The following is a guest blog post by Peter Stoicheff, dean of the College of Arts and Science.
The TransformUS projects assigned to Arts and Science ask that it focus its attention on some challenging and pertinent issues. Targeted cost savings are currently not attached to the projects but successfully addressing the issues should lead to greater student demand, and to greater sustainability of programs and resources, than currently exist. Discussion among and consultation with faculty and students and staff whose programs and units are involved in the projects are just beginning, and will continue through the project leaders to assist in making any decisions. And students enrolled in programs that might be affected or changed will have the opportunity to finish their programs.
One (8.6 “Reorganize small departments across the College of Arts and Science into optimal structures”) involves the relationship between the size of a department and the ability of its faculty to spend their time most productively on the core activities of teaching and research, scholarly and artistic work. That project is based on the observation, implicit in many of the Academic Program Task Force rankings, that in most instances a larger department can provide a better environment for faculty to achieve that than can a small department.
It is also based on a useful separation of the concepts of organizational units (departments) and academic programs. We have eight departments in the college that are homes to more than one disciplinary set of programs, for instance. We have one set of disciplinary programs that is not run out of a department at all. We have thirteen departments that contain only one disciplinary set of programs. The college, that is, already has at least three models for the relationship between departments and programs. How can the notion of a department, and the relationship between a department and programming, be re-defined at times to achieve larger rather than smaller faculty complements, and the many advantages to students and faculty that come with that?
Another project (8.7 “Reconceive and reduce three-year programming in the College of Arts and Science”) involves identifying the purposes of offering three-year degrees and examining to what extent the many that we do offer are fulfilling those purposes. If the purpose, to take but one example, is to provide strategic entryways into specific professional colleges, do we need to offer the many we currently do, or could we be more selective in our offerings? Could we imagine smaller numbers of new and different three-year degrees, possibly not exclusively discipline-specific, that would better meet student demand in this or other regards?
Another project (8.4 “Revitalize selected humanities departments and programs in the College of Arts & Science”) involves yet a different issue. Some programs can see very strong student enrolments in many courses in the programs but very low (four or fewer in some cases) numbers of students graduating with degrees in them.
This low demand by students for the degree does not suggest that the discipline itself is unattractive to students; but it does imply that while the subject matter is attractive, the degree is not particularly. Could the best features of these programs be brought together in one or more new degree combinations that not only continue to attract students to the courses and the disciplines but also attract more students to a degree outcome?
The departments that offer the programs with large student course interest but low student degree activity are also small departments; could the principles behind reorganizing small departments into optimal structures be invoked here as well?
Arts and Science has a unique opportunity to create programming that brings together typically separate disciplines into configurations that are exciting for students and academically innovative. Few other universities contain colleges that house as wide a variety of academic activity as ours.
Interdisciplinary programming, therefore, and interdisciplinary research, scholarly and artistic work, should be assured sustainable resourcing and support. So should some smaller programs that are academically excellent and innovative. Project 10.2 (“Reconceive and reorganize interdisciplinary and small programs across the College of Arts and Science”) focuses on how interdisciplinary activity could become more sustainable through restructuring (should they be embedded in departments?; run out of centres or other units devised for the purpose, as at some other institutions?; shared by departments on a rotating basis?) and through appropriate funding mechanisms that incentivize such activity.
These projects, taken together, speak of the importance to the college of sufficiently populated departments and programs, with sufficiently ample support for interdisciplinarity. I would add to these the importance to the college of departments robust enough in faculty numbers and research productivity to sustain and build graduate programming. With the likely move of some authority and responsibility for graduate programming to colleges and units (4.1 “Develop a new model for oversight of graduate education”), with the higher enrolment goals in the university’s Strategic Enrolment Management report, and with the importance placed on graduate student enrolment and on research in TABBS, the college’s future will in part be determined by how well we are able to manage the changes requested in these projects.
If looked at from these perspectives, the projects are not destined to diminish the college but to focus it on ways to sustain and build upon its many academic priorities. Larger and stronger departments will be better positioned to benefit from the TABBS environment we will move more fully into a year from now. And they will be better positioned to receive new investment and new faculty positions in the future; these will be allocated to units that have stronger degree programs, stronger research productivity, and larger numbers of graduate students.
Dean, College of Arts and Science