Academic mergers will have “little effect” on students, Provost said

University Provost Ken Furton said plans to merge two colleges and add a department to a school will have “no impact on students,” and he would like to make a decision by the end of the year.

While the majority of journalism and mass communication courses will remain at Biscayne Bay Campus, Furton said the University will offer more communication arts courses at BBC if the merger goes through as planned.

If it does, the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Education could merge and the College of Architecture + the Arts’ communication arts department would be added to SJMC.

Merging SJMC into CARTA would result in a new college, Furton said; the same would apply for the Education and Arts & Sciences’ merger.

Furton also said full tracks within communication arts could also be offered at BBC. The department currently has three: organizational communication studies, art + performance and design studies.

“There are opportunities to share courses,” Furton said. “There could be efficiencies in that regard.”

Furton, who is also the executive vice president of academic affairs, said he expects degrees to remain and administrators could add interdisciplinary degrees for two or more fields of study.

Furton said merged academic units would allow the University to offer its students accelerated master’s degrees, which gives students the option to start taking graduate courses early.

He said SJMC and Education have accrediting organizations whose requirements do not separate forms of accreditation, a certification which says all formal official requirements of academic excellence, curriculum, facilities, have been met.

If merged, the College of Education will become a school within the College of Arts & Sciences, and the academic unit will have a new name.

At the Oct. 27 Faculty Senate meeting Furton said the “College of Education declined” a merger with Arts & Sciences when the idea was brought up previously, but he said to Student Media it was the decision of the University president and provost.

“Through faculty governance we want input from them to address concerns and see if challenges can be overcomed,” Furton said.

If Furton were to move forward with the merger – a decision he said he would likely make by the end of 2015 – he would create a committee tasked with determining the process of and the timeline for a merger.

The larger committee, for the mergers as a whole, would help determine how faculty would play a role in the new colleges and what their structure would be.

Furton said the names, structure and constitutions of the colleges would change and he will discuss them and additional details with the school’s’ faculty during upcoming meetings.

There are currently two committees, comprised of faculty based on recommendations from their peers, that are evaluating whether the mergers are capable of being done.

Though Furton said students will experience no impact from the mergers, the same can’t be said of faculty in the academic units.

Furton said during the Oct. 27 Faculty Senate meeting the goals of the merger include reducing the size of administration – without doing so for faculty – and increasing BBC’s enrollment.

Arts & Sciences has courses at both BBC and the Modesto Maidique Campus, and under a merged unit with Education, there could be specific degrees only offered at BBC.

Adding courses taught at BBC wouldn’t affect the College of Education, but if there are opportunities to do so administrators would explore them, Furton said.

Furton said to Student Media that the larger committee will also determine which of the deans of the four academic units will become department chairs.

Kathleen Wilson, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate, said to Student Media that she thinks the provost has a very good reason for why he thinks the merger is a good idea.

“He’s not talking about downsizing those areas,” said Wilson, who represents the University’s faculty as the leader of their governing body. “He’s talking about leveraging resources and possibly applying for more grants together.”

However, she did acknowledge that there is anxiety from professors in the affected colleges and school.

“It’s always hard on the faculty. But change is hard, even good change is hard,” Wilson said. “People don’t like change; it’s uncomfortable. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s uncomfortable.”

She said faculty members are nervous because of the University’s new strategic plan approved in 2015 and a state funding model in existence since 2014, which the Board of Governors voted to amend at their Nov. 5 meeting.

“People are worried. People are not sure. ‘How do I fit in? Will this affect my tenure? Am I going to have the same chair?’ Those are big anxiety producing questions,” Wilson said.

“It’s not that they disagree. They have a lot of questions they feel have not been answered yet.”

He said the possibility of any additional professors depends on student demand, and he added “we anticipate growth at BBC and would need additional faculty.”

Professors in the College of Education are trained in teaching and learning, and adding them to Arts & Sciences’ faculty, “would change the culture in terms of student learning outcomes,” Furton said.

Though there are no issues concerning the current culture, Furton said the University’s strategic plan, “FIUBeyondPossible2020,” calls for continuous improvement of the performance metrics the Florida Legislature uses to determine the amount of money to give universities in Florida’s university system.

As per the plan, University administrators want to increase the second-year retention rate from 75 to 90 percent and the six-year graduation rate from 54 to 70 percent by 2020.

“First and foremost we want to make sure the new colleges that we create are in the best interests of students, that we’re offering 21st century state-of-the-art courses that offer students the most opportunity for success and we’re not negatively impacting students,” Furton said.

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