WEIGHING THE OPTIONS
ECU faculty, staff comment on possible academic reorganization
By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Many faculty and staff at East Carolina University say they are struggling to see the benefits of a possible academic reorganization.
“Well-meaning reorganization can paralyze a campus for years,” said Glen Gilbert, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance. “I’ve seen that.”
Gilbert was speaking at one of 13 forums held over the last two weeks where employees discussed the implications of reorganizing ECU’s academic structure. A white paper released Feb. 15 by the chancellor-appointed Program Prioritization Committee presents 57 options for reorganization at the divisional, college and departmental levels. Some would have a broad impact, such as consolidation of all colleges within one academic division, while others are more focused, like potentially moving individual departments to different colleges.
Many who spoke at the forums asked why the university is considering change.
“We’re not going to disrupt this university for no good reason,” committee chair and geography professor Ron Mitchelson, adding that some moves enhance academic quality at ECU. “It doesn’t hurt to look at who we are and what we are doing.”
Chancellor Steve Ballard formed the committee in May 2011 and tasked its 13 members with identifying opportunities for long-term reallocation of university resources, prompted in part by continuing fiscal challenges. ECU took a 16.1 percent budget cut in state funding for the 2011-2012 fiscal year following four consecutive years of state budget cuts.
No estimate of savings
Although cost savings have not been assessed, Mitchelson said at several forums that the greatest savings would come at the administrative level and likely mean the displacement – over time – of administrative employees. For example, he said his figures show dissolving a school would save approximately $250,000 per year.
The prospect of displacement hit home for one administrative staffer during the forum held for College of Human Ecology employees.
“This is playing with our livelihoods,” she said, voice shaking. “What’s going to happen to us?”
ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer responded that the group is aware of the complexities and challenges of any reorganization. At a separate forum, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences Phyllis Horns spoke of the “human toll” in terms of both stress created during the process and the potential elimination of positions. Both women serve on the committee.
Moving individual departments may not save any money, Mitchelson said at several forums, but could improve a program. And he noted more than once that one option is to leave the academic structure as it stands.
‘Not knowing’ a concern
A detailed breakdown of potential savings will be released by March 30 and submitted to Chancellor Ballard along with several specific scenarios for reorganization. The committee will take opinions of faculty and staff into account while crafting those.
Until then – and without an implementation schedule for a prior PPC report targeting specific programs for reduction, elimination or investment – some faculty feel caught in limbo.
“It’s the not knowing that’s making it so hard to plan,” said Susan Ganter, chair of Mathematics, Science and Instructional Technology at the College of Education forum.
The committee continues to receive feedback electronically via surveys emailed to faculty and staff. That outlet remains open through March 9. A faculty senate meeting to discuss the PPC white paper is scheduled for March 20.
|Geography professor Ron Mitchelson, right, speaks at a PPC forum. Mitchelson is chair of the committee that has been investigating the potential reorganization scenarios.