Academic reorganization, academic realignment, academic revitalization and change in the college

The academic profile of most colleges of arts and sciences looks much like it did over a hundred years ago. Then broad areas of academic study were replaced by more narrowly and specifically focused disciplines. For instance, the broad area “science” gave rise to departments like biology, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, ecology, environmental science, etc. The same is true of the arts, humanities and the behavioral and social sciences. p02-Dennis-Papini.8330

Over time, these disciplines became increasingly specialized, isolated or siloed from one another. The modern college of arts and sciences became little more than an administrative structure managing a collection of departments.

In the process, the capacity of interdisciplinary crossfertilization was lost (or at least lessened). The capacity to generate knowledge, the opportunity to collaborate on difficult problems, and the ability to create a shared environment for teaching and learning were diminished.

The College of Arts and Sciences at South Dakota State University has begun to change its structural organization so we can prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they will encounter in their lifetime. The terms “academic reorganization” and “academic realignment” are often used interchangeably to describe such activity.

In my view, these terms do not adequately describe the process or the goal of the changes we are trying to make. Both reorganization and realignment give the impression that units of the college are simply being reconfigured, that the structure is changing but the function remains the same, and that the real motivation behind them is a mandate to trim administrative costs.

While there is nothing wrong with cutting costs, these savings produce marginal value at best. I prefer the term “academic revitalization” because it clearly conveys that our goals are to:
1)    enhance the quality of teaching and learning for students and faculty;
2)    revise the curriculum to promote crossdisciplinary thinking and industry-standard knowledge and skills students will need for the modern workplace; and
3)    focus on the integration and synthesis we are trying to harness rather than on structure alone.

The faculty in the School of Design pioneered the process in achieving its goals. The process involves three sequential phases — the “faculty of,” the “division of,” and the “school of.”

In the “faculty of” phase, faculty and administrators in similar disciplines start a conversation about the merits and pitfalls associated with revitalization. The merits boil down to greater productivity, collaboration and investment of resources. The pitfalls include the loss of departmental identity, program visibility and uncertainty about structure and leadership. The end of this phase is signaled by the faculty agreeing to further pursue revitalization.

The “division of” phase begins with the SDSU president’s notification to the South Dakota Board of Regents that faculty wish to begin to plan for a school. During this one-year time frame, the faculty develop the infrastructure to guide the academic function of the school.

All curriculum changes, degree requests, governing documents, investment requests, space and facilities requests and administrative structure of the school are outlined. If the university and SDBOR accept this proposal, a new “school of” is created. Then the real work of implementing this proposal for raising the standards for student success begin. As you can see, the goal is revitalization.

In our first revitalization process, we found that the School of Design is more than a collection of sub disciplines. No single unit of the School of Design could provide all of the educational experience students need. Thus, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In this edition of Transformations, you will see that we have two additional revitalization initiatives in the works. The faculty of music, theater and dance have advanced to the “division of Performing Arts” phase and spent much of this summer doing the strategic planning to guide the creation of a School of Performing Arts. Coupled with the expansion of the Performing Arts Center, the creation of the school will allow South Dakota State University to become a premier destination for students and enhance the quality of life for residents of South Dakota.

The second initiative is the “faculty of Journalism and Communication Studies.” The two groups have decided to seek “division of” status this fall and are exploring how to best position their programs to meet the future need for journalists and communication specialists. Stay tuned for more to follow as this process evolves.

I would like to end by expressing my admiration and pride in the faculty who serve in the College of Arts and Sciences. They have embraced these changes instead of surrendering to the anxieties and insecurities that often accompany such changes. By doing so, they continue to create new opportunities for educational richness and excellence for themselves and their students. Such changes are not easy, but they are critical if we are to fulfill our pledge to provide students with the best possible learning experiences in and out of the classroom.

Dennis Papini

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