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Senate proposes regional changes

Faculty angered, seek more say in regional campus restructuring

By Megan Zahneis, For The Miami Student

Miami faculty and administrators discussed potential changes to the regional campuses in Hamilton and Middletown during yesterday's University Senate meeting. The changes have sparked backlash from many faculty members, who circulated a petition calling for increased faculty input in the process.

If passed, the legislature will split the regional campuses into larger, broader academic departments, with already-tenured faculty receiving new "dual appointments."

John Skillings, the process coordinator for the proposed changes, delivered a report yesterday that is expected to be the last before Senate votes on the issue at its Nov. 23 and 30 meetings.

The effort to reorganize Miami's regional campuses has been in the works since 2008, when then-Ohio governor Ted Strickland and the statewide Board of Regents dictated that Ohio's regional campuses should offer more four-year, bachelor programs.

In his address to Senate members Monday, Skillings said under the new infrastructure, both regional campuses would be placed under a single regional system with underlying departments added and restructured.

"We need to ensure that every faculty member at the regional campus has a departmental home," Skillings said. "We've had significant dialogue about this topic."

Current faculty would be offered a "dual appointment," meaning they would be in an academic department at both Oxford and the regional campus, with their full teaching load coming at the regional campus.

"It's important that we're still all Miami," Skillings said. "All regional campus faculty and staff will still be Miami employees."

Skillings said the structure of the regional campuses' departments is also under review.

Under the proposed changes, several current departments will take on new names. For example, the Business Technology department will be rebranded as Commerce. Social Sciences and Education will be split into two departments: Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Education and Society.

Regional faculty members, however, feel they have not had an appropriate level of input throughout the process. In response to these complaints, the Miami chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sponsored an online petition calling for a vote among all full-time regional faculty to express their explicit consent before the issue is brought before Senate.

AAUP Vice President Cathy Wagner, an Oxford-based English professor, said the AAUP recognizes the faculty members' concerns, but doesn't think the lack of faculty input represents purposeful negligence on the university's part.

"I don't think that we need to say, 'People have been wicked and evil and [that] they're trying to push things through,'" Wagner said. "I think it's just a really complex problem that they're trying to solve."

John Krafft, a tenured associate professor of English at the Hamilton campus, sees the issue differently.

"The decisions that are being made about our fate are mostly being made by committees, occasionally with faculty representation, but without a general faculty voice," Krafft said. "Occasionally, some token effort will be made to take a survey, but these are not, by and large, decisions by the faculty about the faculty. This is being done mostly by administrative fiat."

Krafft sees the proposed changes as detrimental to Miami's mission, as well as a slight against regional faculty members.

"[It] seems a half‑baked arrangement at best. The departments that are being formed are just slammed-together collections of roughly similar disciplines, and we're still hustling about who will be grouped with whom in the departments," Krafft said. "A lot of people are unsure about what's going on, unsure about what should happen, and they're confused, angry - some of them, depressed and demoralized."

Part of the issue with the vote is that it seems to be rushed, a fact Skillings acknowledged.

"It's a short timeline, but we're working hard to get things done," Skillings said in response to faculty concerns.

The university's rationale is that enrollment is dropping, and the faster they can begin offering new major programs, the more quickly the finances will stabilize.

If the Senate moves forward with plans, the new departmental infrastructure will be in place for the 2016-17 academic year.