Projects in the College of Arts and Science

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.

Peter Stoicheff
Dean, College of Arts and Science

 

 

9 thoughts on “Projects in the College of Arts and Science

  1. Thanks for the question about small departments and for an opportunity to respond to it. And for getting me to look up “afflux”, I confess.

    The Academic Programs Task Force report’s rankings do reveal a connection in Arts & Science between smaller departments and lower scores, and between larger departments and higher scores. It’s not there in every case, but in most cases. It’s an indication of what I’ve otherwise observed and experienced.

    A larger department can offer an economy of scale regarding administrative positions (department heads, undergraduate chairs, research chairs, etc.) so the same faculty members do not have to assume these duties — particularly that of department head — as frequently as they do in smaller departments, thus ensuring more of their time can be devoted to teaching and research. I see smaller departments struggling hard with this issue all the time.

    Influential contributions to other aspects of college and university governance are more possible for faculty in larger departments. Sabbaticals and other leaves do not have as significant an effect on departmental activities. Research leaves and other opportunities to engage with institutions elsewhere are more easily accommodated and thus a more normal part of a faculty member’s experience.

    Graduate programs are easier to design and run in larger departments as well because the supervisory roles and graduate committee work can be undertaken by more faculty — a benefit for graduate students who are looking for choice in supervisors and areas of specialty.

    But departments with higher numbers of faculty, and of undergraduate and graduate students, also have the potential to provide, at least more easily than smaller departments can, greater varieties of rich and open and evolving intellectual interaction that can lead to greater research intensity and to greater curricular breadth and innovation. If the larger department contains faculty from diverse and cognate disciplines, the interdisciplinary possibilities are greater as well. All these things work to the benefit of students and of faculty.

    There are arguments against these views, I know. Departmental identity and culture are extremely important, particularly if long-standing; there is an understandable desire to have departments that are similar in name and discipline to those of colleagues in other institutions; departments can act as defenders and supporters of their disciplines if they house only one, and if they’re named after it.

    The main thing I find myself asking when looking at a question such as yours is, what is the benefit to students and to faculty of, in this case, larger departments over smaller? If it’s demonstrably and genuinely useful to students and faculty and others to stay small, and to maintain a current identity, despite the advantages of larger departments I’ve listed above, then it should probably be done. But I tend to think that, for students and faculty, the advantages to larger departments will typically outweigh the disadvantages by quite a margin. Some thoughts, at least.

  2. Hi Peter. Could you please comment on a recent rumor circulating on campus? Word on the street is that the reconfiguration of staff services in Arts & Science into the HUMFA Admin Commons has actually not saved any money, and may in fact be costing MORE money. Your remarks on this, please. (And hard number would help, if you have them.)

    • Kevin, I was not aware of that rumour so thanks for the opportunity to address it. Establishing the HumFA Administrative Commons reduced staff positions in the Division by 4.0 — from 15 to 11 — for an on-going annual reduction in costs of approximately $250K.

      • How does 4 “support” positions Amount to $250K annually? That number seems extremely inflated. The average salary of the highest level support staff would not be $62.5K.

        • There’s more to think about per employee than just salary. U of S also contributes to each employee’s pension plan and pays for benefits, as per contracts negotiated by the unions, as well as provides access to services like the Employee Assistance Program. So, salary + pension + benefits + other services = approx. $60,000 per employee.

  3. A few questions:

    (1) You write re: small programs that “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.” You don’t indicate whether you agree with this in principle. That is, were the university afflux, would you still agree, if you do?

    (2) Later, you write the following: “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?” I’m sorry, but I find this statement to be far too clear and sensible to be associated with the TransformUS process.

    (3) Can you please be our Provost or our President? Pretty please? At least one of those two current positions is not staffed by someone who articulates these issues as clearly as you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.