Academic department reorganization proposal set for fall 2018
Acting on a charge from administration, the deans’ counsel reduced the academic departments from 12 to six, in a reorganizational plan released April 4 that is intended to reduce spending in response to anticipated state budget cuts.
The plan, which was to take effect in fall 2017, was pushed to fall 2018 in response to faculty feedback—some positive, some negative.
School of Liberal Arts Dean James Margetts said that it felt rushed. That, coupled with faculty backlash, prompted the deans to push a year for planning.
“It ended up that it was just too fast,” Margetts said. “We wanted to make sure that faculty members feel like they can still provide the right level of feedback and participate in the organization of the campus.”
Margetts also said the three deans, who, according to the CSC organizational chart, answer directly to Charles Snare, vice president for academic affairs, were directed on March 3 to draft an original proposal, that cut departments from 12 to nine.
But faculty response to that proposal was mixed, ranging from support to indifference to frustration.
“I have complete faith in the administration at CSC,” CPSW Assistant Professor Richard Kenney said. “I believe from whatever decisions are made, they will have been strongly considered and all perspectives taken into account.”
HPER Professor and Department Chair Scott Ritzen did not express any concern with the reconfiguration.
“In tough times you have to make some changes and sometimes they’re not comfortable for some people,” Ritzen said.
A tenured faculty member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed frustration.
“Faculty concerns revolved around a couple of issues,” the faculty member said. “There’s an idea of shared governance on campus. And this proposal was foisted upon us with little-to-no warning or communication … out of the blue we got this department reorganization. It really is a radical reorganization.”
Margetts said the deans considered faculty’s input.
“No one’s feedback was taken lightly,” Margetts said. “We couldn’t incorporate all of the feedback. When you’ve got some people saying no changes and other people saying yes changes, it’s impossible to satisfy 100 percent everyone’s wishes.”
Students were not consulted on the decision thus far, but since the deans have more time than originally planned, Margetts said they may add that to the timeline.
A tenured faculty member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that during conversations between the administration and faculty, students often “get lost” in the process.
“I think a lot of faculty are concerned about our mission to serve students and [seek] some clarity about how this really helps our students,” the faculty member said.
Margetts said the deans also considered ways to balance the number of faculty under each department.
“The thing that drove the decision in the first place was budget,” said James Powell, dean of the school of E.H.P.C.P.S.W. “Currently the budget situation in the legislature … we’re waiting word on what’s going to happen with the budget.”
Powell said there are some aspects of the CSC budget that cannot be cut, such as student teaching or hazardous waste disposal. Earlier this year, CSC President Randy Rhine asked employees to voluntarily reduce spending.
Powell said that faculty members were helpful in reducing spending, noting they returned some of their department budgets and sacrificed trips.
As of Wednesday, though, it appears voluntary spending cuts are not enough.
In a letter dated Wednesday, Rhine acknowledged “the College has experienced great progress this academic year with voluntary spending reductions,” but in the same letter he placed a freeze on all discretionary spending, effective now through June 30.
Hyer said they are cutting costs where possible, while still trying to preserve the identity of the programs at CSC.
Margetts said he estimated the reorganization will save about $55,000. However, Hyer said when the proposal is launched in 2018, it will cost an estimated $9,000 to update Peoplesoft, the computer software that drives the NSCS.
Furthermore, the college may incur additional costs if departments are physically moved. But Powell said classrooms and offices will not be moved unless the associated faculty want to.
In December, when the budget cuts were announced for this year, Margetts said Rhine’s number one priority was to preserve jobs. But he added that if CSC incurs another significant budget cut, the last resort would be faculty or staff layoffs. The state will decide budget cuts in June.
On March 3, Snare and the three deans, met with all department chairs to discuss the proposal, Margetts said, adding that the reasons behind the reorganization were discussed, but not put in writing.
That information was apparently lost, because many faculty members said on April 12 that they were unsure about the reasons the reorganization was necessary.
Faculty Senate President Lorie Hunn said she, the Faculty Senate vice president and the secretary, requested the written objectives. On April 13, the administration emailed the reorganization objectives to the Faculty Senate. Hunn then forwarded the email to all faculty.
The email listed four “factors influencing the change,” and a revised implementation timeline. The factors involved student and faculty retention, institutional identity, resource utilization.
Under these factors, principles supporting the six Master Academic Plan priorities were given.
However, no evidence was provided to support the claim that the given reasons will fulfill the MAP priorities.
When contacted Thursday, April 13, for comment, Snare, via an administrative assistant, said he had no time to meet until 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 26. Snare is spearheading CSC’s preparations for the Higher Learning Commission’s campus visit set for Monday and Tuesday, and has been overseeing the college’s accreditation steps for a year or more.
The Eagle accepted the April 26 meeting, but tried numerous times since Thursday to acquire comment from Snare for this article. He declined until next week’s meeting.
The number of department chairs will also be reduced from 12 to six.
The faculty union had just negotiated release time for the chairs, which is to be implemented this fall. Currently they are just receiving a stipend.
The number of chairs will be reduced, but the workload will not. Other faculty members may have to help with the chairs’ workload, but were concerned they would not be compensated. Margetts said that is another reason the implementation was delayed, to discuss possibly compensating a lead faculty member to help each chair. He also said they are discussing providing the new chairs additional training or resources to help ease the transition.
Margetts said in an email to faculty members on April 4 that he had received feedback from faculty that reflected an idea of “isolationism” between their own respective department and the others.
“At an institution like Chadron State, we cannot afford to value our independence so highly that we neglect our interdependence,” Margetts said in the email.
Margetts said the hope is that the reorganization fosters communication and common ground while each discipline still keeps its identity. Finding the similarities among the departments may also lead to finding equipment or classrooms that can be shared.
Hyer said the Essential Studies Program helps to foster interdependence among departments that will still be somewhat isolated physically. The deans did not expect frequent department shifts just to enable the departments to be grouped with all of the others at some point.