On Departmental Discontinuance

By Gerbrand Hoogvliet and Taren Kingser

The Mac Weekly of December 3rd 2010, featured an excellent article by Diego Ruiz on the work of the Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG) to develop a
procedure for discontinuing academic departments. Significant progress in drafting such a procedure has been made since and we felt, as the two student representatives to EPAG, that this would be a good moment for an update and to explain a bit more about
the proposal.At the start of this academic year, EPAG unanimously decided that it was time for the
school to develop a more detailed procedure for how to discontinue a department or
major. The Committee felt that the current process did not allow for the kind of thorough
deliberation that such a significant decision clearly deserves.

In the past it has also proven difficult to actually eliminate departments, which greatly
reduces the college’s flexibility in reshaping its curriculum. Macalester wants to be in a position to meet student demands as they change over time and to continue to prepare students for the future. Being able to revise and adapt what we teach is a crucial part of that.

It is important to emphasize here again that the work EPAG has been undertaking is
entirely focused on the process of discontinuing departments and that no departments are currently being considered for discontinuance. The procedure is also not motivated by a need to cut back due to the economic downturn. The project of drawing up an elimination procedure has been on EPAG’s to-do list for many years. This year the Committee felt we had the time to consider it properly and put the energy and thought into it that such a procedure deserves.

Proposed procedure in a nutshell

The proposal that EPAG will submit to the faculty provides a detailed procedure for
possible discontinuance:
A proposal to eliminate a department, major or minor, can be submitted to EPAG
by the Provost, the Allocations Committee, the department itself, or a current EPAG
committee can propose it for the consideration of EPAG the following year. EPAG will then decide if it is willing to consider such a proposal. If they decide to give the proposal its full consideration, a process starts in which the Committee will give opportunities to students of the affected department and the faculty at large to be heard. Naturally, the
faculty of the department under consideration will have ample opportunity to meet with the Committee as well. EPAG will also take into account other factors such as how central the department is to the curriculum of the college, trends in enrollment over the last ten years and future
prospects for the department.

Based on all of this, EPAG will submit a recommendation to the faculty to either retain or eliminate the department. If EPAG recommends the elimination of a department, a
motion from the faculty can still overturn the recommendation. Such a motion would
need the support of a two-thirds majority.

Consequences for students

For students, the most important question is probably how the discontinuance of a
department would affect them. As noted above, if a proposal to eliminate a department was to be considered, EPAG will provide plenty of opportunity for students enrolled in the department to have their opinions heard during its deliberations. If the department is nevertheless discontinued, the college is committed to make sure all majors and minors with sophomore, junior or senior standing can complete their major or minor. Students are thus as well protected as can reasonably be expected.

As student representatives to EPAG, we have been involved in drafting this procedure
every step of the way. We believe it to be a fair procedure that makes sure the merits
of the department are recognized, but also appreciates the school’s need to be flexible
and that there are opportunity costs to maintaining any department. If you have any
questions, please feel free to contact us.