Tuesday, February 9, 2010
To the CAS Baker Community,
As Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), I have been closely involved in the various processes that have resulted in the decision to eliminate Political Science and four other majors effective with the incoming freshman class of 2010. Given my 29 years of service at Baker and my familiarity with its culture, I would have been surprised if current students and alumni had not openly expressed concern about these decisions. My administrative and faculty colleagues who were involved with the process can empathize with those who are just now first learning of these outcomes. However, we are also eager to share information and ideas about process and vision that offer promise of a healthier Baker community, both financially and academically.
First, it is important to clarify at the outset that the recommendations for changes in both the curriculum and faculty were not initiated "top down" from the President of the University or from the Board of Trustees. The work related to these changes began "bottom up" from the faculty starting with a CAS-based academic program review committee (APR) and culminated with recommendations from the Special Joint Committee on Reduction and Reallocation. These groups, comprised predominantly of faculty members, dedicated countless hours to the thorough review of relevant data, consultations with department chairs, and conscientious discussion surrounding the best interests of the academic programs of the college, its faculty and most importantly, its students.
The APR committee began its work last spring in response to the University's financial challenges as well as to a set of concerns offered by the Board of Trustees regarding the number and size of CAS-based majors and the seemingly low student-faculty ratio at CAS when compared to benchmarks at peer institutions. The goal of this group, comprised of the CAS Faculty Senate Executive committee (five faculty members) and myself, focused on academic program improvement with an eye toward identifying opportunities for greater efficiency (i.e., reducing costs) and opportunities for program growth and innovation (i.e., enhancing revenues). Believing that such an exercise would be valuable in any economic climate, the committee enthusiastically gathered a wealth of data, both quantitative and qualitative, that when considered in its entirety would guide decision-making toward this end. As one would guess, these data sets included headcounts of the number of student majors and graduates associated with each academic program over the last twenty years. They included total credit-hour production numbers and "credit-hour-production-per-faculty-member" figures over a similar time frame. Departments' and programs' overall contributions to other academic and co-curricular programs were also considered as were programs' contributions toward the current general education program and to an emerging future general education program. Each department's percentage of low-enrolled course offerings over time was considered as were the overall costs of a given major or program, in terms of its personnel, facilities, and annual operations. Further, consideration was given to narratives submitted by the department chairs which described important "qualitative" factors related to each major that were deemed relevant to this process of program review.
When it became apparent late last fall that budgetary constraints would require a cut in faculty expenses, the President, in accordance with Faculty Handbook policy and in consultation with the Board of Trustees, the Provost, faculty leaders, and myself, reluctantly convened a Special Joint Committee for the purpose of program reduction and faculty reduction and reallocation. The 7-member CAS Educational Programs and Curriculum (EPC) committee and the 5-member CAS Faculty Development and Evaluation (FDE) committee joined the APR group (which had set its own mission aside) and the University Provost to form the 17-member Special Joint Committee. Over the course of an intense six-week period during November and December, the Joint Committee used the data resources provided by the APR group to generate its set of recommendations to the President. The final outcome, approved by the President and the Board of Trustees, included the reduction or reallocation of roughly nine faculty positions (including several incented retirements) and the elimination of the following five majors: Computer Information Systems, Physical Education (non-certification track), Molecular Bioscience, Wildlife Biology and, as you have been made aware, Political Science. I want to emphasize that I could not have been prouder of the dedication and thoroughness with which my faculty, staff, and administrative colleagues on the Joint Committee approached this onerous responsibility. The acting chair of the Biology Department (which lost two majors areas and incurred a partial reduction of one position) and the chair of the Social Sciences Department (which lost the Political Science major and incurred the reallocation of two positions) were both members of the Joint Committee and provided keen expertise, candid contributions and valued leadership in helping their fellow committee members extensively assess their own programs. As the quite natural immediate reactions subside, I am hoping that the broader Baker community, including students and alumni, will come to appreciate the difficulty of the committee's assignment and thank its members when provided with the opportunity. Even in the face of emotional decisions that would greatly affect the careers and lives of valued faculty colleagues, the committee effectively consulted the relevant data and appropriate indicators that provided the basis for sound judgments. While our hope has always been to offer the broader community some insight into the process and the data used to guide the Joint Committee's actions, it must be understood that some of the factors involved were of a sensitive or confidential nature and not appropriate for sharing outside of the committee for a variety of reasons. It is hoped that the broader Baker community would extend a degree of trust to those individuals who were better informed and ultimately responsible for making these tough decisions.
With respect to the final outcomes, we fully recognize the short-term implications of eliminating five majors and our obligations to students who may be affected by these changes. Each affected department has constructed a plan to enable its sophomore, junior and senior students to complete their respective major requirements with minimal or no disruption. I personally visited with the underclass Political Science majors prior to any public announcement and was able to assure them that this was indeed the case. It is my understanding that the Biology and Computer Science programs have, in fact, proposed to offer course work in Molecular Bioscience and Computer Information Systems as optional "tracks" within a more generalized major. Please know that through these difficult times, we have never lost sight of the fact that our students come first. But just as we need to accommodate our current students, we must also be sure that we have the firm financial footing that will enable us to provide the best possible learning opportunity for our students of the future.
I would like to offer one additional perspective that I hope will help address the concerns of any individuals who believe that our actions have essentially dismissed Political Science as a discipline worthy of study at Baker, especially given the extent to which we value the liberal arts tradition. Most of you are aware that we are at least four years along in the development of a new and innovative general education program. An important assumption underlying the model currently under consideration is that liberal learning is not necessarily measured by the number of courses taken within a specified distribution of academic disciplines but rather by the number of abilities, understandings, and experiences that students are able to demonstrate or account for by the time of graduation. These might include writing effectively, communicating orally, thinking critically, and reasoning quantitatively (abilities); acquiring basic knowledge in the sciences, social sciences (including Political Science), and the humanities (understandings); and becoming globally aware and learning to serve (experiences). Further, best practices in general education suggest that the lines that in the past have clearly distinguished general education courses from content courses in the major have become somewhat blurred. Current thinking suggests that traditional general education and education in the major area do not happen independently of one another but instead serve one another to offer a holistic baccalaureate education as they integrate the abilities, understandings, and experiences described above. Consequently, we are training ourselves to refer to our new emerging program as one of "liberal studies" rather than one of general education. If we are successful, the important components of the liberal arts discipline of Political Science will be woven into the core of the new liberal studies program.
Now that the "reduction and reallocation" process is complete, the academic program review process will resume with the intent of continuing to identify program efficiencies and program growth opportunities. It is entirely possible that other under-populated majors may disappear as we now know them and reappear as innovative, interdisciplinary, niche-building programs of study that might even serve as a Baker distinctive. We have already made the decision to invest more heavily in our interdisciplinary International Studies major, a potential growth area. I can envision exciting possibilities that might integrate Political Science course work with the International Studies program. Extensive study in international language and culture might be easily assimilated into such a program as well. Redirecting our energies back toward a healthy academic program review, that effectively identifies exciting new growth areas, and to the continued development of an innovative and cutting edge liberal studies core should result in a distinctive educational experience of which all of our graduates, including those whose majors no longer exist in the current form, can be proud.
D. Rand Ziegler
Vice President and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences