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Restructuring to bring six new departments to regional campuses

By Megan Zahneis, For The Miami Student

By the time students and staff head home for the holidays, Miami's regional campuses could be on their way to an entirely new infrastructure.

University Senate will vote on the proposed restructuring plan at its meetings Nov. 23 and 30. If passed, the legislation would rename and reorganize many academic departments on the regional campuses.

Process coordinator John Skillings explained that the reorganization is part of an initiative to offer more bachelor's degrees at the regional campuses.

Skillings said that growth would necessitate a new departmental structure to house the new degree programs. The exact structure is still under review, but last Monday's Senate meeting included an overview of possible names for new departments.

The current regional departments - Business Technology, Computer and Information Technology, Nursing, Engineering Technology, Justice and Community Studies and Integrative Studies - will remain, with Business Technology renamed Commerce and Integrative Studies renamed Interdisciplinary Studies.

The current system also features four smaller "coordinatorships," which would become six new departments. The English coordinatorship would become the Literature and Language department. Social Science and Education would be split into two, Social and Behavior Sciences, and Education and Society. Math and Science would be incorporated into the Biological Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences departments, and Humanities and Fine Arts would be rebranded as Humanities and Creative Arts.

The regional campuses would also become a single "Regional System," with faculty members given a "dual appointment" at Oxford and regional campuses.

Under the new dual appointments, faculty would have membership and voting rights in both an Oxford-based and regional academic department, with their full teaching load coming at the regional campus. Faculty would also be able to decide whether their promotion and tenure eligibility (starting in the 2017-18 school year) would be considered through the regional department or the Oxford department.

Faculty may elect to opt out, in which case they would be assigned fully to a regional academic department.

A series of votes on the proposed changes are being carried out within each academic department. There are expected to be a total of six separate votes conducted: on the creation of new departments (done by unit), the name of the new Regional College, a governance structure for regional campuses, a curriculum approval process and the creation and role of a Regional Senate.

Moira Casey, an associate regional dean, said that the overwhelming sentiment from faculty has been positive.

"My sense is that [faculty] have been in favor of the proposed departments, generally speaking," Casey said. "[The vote] came with some feedback and commentary from the faculty that were summarized in short reports. And when we did that vote, we got feedback that caused us to rethink some of those departments."

Skillings acknowledged hesitation by some faculty.

Enthusiasm for the new baccalaureate programs is, he explained, tempered for some by the uncertainty that comes with change.

"The overriding concern here is to find a way to support new baccalaureate degree programs to be offered to our students in the region and to find the structures that make sense for those," Skillings said. "I think there's strong, very strong support for doing that. Exactly what those structures should be is something we're working through."

Some faculty members are more critical of the proposed changes.

Cathy Wagner said she believes the process hasn't provided enough opportunity for faculty input. Wagner is an Oxford-based English professor who serves as vice president of the advocacy committee of Miami's American Association of University Professor (AAUP) chapter.

"The principle of shared governance that AAUP supports is [that] the university works better when faculty who have a lot of on-the-ground knowledge about how things work and what students want when their opinions can be convincingly heard and clearly heard," she said. "We want to make sure that there's clarity about what the regional faculty are for."

Theresa Kulbaga and John Krafft, both associate professors of English on the Hamilton campus, expressed their discontent with the process.

"We have been differentiated against our will," Kulbaga said. "Now faculty are in a position where we don't know what department we're going to be in. We don't know what degrees we're going to be offering. And it creates this sense of real instability in terms of what our role is and even in terms of our jobs. I think that rushing creates a kind of panic that leads to faculty feeling disempowered."

Krafft, a Miami alum who has taught here for 25 years, sees the proposed changes as a harbinger of things to come.

"The buzzword is granting us semi-autonomous status. I call it semi-orphaned status or semi-stepchild status," Krafft said. "I think, in fact, it may destroy the regional campus, I they may not survive very long after this spinoff."

Provost Phyllis Callahan feels that the new departmental infrastructure will better reflect the population served by regional campuses.

"We want to provide the structure that gives them the opportunity to offer more fouryear degrees, which is what they have been doing," Callahan said. "This is a really exciting time for them to develop programs that we think will really serve the population well. New departments that were already formed, and have already been approved, offer degrees that serve the population very well."