this helps