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Participants listen to College of Arts and Sciences Dean Allen White speak during one of several campus forums designed to provide an opportunity for faculty/staff feedback and questions related to proposed reorganization plans. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
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.


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Geography professor Ron Mitchelson, right, speaks at a PPC forum. Mitchelson is chair of the committee that has been investigating the potential reorganization scenarios.





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From the Forums

College of Fine Arts and Communication
Administrators support implementing a rotating dean, with directors of each school taking turns in that role on a three-year basis. “If one of the goals is to save money, then one way is to keep the dean as one of us,” said Dr. Linda Kean, director of the School of Communication. “If colleges are dissolved, there will be deans with no job.”

College of Human Ecology

Department heads said they would prefer to stay together. However, Hospitality Management Chair Bob O’Halloran is not opposed to joining the College of Business – so long as certain accreditation exemptions are possible – or developing as a freestanding college. They could also envision taking in the Center for Sustainable Tourism, he said.

College of Business

Faculty would prefer to absorb Hospitality Management over two other suggested programs: Construction Management or Interior Design and Merchandising. Faculty worried aloud that it would be a difficult transition for some students in all of those programs to meet College of Business required GPA and coursework standards.

College of Health and Human Performance

Faculty are not interested in merging with the College of Human Ecology. They noted that distributing departments into different colleges doesn’t mean they will physically move into new buildings.

College of Technology and Computer Science

The possibility of forming a STEM college (for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) intrigued faculty. Some were concerned by the broadness of the discipline the applied sciences they teach differ from those in the Harriot College of Arts & Sciences.

College of Education

Many options presented– including reorganizing the Department of Curriculum and Instruction – are already under way. Administrators anticipate a significant learning curve if the college is ordered to absorb B-K Education in Child Development or Health and Physical Education.

College of Allied Health Sciences

There isn’t enough physical space within the College of Allied Health Sciences to accommodate “orphan departments” like Nutrition if other colleges are dissolved, faculty and administrators said. They also oppose merging Physician Assistant Studies with Lab Sciences or Occupational with Physical Therapy because of differences in accreditation standards.

College of Nursing

Administrators are open to partnering with the departments of Social Work and Nutrition, but faculty say if they aren’t physically moved to west campus to join Nursing, collaboration won’t increase. They would consider merging the undergraduate junior and senior nursing departments if some change must be made, but they aren’t sure it would generate cost savings.

Brody School of Medicine

Bringing departments including Biostatistics and Environmental Health under the Brody School of Medicine and later spinning them off into a School of Public Health is something Brody faculty and administrators considered. At least one faculty member from the Physicians Assistant Studies program said he would also be open to moving to the Brody School. Medical faculty members strongly oppose the option to remove the Division of Research and Graduate Studies, as did Allied Health and Nursing faculty.

 
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