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January 2003


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.


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:
  • Enhance the quality of the educational experience we offer our students - this will involve creating an academic structure that focuses our resources on those disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields of inquiry that are central to the College's distinctive liberal arts mission.
  • Strengthen the primary intellectual communities within which we all work - this will involve creating academic units that support scholarship, provide a primary academic 'home' or community for faculty, and otherwise make the College an attractive and intellectually invigorating place to work.
  • Make the most efficient use of finite financial and personnel resources - this will involve reducing needless duplication and overlap in the administrative structure, and otherwise finding more efficient ways of doing business.
Once this is accomplished, we can move on to addressing the curriculum (ie. revisiting our core educational objectives, desirable core competencies such as writing and quantitative skills, major/minor requirements, general education requirements, language requirements, course offerings, etc).

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:
  • Phase I- Revise the Allocations Process: This phase, completed in Fall 2002, involved articulating a set of criteria for guiding the allocations process. The goal was to enhance the transparency, efficiency, fairness and consistency of the process whereby faculty positions are allocated.
  • Phase II - Renovate the Academic Structure: This phase involves renovating the administrative structure within which we do our scholarly work. Specifically, it involves developing and agreeing upon a new model academic structure (ie. specifying the nature, roles, rights and responsibilities of departments and programs). EPAG envisions that this phase will be completed early in the Spring 2003 term.
  • Phase III - Implement the New Model Academic Structure: This phase will involve the actual restructuring of academic units (departments and programs) in light of the new allocations guidelines and the new model academic structure. In other words, it will involve making the operational decisions required to adapt the existing curriculum to the new academic structure. We envision that faculty will submit restructuring proposals to EPAG sometime during Spring 2003 term. EPAG will then review these proposals and develop an overall plan for a new academic structure. Ideally, the faculty would approve this plan and actually implement the required changes in time for the 2004-2005 catalogue (ie. January 2004).
  • Phase IV - Renew the Curriculum: Once we have completed Phase III, we will then be in a position to review the curriculum and address the questions "Given our mission and vision, what intellectual competencies do we wish a Macalester graduate to have when they graduate, and how should we organize the curriculum to ensure that we cultivate these competencies?" This phase will thus involve addressing a range of important curricular questions (egs. what should the goals of a liberal arts education be in the early 21st century? what intellectual skills and competencies does this suggest we should be cultivating in our students? and, how should we structure our general education and major programs to ensure that we are actually cultivating these competencies?). This phase, which is key to the goal of enhancing the academic quality of a Macalester education, will probably not begin until early 2004.

EPAG has proposed a model academic structure organized around three basic elements:
  • Divisions: The academic structure currently comprises four divisions. As these currently serve a primarily curricular function (they are tied to our general education requirements in that students have to take courses in each of the divisions to graduate), EPAG proposes leaving this aspect of the academic structure untouched for the moment (ie. until we begin addressing curricular issues in Phase IV).
  • Departments: EPAG has proposed an academic structure based on two types of department: disciplinary and interdisciplinary. These departments would have the exclusive right to offer courses, provide majors and submit allocations requests. Both of these types of departments can also offer emphases and minors (see below).
  • Interdisciplinary Programs: EPAG has proposed a structure that includes interdisciplinary programs that would offer minors comprising sequences of courses drawn from departments. Such programs would have no administrative personnel, faculty or courses of their own and would not have a seat at the allocations table.
The following represents our attempt to respond to some of the questions raised by this proposal:

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:

  • enhance our ability to deliver a first-rate liberal arts curriculum;
  • create different scholarly communities that make sense both within and beyond the campus;
  • reflect (and project) the College's distinctive mission, vision, identity; and/or,
  • significantly enhance the efficient use of personnel and other resources
EPAG has no preconceived notions regarding what, if any, units ought to be merged or re-combined. We are hoping that faculty will take this opportunity to imagine (perhaps radically) new configurations of departments and programs that will enhance academic excellence (teaching and scholarship), internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement and/or improve the efficient use of always finite resources. The Center for Scholarship and Teaching has offered to facilitate discussions among interested faculty.

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:

  • formal joint appointments between disciplinary and interdisciplinary departments; and
  • the allocations process (contributions to interdisciplinary departments could be written into allocations requests/decisions);
EPAG also believes that the most likely candidates for interdisciplinary department status will prove sustainable because they enjoy the support of a critical mass of faculty who are interested in at least cross-listing relevant courses with those departments. EPAG recognizes, however, that this is a concern and would like to hear more from the faculty on this question.

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:
  • interdisciplinary Departments;
  • interdisciplinary Interdepartmental Programs;
  • interdisciplinary emphases within majors;
  • interdisciplinary Individually Designed Independent Majors;
  • interdisciplinary 'learning communities' (eg. linked courses); and,
  • interdisciplinary team-taught courses.
It is our hope that this document goes some way toward clarifying the proposed new academic structure (as well as placing it in a broader context). In the interests of assuring that the process remains responsive and democratic, we encourage you to continue to provide us with your questions, comments and suggestions. Our plan is to have the faculty vote on this important restructuring initiative at the next meeting of the faculty (12 February 2003).

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