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Maxson eyes some mergers

BY KATHRYN STINSON | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

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The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — the largest school on campus — may soon undergo a revamp of administrative positions to ensure it can provide students with professors and keep classes small.

College Dean Linda Maxson has recommended consolidating the administration of several departments in the college in order to maintain students’ quality of education and save money.

“When there are budget cuts, we can’t replace employees,” she said. “Instead, we can take faculty out of administrative positions and put them back in the classroom where we need them.”

The consolidation would merge numerous departments with one head, reducing administrative positions across the departments. It would allow faculty members to return to the classroom and spare the college the economic burden of hiring non-tenure-track faculty. Maxson said if five department heads were cut, a minimum of 10 more classes would be made available.

But some faculty and administrators are wary of the proposed revamp.

The move from an administrative position to a faculty position could result in a 25 percent pay cut for some, said UI biology Professor John Menninger.

He also questioned the idea that certain departments are similar enough to be efficiently run by one administrative body. Different academic cultures among departments could make a consolidation difficult, he said.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers 70 undergraduate majors and certificates and more than 50 graduate programs. It is comprised of nearly 40 administrative units ranging from performing arts to natural sciences.

Maxson emphasized that the departments being considered for consolidation could decide independently if they wanted to join with other departments to create a division.

In the wake of the UI’s roughly 25 percent total budget cut, she said, she would be unable to fill positions left open by retiring faculty. The proposed consolidations would help solve that problem, she said, and she hopes a reorganization decision would be made by next fall.

Most recently, the dean’s office facilitated discussions concerning consolidation among communication studies, journalism and mass communication, and rhetoric.

UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication Director David Perlmutter noted nothing has been decided.

“We are just beginning to investigate the concept,” he said. “This is the beginning journey of exploration.”

The division encompassing dance, music, and theater departments will serve as a model for the college, Maxson said.

Division of Performing Arts Director Alan MacVey said the dance department was leery at first about taking part in the consolidation, fearing it would be swallowed by the size of the other two departments.

But he said the division, in place now for roughly nine years, has seen extraordinarily strong results. Students saw no change in curriculum following the decision to collaborate, he noted.

“Additional resources, preventing faculty loss, and a stronger staff all resulted from the division,” MacVey said. “I don’t see anything negative about our decision.”

UI journalism Professor Judy Polumbaum supported Maxson’s efforts to begin discussion on collaborations.

“I think this is a great idea,” she said. “There is already too much bureaucracy. Thinning the ranks is good for everybody.”


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