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EDUCATIONAL POLICY AND GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE
FURTHER ELABORATIONS ON THE
PROPOSED NEW ACADEMIC STRUCTURE
Following the recent release of EPAG's proposed new academic structure, the committee received considerable feedback from the faculty. The responses ranged from requests for clarification to concrete suggestions regarding how to improve the proposed structure in light of the distinctive circumstances of particular academic programs and units. Following careful consideration and discussion of these questions and comments, the members of EPAG thought that it might be helpful to elaborate on our initial proposal, both to clarify the proposals themselves and to explain the vision, logic and assumptions underpinning those proposals. For your convenience, we have presented this in question-and-answer format.
B. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS - BACKGROUND TO THE CURRENT RESTRUCTURING PROCESS
1. What is the impetus behind this restructuring process?
While the roots of the current restructuring process can be traced back to several sources, the most important impetus behind EPAG's proposal is a vision of the future in which Macalester is nationally recognized as providing a liberal arts education that is second to none in terms of both academic quality (the coherence, rigor, relevance, level of challenge, etc of the curriculum) and its ability to foster the intellectual, aesthetic, cultural, ethical and civic competencies necessary for effective and humane leadership in a multicultural and globalizing world. In other words, restructuring is being driven primarily by a desire to seize the moment and take the College to the next level of academic excellence. EPAG believes that, if we are to achieve this goal, we need to revise the academic structure (ie. the administrative structure within which we do our scholarly work) in ways that:
2. What changes need to be made in the operational practices, curricular content and organizational structures of the College?
Simply put, then, EPAG believes that the following changes need to be made in the following order:
EPAG has proposed a model academic structure organized around three basic elements:
1. Why does EPAG's proposal focus so much on strengthening majors?
Majors are central to the teaching/learning enterprise at Macalester. This is so for at least three reasons. First, in the College's Statement of Purpose and Belief, we made a commitment to an academic program in which 'students follow a primary course of study in order to acquire an understanding of a body of knowledge and methodology'. The major remains the principal curricular mechanism for giving effect to that commitment. Second, completion of a major is the primary requirement for graduation. As such, it is the fundamental and indispensable bedrock of our students' academic experience at the College (and, indeed, the only source of depth in the curriculum). Third, the academic unit providing the major is typically a student's primary scholarly 'home' within the College and, as such, one of the more important sites where they forge enduring connections to the institution (and, conversely, where the College forms enduring connections to potential alumni donors - not an insignificant consideration).
The implications of this for academic structure are simple: majors need to be high-quality (ie. they need to have depth and breadth; they need to be coherent; they need to be integrative, etc); and they need to be sustainable (ie. they need to be built on a foundation of sustained investment in personnel and financial resources so that students will be able to complete a major once begun). In turn, this means that, when the faculty chooses to offer a major, that major deserves to be housed in an academic unit that embodies such an investment and commitment from the college. We are calling the units that have such support departments. We use this designation whether or not the units are currently called departments, whether or not they currently offer majors, or, for that matter, whether or not they currently exist.
2. Why insist that only Departments be allowed to offer majors? Can't the proposed Interdepartmental Programs be permitted to offer majors if the participating faculty agree not to request resources or a seat at the allocations table?
Simply put, EPAG believes that allowing the proposed Interdepartmental Programs to offer majors would not be consistent with either the goals of the restructuring effort or the best interests of our students. We reached this conclusion in the following manner. First, we began with the assumption that majors are central to the teaching/learning enterprise at Macalester and therefore need to be both high-quality and sustainable (see above). Second, we agreed that the College needed an institutional framework that would enhance both the academic excellence and sustainability of our majors by allowing us to distinguish between those courses of study (majors) that students require to graduate and those (minors) that may be desirable but that are not necessary for graduation. Third, based on this goal, we developed an academic program structure that clearly distinguished between Departments (which would be allowed to offer majors) and Interdepartmental Programs (which would offer only minors).
Against this backdrop, and following careful deliberations, EPAG concluded that it would be inconsistent with the logic and goals of the restructuring process to permit Interdepartmental Programs to offer majors, even if those programs do not ask for resources or the right to submit allocations requests. The reason for this is that we believe that such programs actually need dedicated resources and a seat at the allocations table if they are to be sustainable (ie. to reliably fulfill the implicit contract between the College and our students that states that students will be able to complete any major they begin). Accordingly, EPAG does not support creating loopholes and exceptions to the structure we have proposed and strongly encourages those programs that wish to continue to offer majors to find some way of either becoming or locating themselves within a department (perhaps as an emphasis). Alternatively, programs should consider becoming an Interdepartmental Program offering only a minor.
3. Why shouldn't Interdepartmental Program minors be able to offer their own free-standing introductory and/or capstone courses?
The answer to this hinges partly on our understanding of the nature and purpose of the restructuring process and partly on our understanding of the nature and purposes of minors:
(a) One of the goals of this restructuring process is to maximize the efficient use of scarce resources, by focusing those resources on supporting primary courses of study (majors). EPAG believes that allowing the proposed interdepartmental programs to offer their own courses will divert resources from departments (every course offered by one of these programs is a course that must be taught by a faculty member who cannot then offer a course in his/her home department). Accordingly, we propose that only departments be permitted to offer courses and that interdepartmental programs offer minors made up of these departmental courses.
(b) Along with general education requirement and electives, the minors are intended to allow students to realize another of the goals articulated in the College's Statement of Purpose and Belief: to 'develop a broad understanding of the liberal arts' by taking a concentration of courses beyond their primary course of study. Pedagogically speaking, minors (like majors) ought to be coherent, sequential, and integrative. EPAG believes, however, that this does not imply that minors are qualitatively identical to majors, distinguished only by the fact that they entail fewer required courses. For one thing, minors are not a graduation requirement (and therefore do not entail the implicit promise to students that characterizes the major). Rather, we see minors as a complement to majors (and, as such, having fewer claims on College resources). This being the case, when EPAG proposed that Interdepartmental Programs only be permitted to offer minors, it suggested that such minors be effectively 'unstructured' (involving any 5-7 courses drawn from an approved list of courses offered by several departments; no dedicated introductory or capstone requirement, etc). While we still believe that Interdepartmental Program minors should not be able to offer their own dedicated introductory or capstone courses (in fact, to reiterate, we propose that only departments be permitted to offer courses), nothing we have suggested precludes the proposed Interdepartmental Programs from specifying a particular sequence of courses that constitute the minor in order to provide some coherence and depth. In practice, this means that, while Interdepartmental Programs will not be able to create and offer dedicated or program-specific introductory or capstone courses of their own, they may require that students complete specific departmental courses in a specific sequence. They may also require pre-requisites or complementary courses from among the regular departmental offerings of the College. Finally, Interdepartmental Programs may require that students complete an Independent Project as a de facto capstone requirement for the minor.
4. Shouldn't Interdepartmental Programs have a chair or director to oversee/administer the program?
EPAG believes that, by structuring the Interdepartmental Program minors as described above (ie. as a more or less unstructured series of courses drawn from an approved list), the routine administrative needs of these programs will be reduced to the point where they will not require substantial administrative support (a director, library budget, clerical support, etc). While this does not preclude a faculty member voluntarily acting as a kind of "contact person" for the program, EPAG does not envisage this person assuming either the leadership role or administrative burden of the current program directors or department chairs. Accordingly EPAG believes that such faculty members should not receive course release for acting in this capacity.
5. What will happen to existing interdisciplinary programs such as CNAS, African American Studies, WGS, International Studies, Environmental Studies, Humanities and Cultural Studies, Neuroscience Studies, etc. under this proposed restructuring?
There are several options open to these existing programs: some may propose becoming an interdisciplinary department, some may become emphases within existing or new departments, and some may opt to become new interdepartmental programs. To a considerable degree, the final outcome will depend on a variety of discussions (such as those involving CNAS and African American Studies regarding the possibility of creating an interdisciplinary Department of American Studies) that are currently taking place involving the key stakeholders in each of these programs.
It is perhaps worth emphasizing at this point that EPAG has no predetermined outcome in mind when it comes to the future of the existing interdisciplinary programs. Nor is it interested in 'dictating' specific restructuring plans to these programs academic units. Nor, finally, is it looking for ways to terminate these programs. EPAG strongly believes that, as long as the existing interdisciplinary programs advance the College's distinctive liberal arts mission, they ought to be able to determine for themselves how and where they fit into the new institutional framework. EPAG's role will be limited to integrating all of the restructuring proposals into a coherent overall plan and otherwise ensuring that specific proposals are consistent with the letter and spirit of the agreed allocations guidelines and proposed academic structure.
6. What will happen to existing 'emphases' within the proposed departments/majors
Under the proposed structure, disciplinary and interdisciplinary departments could continue to offer an emphasis within the major. Consistent with current practice, EPAG envisions that such a course of study would consist of either (a) a sequence of courses in addition to courses required for the basic major, or (b) a sequence of courses within a major. In both cases, the emphasis would focus on a specific sub-field, geographic area and/or mode of inquiry within, or cognate to, the major. In either case, courses counting toward an emphasis could be drawn from within and/or beyond the department offering the major.
7. What does EPAG mean when it says in the restructuring proposal that it 'strongly encourages existing departments and programs to give careful consideration to creative and non-traditional options'?
All we mean by this is that, as part of the restructuring process, EPAG encourages faculty members to consider creative ways of re-combining existing academic units in ways that are likely to:
8. Do the minimum faculty numbers for Disciplinary (3) and Interdisciplinary Departments (2) mentioned in the document refer to T/TT positions or simply FTE?
EPAG would like to hear more from the faculty on this question. At the moment, our thinking is that for interdisciplinary departments the floor should be 1 T/TT position plus 1 other full-time FTE (both whole people - ie. not aggregations of fractions of people). For disciplinary departments, we think the floor should be 2 T/TT positions plus 1 other full-time FTE.
9. Does the 'floor' number of faculty for a department mean any three people can constitute themselves as a disciplinary department (or any two people as an interdisciplinary department)?
No. What EPAG is saying is that, if the faculty believe it is worthwhile (given our distinctive liberal arts mission) to offer a particular major, that major deserves to have a guarantee of sufficient resources. As a general rule of thumb, EPAG believes that this means that disciplinary departments should be entitled to at least 3 FTE and interdisciplinary departments to at least 2.
10. How will each discipline be counted within existing or new multidisciplinary (or merged) departments?
EPAG believes that the floor numbers should apply to departments rather than disciplines or majors within a merged or multidisciplinary department. It should be noted once again, however, that these are minimum numbers. The actual complement of a department will depend on a variety of factors, one of which might be the fact that more than one discipline/major is housed in that single administrative unit/department.
11. What steps will be taken to ensure that Disciplinary Departments continue to contribute course offerings in support of the proposed Interdisciplinary Departments?
EPAG believes that this will be an ongoing challenge that can be addressed (if only imperfectly) through the use of:
12. How will the College continue to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary study?
EPAG believes in the importance of interdisciplinarity. Accordingly, we have taken steps to ensure that there are a variety of sites within the proposed academic structure where faculty and students can engage in interdisciplinary study and scholarship. These include:
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