The Flap in CLA: Merging Margins in a Budget Crunch
— By Kime Lawson, assistant editor
On April7th the Office of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts notified the five CLA interdisciplinary program directors that their studies areas will be officially merged into larger host departments, effective July 1, 2011. American Studies will be relocated to the English department, Latin American Studies will go to History, Jewish Studies will be administered by the Religion department, Asian Studies will be placed with Critical Languages, and Women’s Studies will be renamed “Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies” as it is moved to Sociology.
When the CLA interdisciplinary programs are merged into their new host departments their status will be changed to “studies areas,” and the oversight function of each program director will be replaced by a steering committee composed of faculty with joint interdisciplinary appointments who will work together with the host department chairs. The interdisciplinary studies areas will still retain their presence in significant ways: course cross -listings, faculty joint hires, graduate certificates, and undergraduate majors will still continue more or less normally given the budget crunch. In response to ongoing faculty concerns, the Dean and the CLA Executive Committee have formed an “ad hoc” committee that will meet with each of the interdisciplinary steering committees and department chairs next year to assess the success of the transition. The committee will then report and make recommendations to the Dean and the Executive Committee. This “ad hoc” committee consists of six members: Charles Weitz (Anthropology), Rebecca Alpert (Religion), Julia Ericksen (Sociology), Peter Logan (English and CHAT), Robin Kolodny (Political Science), and Gabriel Wettach (English).
Faculty and students have expressed their concerns about the decision in venues as formal as the Faculty Senate and as informal as Facebook. On April 14th, the Faculty Senate resolved “that the Faculty Senate state that it deplores the lack of consultation by the administration to fold interdisciplinary programs into existing departments, that the Faculty Senate disagrees with this decision, and that the decision should be immediately reversed.” Meanwhile, graduate and undergraduate students had been circulating petitions and organizing online to discuss how best they can make their opinions heard. On April 29th a crowd of forty, composed of faculty and students, met in the CHAT lounge to celebrate the uniqueness and the historical accomplishments of each affected CLA interdisciplinary program. A representative from each program lauded the hard work faculty and students had done over the past forty years in those interdisciplinary spaces. The mood of the crowd was pleasantly nostalgic, but it was obvious that most attendees were looking forward with uncertainty, frustration, and a shared sense of loss.
The passion accompanying the dissemination of this news at Temple derives from the unexpectedness of the announcement, existing budgetary anxieties humanities programs perennially face, concerns about unintended consequences of the new policy’s implementation, long-term effects on the interdisciplinary programs that already occupy arguably marginal academic spaces, and the faculty’s lack of a role in the decision-making process with the exception of faculty on CLA’s Executive Committee. As a result, many questions are still unanswered.
From a national perspective, CLA’s restructuring of interdisciplinary programs appears to be unprecedented. Some universities, such as the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the State University of New York Albany have begun cutting or combining majors with low numbers of enrollment (although the cuts at SUNY Albany are currently on hold). Recently proposed cuts at those schools have predominantly affected specialized foreign language programs, but the University of California Santa Cruz announced deep cuts to their Ethnic Studies program in March. Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University Bloomington and long-time General Secretary of AAUP, Mary Burgan was kind enough to share her thoughts on this recent trend at the aforementioned universities with me over email on May 4th, writing that “the budget situations throughout higher education are bringing forth efforts to change the liberal arts identities of undergraduate education on many campuses. There is a notion among administrators that reorganizations have to be made to meet demands for job training rather than offering a broad liberal arts education that emphasizes the complexity of disciplines--the fact that areas of study frequently cross over departmental lines. Those vocationalizing efforts target language programs, but they challenge interdisciplinary programs as well.” In most of these cases, administrators are also seeking to reduce what they believe to be duplicate programs that do not attract enough majors.
CLA Dean Teresa Soufas took time on May 6th to explain to me her rationale for making this decision. Anticipating next year’s cataclysmic budget shortfall, each Dean was asked to streamline their College’s monetary efficiency by a preliminary total of five percent before next fall. Along with raising maximum CLA course enrollment caps by 2-3 students to eliminate the need for nearly 100 courses, merging interdisciplinary programs is another money-saving strategy. According to Dean Soufas, CLA could save up to $100,000 annually by restructuring interdisciplinary program administration. This figure takes under account the allocation for each program director’s stipend, the money needed to hire another instructor to cover each director’s course release, and administrative support staff salaries that will be repurposed.
Dean Soufas, however, told me that saving money is not the greatest intended benefit of restructuring the administration of the CLA interdisciplinary programs. She anticipates that these changes will increase administrative efficiency and also draw more majors to the interdisciplinary studies areas in the long run. With the exception of Asian Studies, CLA interdisciplinary programs tend to have less than 20 undergraduate majors per year. (To see a spreadsheet with these numbers and other Fall 2010 Temple University enrollment details, go here.) Dean Soufas pointed out that without the course releases, the jointly-appointed faculty within those programs will be spending more time in the classroom with students whom they could attract to the major. Interdisciplinary studies steering committees, ideally, should create fresh opportunities for collaboration and teamwork among faculty. Dean Soufas assured me that the “ad hoc” committee will report to her and to the Executive Committee next year after reviewing the restructuring and there will be room then to modify the interdisciplinary studies area mergers if necessary.
Many of the affiliated interdisciplinary faculty members I have spoken with have expressed a variety of concerns that the host departments may not be a vital fit for the interdisciplinary studies areas. Dean Soufas indicated that the host departments for each merged CLA interdisciplinary program were chosen because the departments shared one or more jointly-appointed faculty lines with the programs. In some cases, however, faculty still has questions about whether these marriages will work. When I spoke with Professor Robert Kaufmann, chair of the Sociology department, he said he is “committed to making this work” with the new steering committee for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, but noted that his own work and expertise are not focused in gender or sexuality studies and he has no relationship with the Greater Philadelphia Women’s Studies Consortium that is currently directed from within the Women’s Studies program. With less committed oversight or openness in a dystopian situation, however, the disciplinary differences between other studies areas and their host departments could become walls of separation between the chairs and faculty with joint appointments, sparking intra-departmental tension over choosing chairs or new hires.
Other faculty has similar concerns about how these programmatic changes will affect the dynamism of course offerings. Assistant Professor Mark Leuchter, director of the Jewish Studies program, stated that “we want to offer students the most opportunities to learn” while he was underscoring the relationship between Jewish Studies and the Posen Foundation. The Posen Foundation offers funding for research and teaching opportunities in the areas of cultural and secular Judaism, which are specifically nonreligious approaches to studying Jewishness. Both Dean Soufas and Dr. Leuchter assured me that the relationship between Temple University and the Posen Foundation will continue to be secure and stable through the administrative restructuring. But course offerings in Jewish Studies like “Jewish Secularism: From Spinoza to Seinfeld,” “Holocaust Cinema,” and “Secular Promised Lands: The Jewish Romance with Communism, Zionism, and Liberalism” do not seem like the greatest match for a department of Religion curriculum. Professor Phil Yannella also fears that course offerings in American Studies will become “more parochial” as a result of the move to the English department. Potentially facing greater budgetary peril down the road, the widespread fear is that specialized interdisciplinary courses will have to be streamlined more with the host department’s curriculum to avoid being the first ones to be cut for low enrollment.
Many of these interdisciplinary programs have also had historical significance at Temple University, accommodating methods and approaches that used to be considered marginal in traditional academic disciplines. Professor Emeritus of History and former director of Latin American Studies Philip Evanson shared with me that the “Latin American Studies Program was established in 1967 as a result of a student initiative,” that it had originally been a free-standing center before being moved to CLA in the late 1970s, and it has attracted several Fulbright Visiting Scholars from Latin America since the 1970s. At the CHAT interdisciplinary program celebration on April 29th, Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies Elliot Ratzman observed that the Jewish Studies program is unique among academic programs of its type worldwide because of its interdisciplinary linkage of Afro-Jewish studies, Secular Jewish studies, and the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. The American Studies program has been the home to two Bode-Pearson Prize awardees, the life-time achievement award announced annually by the American Studies Association. At the same CHAT event, Asian Studies director and Professor of History Kathleen Uno also praised the historical importance of the interdisciplinary programs but also noted that Asian Studies is “a major for the future, rather than the past” in training its majors for a host of new opportunities in an increasingly global professional context. Dr. Elliot Ratzman had expressed a similar sentiment at the CHAT event that captured the applause of the crowd, declaring “while most universities in the country are moving toward interdisciplinarity, we are moving toward uncertainty.”
A number of others have commented that the recent administrative move illustrates a lack of respect for faculty governance and good management practices, prompting the Faculty Senate resolution made on April 14th. Article 5 Section B of the TAUP Collective Bargaining Agreement states, however, that “the University shall not be required to bargain over matters of inherent managerial policy, which shall include but shall not be limited to such areas of discretion or policy as the functions and programs of the University,” so the matter does not fall legally under the powers of faculty governance. Dean Soufas stressed that the restructuring of CLA interdisciplinary programs is purely an administrative policy that is not changing or affecting the curriculum of the programs, so the merger should not have any negative academic effects. Despite this, no program directors, department chairs or any other official bodies of faculty were consulted before the mergers were announced, leaving faculty across the University shocked by the decision. Some faculty members have wondered whether the new policy will remove the major incentives for individuals to take leadership positions in the studies areas, save personal devotion.
Other shortfalls of information have caused the faculty to remain in the dark about upcoming changes. Without access to an accurate budget, the faculty has no way to verify the wisdom of the tough financial decisions that are being made around them. Professor Phil Yannella, who has compiled a line-item budget from a variety of records held in the Conwellana-Templana Collection, noted that CLA’s Institute for Public Affairs has an allocation that is two and a half times greater than that of the other interdisciplinary studies programs (including salaries for an associate director and a business manager). While the mission statement of the IPA states that it “conducts, supports, and disseminates interdisciplinary research to inform and improve public policy, focusing particularly on Philadelphia, the greater metropolitan area, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the IPA’s presence in CLA seems less visible than the other interdisciplinary programs being merged, it has no undergraduate major program, and IPA has less apparent teaching responsibility. I am not advocating that IPA be cut in any way, but program directors currently have no evidentiary basis or access to data that would enable them to understand their programs’ restructuring within the greater context of the CLA or University budget.
Faculty and administration may not agree about the new policy, but each member of faculty and administration I spoke with has affirned their commitment first and foremost to making it work for the best educational interests of students in these tough economic times. While the answers to many questions and uncertainties will remain to be seen, the “ad hoc” committee will provide some oversight to the restructuring of interdisciplinary studies. The Faculty Herald will continue to follow this important issue in CLA and invites letters to the Editor on this and related topics.