06 September 2022
Chancellor Donde Plowman and Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost John Zomchick are proposing to split up the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) into a College of Natural Sciences (and Math) and a College of Liberal Arts (without Natural Sciences and Math). At a series of “engagement opportunities” in recent weeks, their intent to pursue this plan has become increasingly strong – despite important arguments against the plan from faculty input. Because shared governance is foundational to the American Association of University Professors, we argue against splitting up the CAS on this ground. Shared governance around such a consequential decision requires (1) more data; (2) greater transparency about the data; and (3) a clearer process reflecting a relationship between input and criteria for decision-making.
At minimum, shared governance means faculty needs, opinions, and goals are a major part of the solutions to the problems faced in higher education settings. The Chancellor and Provost have been meeting with CAS faculty in various settings – this summer with department heads and with faculty from some of the departments in the natural sciences, and in the last few weeks with the departments in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Their statements that the restructuring is “gaining momentum”, while also insisting that decisions have not yet been made, have created a sense shared among many faculty coming out of the meetings this past few weeks that these meetings are merely pro forma. We worry that the decision to split CAS has been made, and these meetings simply went through the motions of faculty governance – faculty were not really being listened to or considered.
We are disturbed by the lack of interest by the Chancellor and Provost in obtaining and/or sharing useful comparative data. The project of rethinking the academic structure of UT began in an open-ended way and seems to be ending with a specific proposal without any clear relationship to the data. After the Working Group on Academic Structures completed its preliminary report in fall 2021, a Town Hall was held on February 10, 2022. To make an informed evaluation of existing and potential academic structures, the Working Group repeatedly asked administration for data on collaborations across departments (e.g., who is publishing with whom, who is submitting grants with whom) and data about future funding agency priorities (e.g, from NSF, NIH, DOE, USDA, and EDA). With no such data provided, their report was understandably vague. At the Town Hall meeting, Economist Bill Fox (afterward appointed as special assistant to Chancellor Plowman) gave an extended presentation with a series of demographic trends that pointed to the growing need for adult and vocational education in Tennessee and the possibility that the flagship university of the state might not be affected in the same way. His presentation was met by strenuous objections from almost all faculty in the audience about the lack of opportunity for input, as well as confusion about the relationship between the Working Group’s report, which simply lays out some benefits of different models, and the administration’s unstated plans. Following that, the administration hired consultants Michael Diamond and Mark Robison to conduct small group sessions to hear feedback. To date, no results from these small group sessions have been shared openly, but those faculty who attended report similar repeated concerns: why restructure? why not work on process? why not wait to understand how the new budget model (BAM) is working first? Despite expectations that the Working Group would reconvene and offer a final report with recommendations, they have not met again nor made any recommendations. Instead, the Chancellor and Provost appear to be forging ahead with their preference.
At the recent “engagement sessions,” further concerns were raised, including
- the negative implications for UT’s diversity and equity of splitting off the natural sciences and math, which are some of the least diverse departments;
- the negative implications for interdisciplinary work of separating natural sciences from social sciences and humanities, especially when some of the world’s most pressing problems require such interdisciplinary thinking (e.g., addressing pandemics, climate change, artificial intelligence, media and politics, and more);
- the negative implications for budgets of administrative bloat in creating a new college with new dean and associate deans; and
- the negative implications for departments (Psychology, Anthropology, Geography) that do not fit neatly into either of the proposed colleges.
When the suggestion was made that the faculty as a whole be surveyed about the possible restructuring, the Provost and Chancellor demurred because they prefer face to face meetings with department faculty. In the end, with nothing to back up the belief that smaller, more focused colleges will be able to increase their resources, the lack of data (and seeming lack of interest in data) run completely counter to shared governance with faculty who are so clearly interested in improving our university.
We as faculty cannot make an informed decision about the potential benefits of a split of CAS because the Chancellor and Provost do not have the data on those potential benefits. Although comparable universities have made such a split of their College of Arts and Sciences (and some have recently reformed their College of Arts and Sciences), when asked about the potential benefits of such a split, the Chancellor indicated they did not know. These data are crucial, as we know with certainty the costs of a split of CAS will be high. There will be over $4 million needed to set up a new college administration (Dean, Associate Deans, etc.) – expanding administration is not cheap. There will also be costs in terms of time lost as personnel will need to work on creating new structures instead of serving our students’ educational needs. There is also a cost in the severe loss in faculty morale within CAS, and many faculty will likely leave as a result. We need to know what the benefits of such a costly move will likely be to make an informed decision and, again, our upper administration has not presented this information.
We call for an end to any consideration of a splitting up of the College of Arts and Sciences until we have this comparative information from other universities and are able to weigh the evidence. Such a massive structural change to our university surely cannot be made on a whim simply because our upper administration feels like doing it.