Preliminary Proposal: Close 2 colleges, split Arts & Science

By Mary Schulken
ECU Director of Public Affairs

A proposal to close two colleges at East Carolina University and split the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences drew questions about potential savings and impact on liberal arts from members of the Faculty Senate.

A committee studying how to streamline academics on April 19 recommended the College of Human Ecology and the College of Health and Human Performance be eliminated and most of those departments shifted into other colleges. The report, presented at the Faculty Senate’s last meeting of the 2010-2011 academic year, also recommended dividing the College of Arts and Sciences into the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Physical, Biological and Social Sciences.

Members of the Education Policies and Planning Committee described the report as a first step. It also recommends consolidating the two campus libraries into a central University Library Services and merging 10 departments into five.

“This is a starting point,” said Scott Gordon, associate professor in the department of exercise and sport science, who presented the committee report. “Any potential reorganization scenarios will be extensively vetted at several levels, to include the faculty, deans and other administrators,” Gordon said.

Chancellor Steve Ballard appointed the EPPC in February to find ways to reduce administrative costs in preparation for potential state budget cuts of 12 to 18 percent for North Carolina’s public universities. Specifically, Ballard asked that the committee look at how to streamline academics with minimal losses of faculty and staff. Gordon said the committee prioritized combining complementary disciplines within the same college or department to come up with this proposal.

‘Withering on the vine’

Dividing the Harriot College of Arts and Sciences drew sharp concerns from members of the Faculty Senate. Under that scenario, art and design, music, English, foreign languages and philosophy would be housed in a new College of Arts and Humanities. Anthropology, biology, chemistry, geography, history, physics, political science, psychology and sociology — and potentially communications — would be housed in a new College of Physical, Biological and Social Sciences.

“This will gut the liberal arts and that’s the soul of the university,” said Mark Taggart, an associate professor in the School of Music. “I see philosophy, English, foreign language and music just withering on the vine with no voice,” he said.

“One thing we have done with this reorganization is decimate the liberal arts,” said Catherine Rigsby, a geography professor. “We are eliminating the connectivity between these areas. When you split that up you’ve got a problem.”

Gordon said an analysis of the impact on each program would be completed before any moves are made.

Cost saving questioned

Faculty Senate members also wanted information on how much money the proposal would save.

“I think it would be good if we could get an idea of the cost savings so we can evaluate what it’s worth going down this road,” said Jeff Popke, a geography professor.

“We just don’t know,” said Ballard. “It will take several months to get those kind of estimates, and we will be working on that.”

“The answer is, ‘it all depends,’” said Rick Niswander, vice chancellor for finance and administration. “What are you combining with what? Some things cost more than others to support and administer.”

Niswander said the more restraints placed on a reorganization, the less the opportunity for savings.

Next step: Faculty Forum

Faculty Senate members also objected to not seeing the EPPC recommendations before they were presented.

“Having it emerge this way is a top down decision,” said John Howard, a communications professor. “It is a centralized decision.”

“These ideas were not handed to us by the chancellor and administration,” Gordon said.

The next step is for the individual academic units to come up with options and alternate solutions. A faculty forum to discuss the committee’s recommendations and alternate solution will be held at 4:15 April 26 in Mendenhall Student Center.

Ballard said the timeline for identifying and deciding on specific changes would be a year to 18 months unless state budget cuts made by the 2011 General Assembly force a quicker response.

“If legislation passes that delivers a devastating budget — one that takes away our flexibility and removes tuition from the campuses — this would have to be rushed up,” Ballard said. “I don’t see that as the most likely scenario.”

“The EPPC report is inning one of a long ballgame,” he said.


Related - FACULTY FORUM: Need more data, cost-savings