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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Editorial: Creation of UA ‘supercollege’ may have unanticipated consequences

    Get ready to say farewell to four of the UA’s colleges.

    No, they’re not going anywhere. Rather, the College of Humanities, College of Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and University College are to be merged into a single “”supercollege,”” to be dubbed the College of Letters and Science.

    It’s the boldest step we’ve seen yet in President Robert Shelton’s Transformation Plan, the plan he announced last fall to reform the university in the name of greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The new college would house more than 17,000 students -ÿout of a total student body of 38,000 -ÿand nearly half of the UA’s faculty, making it by far the largest college on campus.

    One’s first impulse, paradoxically, might be to wonder what the big deal is. Since the big three colleges, at least, will retain their deans, and we’re assured that all the colleges will retain an enormous amount of independence and autonomy, is this change anything more than cosmetic?

    We suspect it is. Though the details of the merger haven’t been released yet, this is sure to be one of the most dramatic – if not the single most dramatic – of the many changes Shelton has been promising us since last August. While we can only guess at its implications for the university’s faculty and staff, one consequence seems so likely that its absence from the UA administration’s public discussion of the merger can only be conscious.

    Provost Meredith Hay told the Daily Wildcat she expected the merger to save the university anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but how is it to be achieved? Through combining departments and resources – and, presumably, getting rid of unnecessary ones.

    We haven’t heard anything about that from the administration. Instead, we’ve heard about the glorious education opportunities this merger will open up to students. Shelton, in an email to the Daily Wildcat, said the merger would serve to better the “”quality of scholarship”” in the UA’s faculty and student, and “”increase our prestige.””

    But it would be na’ve to take this at face value – to think, that is, that the merger is happening simply in order to better the quality of our education or faculty scholarship. The “”creative collaborations”” between departments praised by Hay might be a laudable byproduct of the merger, but they’re not the reason.

    According to Hay, the merger will better allow the administration to carry out the proposals put forward by the colleges in last fall’s white papers. It’s true that those papers suggested some smaller mergers, such as combining the chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biophysics departments. But no one suggested anything as sweeping as this; the merger, it seems safe to say, was largely a top-down decision.

    It’s not hard to see the real reason for the merger: financial concerns. The state government’s growing reluctance to subsidize Arizona’s universities in a time of extreme economic instability has left the administration eager to find alternate ways of balancing its budget. And though the administration has denied that it intends to take a “”slash and burn”” approach to the university’s various departments, it’s hard to see any other outcome to a plan that promises centralization and consolidation of departments as the ultimate solution to the UA’s financial problems.

    We agree with Shelton that the UA could benefit from studying other colleges for cost-effective ideas. But we fervently hope the creation of this college doesn’t amount to masking a dire duty – downsizing and layoffs -ÿin pretty-sounding, high-flown rhetoric.

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