The Arizona Desert Lamp

The Night of the Consolidating College

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 15 January 2009

Night of the Living CollegeIrrational panic is nothing new in discussing university functions, and today we see in wake of the dreaded C-word. Simmer down, Maude Lebowski — it’s the fear of consolidation.

First, we had yesterday’s long-past-due piece on the new College of Letters & Science. In gathering student reaction to the new College, the paper got this gem of a quote:

Morgan Decker, a sociology junior, said students will struggle with being part of such a large college.

“I feel like it’s going to be even more difficult to get the classes I need than ever before,” Decker said. “As a junior, I’m still not able to get into one of the mandatory courses for my sociology major. It was full during priority registration! Now imagine trying to register for classes in the huge college. It’s going to be impossible.”

There’s not much to say here outside of the fact that this is just wrong. The sharing of administrative faculty by several colleges has no relation whatsoever to an increased number of sociology students. Why would there be more students in upper-division courses than there would be under SBS?

Unfortunately, these sorts of sentiments seem to be broadly shared, according to the paper’s poll on the issue — a fully 56 percent of students “hate it.” (Note to any Wildcat staff reading this — it would be really nice if the polls included a total number responding, rather than just percentages, to get a sense of what kind of a sample we’re dealing with.)

To be fair, today’s unsourced editorial has a different bone to pick:

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.

It’s not so much as reluctance as inability — the state is broke, and unlike their federal counterparts, they can’t run up endless debts for time and time forever, until they very concept of government spending becomes Borgesian. You also have to appreciate the use of the vague “administration” — Jan Brewer may currently occupy the Governor’s Office, but she is reckoning with a budget crisis that emerged under the eye of the Arizona Democrats love, Janet Napolitano. Furthermore, it’s not as though Hay or any other officials have denied the financial necessity — they simply assert that there’s no reason that economic cutbacks necessarily have to lead to educational degrading.

Yet the editorial’s assertion that this was a “top-down” decision is simply false — as Hay has pointed out, the CLS arose from several white papers, about as much of a bottom-up process as can be conceived.

For all its fulminating, the column doesn’t really point out any actual problems — the school “may” have unintended consequences, the author(s?) “suspect” that changes will be more than cosmetic. The editorial asserts near the end that, “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.”

Though unsolicited, allow me to play the role of a monocle. The U. Michigan has its widely respected College of Literature, Sciences, and Arts; the U. Virginia has its College of Arts & Sciences; Texas-Austin has the College of Liberal Arts; U. North Carolina has the College of Arts & Sciences; U. Wisconsin has the College of Letters & Sciences; Penn State has its College of the Liberal Arts. Going through the better public universities, it is hard to find a single one that does not have a school consolidating at the very least the arts and the social sciences (“humanistic studies,” if you will); almost all combine sciences with these as well. It is highly specious to believe that these schools, all well-respected (and many to a higher degree than the UA), are having their academics “hindered” with these Colleges. If we are to oppose such consolidation, and go against the grain of these high-achieving public institutions, we’d better have a good reason for doing it.

To make a rough parallel, we are moving towards a more federalized model of the university, with very strong Colleges, more loosely controlled by the central administration than before. It is hard to see how this isn’t a good thing. But. . .but. . . but it saves money! It’s bigger! It must be hiding some secret eee-villl. . .

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8 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 15 January 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Most people don’t respond well to change, so they automatically assume the new merger indicates a deterioration of the majors. There’s nothing threatening about the consolidation. Once they eliminate certain majors (English, Creative Writing, Art, etc.), then we can worry.

  2. Connor Mendenhall said, on 15 January 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Foist your pince-nez and lorgnettes and quizzing-glasses on me all you want, but how dare you give me an unsolicited monocle?

    I think this editorial misses the bigger problem with this consolidation: although I think it’s a good idea, I doubt that it’ll save that much money. As I’ve said all along, there are only so many secretaries to be fired and stacks of copy paper to be rationed.

  3. Laura Donovan said, on 15 January 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Connor raises a good point, but an article in today’s Wildcat said the consolidation will immediately save $1.5 million.

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