Last Friday afternoon, Dr. David H. Perrin, provost and executive vice chancellor, sat down with Mike Harris, Campus Weekly editor, to speak about – and respond to questions about – academic restructuring at our university.
Provost Perrin, can you give a brief overview of the academic restructuring here at UNCG over the past months?
We began a conversation about the potential of academic restructuring this past June. I, at that time, appointed a subcommittee of the Dean’s Council, to really focus on two charges. The first would be to explore potential models around the country that might help to inform our conversation at UNCG about restructuring. And the second was to formulate the plan by which faculty would lead that process. Fairly soon after appointing that subcommittee, we added faculty representation, in particular a senior faculty member from HHP and a senior faculty member from HES – professors Dan Bibeau and Gwen O’Neal.
Admittedly, we got off to a rocky start. That particular approach generated some concern about the extent to which it would be a transparent process, the extent to which the faculty would be involved. If I had it to do it again, I probably would have started with the faculty/staff/student committee we now have, rather than a sub-committee of the Deans Council. But that said, thankfully, we are where I had hoped we would be at this point in time, which is, having a restructuring committee of faculty, staff and students that are really leading the process.
And the list of that committee is online?
So, we have two units – two academic units, both schools, both very strong, that have historic strengths in health and human development – as well as some other very strong departments, by the way, that have real strengths in health and human development. We think there are some very exciting opportunities to enhance collaboration.
Which two units [for those new to this discussion]?
Health and Human Performance and Human Environmental Sciences. So we think we have some very exciting opportunities to consolidate, if you will, two schools into one – and that might even involve other programs on campus, or departments or schools – and to enhance collaboration through interdisciplinary approaches to curriculum, community engagement and research.
So, our goal here is to create a single academic unit that could be either a school or a college, that would build on our strengths in health and human development. And the charge of the committee is to create several options, with an accompanying narrative for each option, identifying the advantages and disadvantages and challenges of each option, for consideration – that I can consider and discuss with the chancellor and the board of trustees.
Can I ask you a question about the timeline: When do you think you will have recommendations from this committee to you?
Ideally, the committee will be able to share with me a preliminary draft of their work by the end of this semester. I could then provide them some feedback which could be helpful to them in refining and completing their report by the end of this academic year, by the end of the spring semester. At that time, we would consider the options, consider the possibilities and bring forth to the board of trustees, ultimately, a recommendation for what the restructured unit would look like.
We would also need approval of the Board of Governors. And once approved, we would then appoint a Transition Committee of faculty and staff from that unit – from departments and programs that would be in the restructured unit. They would work on implementation of the transition through the 2011-12 academic year, so we would actually be fully operational and implemented the fall of 2012.
Along the way, we are – and I am – communicating very closely with the Faculty Senate leadership –
That’s a question I have. How are faculty involved, and how is Faculty Senate involved?
Well, the faculty are essentially leading this, through the committee. It’s co-chaired by Professor Bibeau and Professor O’Neal who have facilitation being provided by David Altman from the Center for Creative Leadership. There is representation on the committee from each of the departments in Health and Human Performance and Human Environmental Sciences, as well as representation from the School of Nursing, the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and the chair-elect of the Faculty Senate is a member of the committee. We also have representation from Staff Senate, and a staff member and student from each of the schools, Health and Human Performance and Human Environmental Sciences.
The committee – how many times has the committee met?
The committee has met three times. I think they are making great progress. The chancellor and I met with them this week [week of Nov. 8], at their third meeting. They had some questions.
Can I ask, what are some of the questions they had? And how did you respond?
There were some questions about the charge of the committee and the timelines for completing the work. I provided some clarification related to the charge: that we’re looking for multiple options, with a narrative to accompany each option. A very important point is that each narrative for each option would need to address – or identify – the home for any departments that would not be a part of the restructured unit.
So this process is not about program elimination or elimination of departments. That’s a very important point to make, I think.
What are some other questions that they – ?
Well, we talked about the timeline (and I talked you through the timeline already). I provided some clarification there. There were some questions about whether the unit should be a school or a college. And we encouraged them to think about options that would include both. We did remind them that the process must reduce, not add, to administrative costs, so that would be something they would need to consider as they thought about this. Related to whether it’d be a school or a college was the question: What other units on the campus or what other departments or programs on the campus should be a part of the conversation, beyond Health and Human Performance and Human Environmental Sciences?
For example, “Should Nursing be a part of that conversation, or should Biology, or…” Was that the question?
Yes, exactly, and I think the units and the departments that were being discussed most about were Psychology, Biology and Nursing.
What we’re trying to create here would be a professional school or a professional college. So I don’t think it makes sense to think about moving basic disciplines like psychology and biology into this professional unit. Now the School of Nursing should be a part of the conversation. But I think it’s important to note that the School of Nursing is accredited as a school. Human Environmental Sciences and Health and Human Performance are not accredited as schools. They have programs and departments within their school that are accredited, but they would continue to be accredited regardless of how they were configured or where they were housed.
So, if the School of Nursing were to be a part of this, we would probably be talking about “college,” under which could be a School of Nursing and multiple departments around “health and human development.” But, the committee may determine it doesn’t make sense for a college to put Nursing – and one of their options may be a school that would not include it. So they can go either way and I’ve encouraged them to think about this either way.
At Faculty Convocation, you said twice, maybe more, “Imagine the possibilities.” Does that still hold, is that still a key message here?
Absolutely. You know, anytime you engage in change of this magnitude on a university campus, it raises lots of concerns and fear. I’ve been in higher education 30 years, and I’ve never seen change, at a university, where there is 100 percent consensus and support for it. And that’s actually a good thing, that’s a healthy thing. That keeps us all honest. It requires us all to think very carefully about what we’re doing. So I think that’s a good and a healthy thing. But I think we have the opportunity here to create something very exciting for UNCG. Something that will optimally prepare our students to compete for positions in these fields, careers in these fields – something that will foster more collaboration. I think a good example where we have some real opportunities here is we have some real strengths in these two units around community engagement and sustainability. And I think there could be some very innovative things done with curriculum and with outreach and community engagement, around those things, as we build a new unit.
So it sounds like it would not only be good for UNCG, but also – in a wider scope – for the community and possibly North Carolina? Is that accurate or – ?
Yes, I believe that is accurate. Many universities around the country are reorganizing around these kinds of strengths. I think it’s going to be real important for us to do this, to be able to compete, to bring greater visibility to the strengths that exist on this campus around these fields. I would expect there to be enhanced opportunities for community engaged scholarship and, again, a lot of the interdisciplinary things I think will evolve from this.
This discussion I hear mixed in with the discussion about budget. There’s also the component of making UNCG a better university. Which is a greater factor here?
The primary motivation here is an academic one and a programmatic one. To restructure in a way that will maximize our strengths.
That said, we are facing some extraordinarily challenging budget times, and we need to be proactively preparing as best we can for what promises to be some very significant budget reductions. This process will reduce administrative costs without having to eliminate faculty positions or close programs.
It obviously, alone, isn’t going to be sufficient to meet our budget cuts, but it’s a secondary purpose. It’s a reality that we need to be thinking about how this can help us prepare for budget cuts.
Provost Perrin, is there anything that I have not asked you that maybe I should ask, at this point?
I know that there is concern among alumni who are fearful of losing this important part of our history at UNCG. You know, HHP started as Physical Education. And HES started as Home Economics. And from my understanding of the history of the university, there were some real outcries when those two moved from Home Economics and Physical Education to something broader than that. So I understand the concerns. I respect very deeply the history of the institution.
But I think it’s very important for alumni to consider, Is it more important to have a structure that meets the needs of students from the past, or to have a structure that best prepares students for the future?
And that’s what this is all about for UNCG. How to best position ourselves for the future, how to best prepare our students for the future. We will honor the history of these academic units. But we have a real opportunity here, I think, to do something very exciting, moving the university forward.
Photograph from UR archives by Chris English.