EPAG looks to change rules for eliminating departments

By Diego Ruiz

Macalester’s employee handbook currently dedicates around a dozen pages to the process of adding academic departments and hiring new professors. The thornier question of how to get rid of departments, on the other hand, gets less attention.”There’s one line in the faculty bylaws,” said Tom Varberg, professor of Chemistry and chair of the Educational Policy and Governance Committee, or EPAG. According to him, there’s “broad consensus” on the committee to reconsider the process the college might use to remove academic departments.

“The policy needs to be changed,” said Varberg. “Everyone expects that a curriculum will evolve over time.”

No departments are currently up for discontinuation. In fact, Macalester has added many departments in the last decade – concentrations like Community and Global Health and Global Citizenship and language programs like Chinese and Arabic.

EPAG has not yet crafted a proposal to change the process. As of now, they have put a document that lays out different models of how discontinuance could work among the faculty for discussion. It shows how it could work, giving different amounts of control to the faculty or administration.

Currently, the process for subtracting departments solely comes down to a typical motion and vote. Varberg said he hoped to find a new process that was more deliberative, because eliminating a department “will always be a difficult decision, under any circumstances.”

EPAG hopes to have a town hall discussion next semester and then make a policy for the faculty to vote on by the end of Spring 2011.

put ideas out there,” said Varberg. He repeatedly emphasized that this was not about specific departments, saying he was “just focused on the process.”

The last department to be discontinued, about a decade ago, was Communications. Their course offerings were divided into Political Science and what eventually became Humanities, Media and Cultural Studies.

The Russian Department was nearly eliminated in late 2003, according to a Mac Weekly article from February 2004. It came down to a 64 -52 vote among the faculty to keep the department.

Other higher education institutions have recently made severe cutbacks in the number of academic departments. For example, the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts has cut 60 faculty in the last two years, according to a Nov. 8 article in the Minnesota Daily.

Varberg said that a bad economic climate and projected budget shortfall for Macalester in as little as three years was “not a primary driver” of the changes, noting that currently Macalester is financially sound. Rather, a group of previous EPAG chairs suggested changing the policy.

However, Taren Kingser, a student representative on EPAG and chair of student government’s Academic Affairs Committee, invoked the economy.

“In lean financial times you need flexibility, so when there are new exciting things for the school to do, resources aren’t constrained,” said Kingser.

While meetings about the changes next semester will be open to students, and will have input via student representatives on EPAG, ultimately it is up to faculty to decide whether to vote to change the policy.