The proposal to merge the College of Sciences (COS) and College of Liberal Arts (CLA) has been the source of rumors, speculation and uncertainty among university faculty, but it is not only faculty members within the two colleges who are uncertain about the merger.
“I have to be able to balance the budget,” President Elson S. Floyd said. “There is a desire among some to say if we engage in this consolidation, how much are you going to save? I can’t respond to that until I know we’re going to do all of these steps.”
The president has proposed the merger as a part of a shift in academic affairs, which, if passed in full, is estimated to save $3.2 million. The consolidations include the merging of the Department of Statistics into the Department of Mathematics, the creation of the School for the Environment and the discontinuance of state support for some journals and publications.
Floyd said until he knows what the final budget will be, he cannot provide a detailed spreadsheet of where the cuts will be made.
Floyd proposed the COS and CLA merger in 2007, the first year he served as president of the university.
Chief Budget Officer Joan King said if the merger goes through, the savings are expected to be in administrative costs. No faculty positions or academic programs will be eliminated, nor is there a plan for salary reductions.
“The primary goals are efficiency and synergy across the two units,” she said. “As with any merger, the new, combined unit has the opportunity to choose the most effective ways to deal with common challenges and to share best-practice processes.”
She said if the plan goes through, it is expected to be completed July 1, 2012.
Charlotte Omoto, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences, has taught at WSU for 25 years and was in opposition to the 2007 proposition. She said while she is not in strong opposition to the merger, she wants the “straight story” from the administration. She said she does not see immediate cost savings to a significant extent.
“They’ve never given us any numbers,” she said. “They know that it will cost something. Not just money but faculty and staff time, moving wherever the dean’s office is going to move, even some basic things like printing new letter heads.”
The deans of the colleges said they have been asked not to communicate with members of the other college until the merger has been confirmed.
“There’s no point in putting the cart before the horse in those situations,” Provost Warwick M. Bayly said about the request.
Dean Daryll DeWald of the COS said he has met with members of his college, and although he said there are concerns about the merger, he also said it can benefit the university.
DeWald said the new college could serve as the core of the institution. About 50 to 60 percent of the university classes are taught between the two colleges, and Dewald said as long as the purpose of the merged college fits the university mission, it will serve the school overall.
“If this is done right, this is about valuing people in different disciplines, and it’s about valuing the students in the disciplines to do well,” he said. “Again, it’s about understanding what is effective and excellent behavior is in all disciplines.”
In 2007, an organization called the Arts and Sciences Review Committee submitted their research on the proposed merger.
“The consensus of this committee is that the merger of the College of Liberal Arts with the College of Sciences should not be considered any further at this time,” the committee wrote in a letter to Floyd.
According to the letter, the committee received input from several sources, including deans of both colleges Erich Lear and Mike Griswold, Howard Grimes, Dean of the Graduate School, and Mary Wack, the vice provost for Undergraduate Education.
No compelling evidence was found to support a merger at that time, according to the letter. It cites cultural differences between the two colleges as a barrier to the establishment of a single College of Arts and Sciences.
“Such differences include criteria for tenure and promotion, teaching assignments and expectations for extra mural funding,” the document states.
The committee went on to list other concerns, including the reallocation of resources from the College of Sciences to programs in Liberal Arts, the fear that Liberal Arts programs would be unable to compete for resources in a merged college and the cynicism that additional funding for such a project would ever be forthcoming.
At that time, Floyd responded with a memorandum that said he would honor the conclusion of the study.
Last March, the issue returned to campus, when the School of Molecular Biosciences moved to the College of Veterinary Medicine. Omoto said at that time rumors spread that it was a ploy to merge the COS and the CLA.
Bayly denied this in an email he sent to the science faculty.
“Such a move could only be contemplated if additional resources were available, and they are not at this time, as everyone knows,” he said.
At that time, the university had $30 million more each year.
Omoto said she thinks the proposal is a way for Floyd to use the budget as an excuse to merge the two schools as he wanted in 2007.
When asked about it, Floyd said that was not the case.
“If my goal was to have the consolidation, I could have done it in 2008, 2009, 2010,” he said. “I have to balance this budget. I have to make sure that I preserve as many academic programs as I possibly can. I have to make sure that I preserve as many faculty and staff positions as I can.”