CLA begins planning for program mergers

A plan would combine 12 departments into three interdisciplinary clusters.

by Graison Hensley Chapman

Taking the first steps to implement reforms proposed in a broad-ranging report last November, the College of Liberal Arts has begun planning to potentially merge 12 key departments into three interdisciplinary clusters.
The clusters, which are grouped into culture and media-oriented studies; ethnic and sexuality studies; and European and Asian languages, draw on departments in âÄúkey-âÄù and âÄúco-participantâÄù roles and leave room for âÄúexploring the possibility of other connections/ties across units.âÄù
A planning document obtained by the Minnesota Daily was presented last month by CLA Dean James Parente to chairs of departments in that college, spokeswoman Kelly OâÄôBrien said, and is intended to âÄúget the ball rollingâÄù in a process the dean hopes will yield specific plans for integration of departments. While no deadline has been set for those plans, implementation would start in the 2012-13 academic year at the earliest.
OâÄôBrien said the faculty-led CLA Assembly  would ultimately have to approve the creation of any new majors or minors that resulted from the process. Further reorganization could be subject to approval by other levels of the University.
Ed Schiappa, chairman of communication studies, whose department would merge with cultural studies and comparative literature and writing studies under the proposal, said, âÄúI would describe us all as in an early, brainstorming stage âĦ No one is anywhere near putting forward anything.âÄù
The reorganization is the first step in the final stage of a process that began in fall 2009 with Provost Tom SullivanâÄôs demand that each University college draw up long-term reform plans that would cut costs and raise new revenues. Among dozens of other proposals, the CLA report called for âÄúmultidisciplinary collaborations and academic synergies.âÄù
The document, completed in Norvember, couched the proposal in similarly philosophical language, but the backdrop of the report has some professors questioning whether the reorganization is designed to make up for precipitous declines in state support of the University.
âÄúAcademic excellence is the number one priority,âÄù OâÄôBrien said. âÄúBut itâÄôs fair to say these discussions are motivated by economic realities.âÄù She said reorganization could save on energy costs and facilities but demurred on whether it would allow the University to employ fewer professors.
âÄúItâÄôs really early to start ringing the bell,âÄù she said.
John Mowitt, a CSCL professor, disputes that the merger would save money or improve academics.
âÄúIt will necessarily produce these relationships in which certain aspects of departments are just kind of left dangling,âÄù Mowitt said.
He said while departments can be joined âÄî his own department has been working with SchiappaâÄôs to find connections âÄî ParenteâÄôs proposal âÄúseems very much like a purely administrative sort of reorganization.âÄù
âÄúIf weâÄôre going to embark on some bold reimagining of things, thatâÄôs what we should be doing,âÄù he said. âÄúIf weâÄôre not, this kind of administrative tinkering just heightens anxiety.âÄù
Several independentgroups of faculty have met informally to discuss how to respond to the CLA proposal, history professor JB Shank said, and a meeting for those who would be affected is set for Thursday afternoon.
Schiappa downplayed the idea that organizational change would be radical.
âÄúUniversities are always in a state of change,âÄù he said, adding that while the budget crisis has sped up the process, reform is an essential part of a university. âÄúThis is perfectly natural.âÄù
As this first idea enters discussions, Parente has initiated another step to apply the long-range planning, asking each department to report which of its majors and minors are most relevant to its long-term vision by mid-fall, OâÄôBrien said.