Proposed merger between SBS and HFA met with scrutiny, opposition from faculty
University of Massachusetts faculty and staff who participated in a committee examining the feasibility and costs and benefits of consolidating the College of Humanities and Fine Arts (CHFA) and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (CSBS) into one large College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (CHASS) had largely negative views of such a decision, according to a March 28 report recently obtained by the Collegian.
The 18-page “Report of the CHFA-CSBS Reorganization Committee to Deans Joel Martin and Robert Feldman” outlines potential complications and hurdles to synthesizing the two colleges, as well as suggesting potential remedies for issues the Committee foresaw.
The report, authored by 22 members of the faculty and staff of the two schools, attempts to analyze the challenges which would face the colleges if they were to merge in a similar fashion to the joining of the former Colleges of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM) and Natural Resource and the Environment (CNRE) into the College of Natural Sciences (CNS).
The committee formed subgroups to investigate how a potential merger would impact the structure of each of the colleges, human resources and finance, development and alumni relations, research, curricula, advising, and faculty personnel actions.
According to sociology and public policy professor Joya Misra, the deans of the schools instructed those on the committee to especially focus on the potential costs of a merger, both financial and logistical.
In March 2009, Chancellor Robert Holub proposed creating a unified CHASS to save on administrative costs by combining the two schools, as well as to promote cross-college collaboration on research.
The committee found that “the benefits of merging these two colleges would have to be quite substantial to outweigh the considerable costs” of combining the schools. The committee also added that, because of the financial and human resources cost of such a shift, costs associated with the restructuring would have to be added to the budget of the new college, cutting into the amount the unified school would be saving.
“Some of the costs would increase the base budget of the merged college and would thus reduce the savings anticipated from the merger without producing clear long term benefits,” the committee wrote.
The committee first examined potential issues in combining the administrative staff of the two colleges.
Noting that “there are many parallels in staff responsibilities in the two colleges,” the committee found CHFA has a larger body of Dean-level employees than CSBS, which could create an imbalance in bookkeeping abilities for the new school. The committee notes that, because CHFA has some small, specialized departments, it has more Dean-level staff to aid these smaller departments with bookkeeping and finding sponsored research. As such, the committee recommended creating an Associate Dean staff of three members to support research in social science, humanities and fine arts.
The committee found that another cost associated with restructuring administration would be in providing more administrative staff for some of the smaller departments presently in CHFA. This would give all departments in the new college ample staff for bookkeeping and research grant aid, but would also increase the cost of the new school.
Another complication merging the two schools could present is in ensuring there are ample facilities. A space review conducted by the University found that combining all functions of CSBS and CHFA would mandate at least 11,640 square feet of new space, an area the size of the Textbook Annex.
According to the committee, space on campus is limited, and even where there is sufficient room, there would be the cost of clearing out what is currently housed and moving in the files and items of the two colleges. The committee estimates that if the University were to convert the Textbook Annex into a new office for the hypothetical CHASS, renovations would cost around $3.4 million, a whopping number considering UMass’ financial condition.
The committee had further concerns about leadership and organizational structure. According to Misra, the committee met with the dean of the new CNS, who said that “there were not a lot of cost savings he could point to.” The committee’s report adds that “discussions with staff in the Dean’s Office of the new CNS revealed that not answering [what the organizational structure would be] greatly exacerbated the difficulties of merging the old CNSM and CNRE.”
The committee adds that “the general functioning of the college would be hampered during a period of transition, undermining productivity, faculty services, and the morale of staff.”
The committee also had reservations about creating a new Dean’s office. They cite issues with the availability of space for files dealing with 600 current faculty and staff and more than 400 inactive staffers, adding that the University would need to consult a structural engineer simply to determine a feasible location to hold the weight of such files.
Another issue arises with tying together the separate business practices of the two Colleges. CHFA, the report states, has a “more centralized model, whereas CSBS is more decentralized.”
The committee recommended much consultation between the new Dean and staff from the former two schools to get both schools on the same page in business practices, however, it also notes that, because each Dean’s Office has its own personnel database management system, “the merging of these two systems could cost in the area of $20-30K or more.”
The committee also concluded that there could be difficulties in alumni relations and fund raising, as the two schools have maintained separate staffs for those functions, and administrators would need to reassign job duties. Further, the opportunity for staff to bring in donations and solicit gifts could be cut into, as staff would need to learn their new duties and acclimate to the new structure, instead of continuing with their roles.
Further, each school has a separate alumni advisory board, and collating those two boards into one could prove contentious and delicate, as administration would need to consult with members of each board to draft a new one, with neither side feeling marginalized or left out.
In addition, the new CHASS would need to develop a branding and identity effort, which would take funds both to develop and to put into place. A unified college could also prove stressful for its new dean, as donors from each of the existing schools would now be coming to campus to visit one dean, placing complications on the Dean’s schedule, which would already be packed with adjustment and management.
Another area the committee addressed and found issues with is research. While both schools have prioritized faculty research in recent years, “each college emphasizes different kinds of research and funding that reflect different paradigms within the faculties.”
CHFA research often requires support for individual scholars or for international on-site research, while CSBS research tends to focus on data-driven studies. To work around these divergent research areas, the committee recommended to the deans that the schools maintain their current research centers.
Another issue pertaining to research the committee examined is an imbalance in research funds between hard sciences and social sciences and humanities. In FY09, the committee notes, CNS generated $77,385,500 in externally-funded research, while CSBS produced $2,797,700 and CHFA accounted for $788,200.
Advocates for the merger have argued that combining the schools will create a “binary star” effect, with two large schools balancing each other and keeping the University anchored.
Misra, however, argued that if anything, combining the two schools may actually weaken them both relative to the mammoth CNS.
“I’d actually prefer for there to be two deans counter-weighing the natural sciences,” she said. “My worry is that it will actually weaken the position of HFA and SBS on campus.”
One issue many faculty members had was that psychology had been put into the natural sciences umbrella, where many other schools which use a two-college structure include psychology in a traditional “Arts and Sciences” model.
The members of the committee also wrote that, as CHFA and CSBS account for about 37 percent of total undergraduate majors, funding to the two colleges should be proportionate, where presently more money flows into CNS due to its research output.
Another consideration would be in curriculum. Undergrads in each school presently must fulfill different requirements to graduate. A unified CHASS would need to streamline college requirements from the two schools.
Much like research, the committee recommended maintaining separate advising centers for the colleges. To find a new space for an advising center would likely be prohibitive, they wrote, and after the last restructuring of advising, “CHFA and CSBS majors have now made a real connection with the separate advising centers.”
The committee concludes that “it is clear that on the whole, faculty and administrators in CHFA and CSBS do not want to merge,” adding that “all aspects of the proposed merger would be costly both in real dollars and in terms of faculty and staff time and effort.”
“We should hesitate to merge even in good times, when we have all the resources we would need to pull the merger off successfully,” the committee concludes. “But these are not good times. Instead, we are working in a period of ever shrinking resources, and current economic forecasts predict that the recovery, such as it is, will be slow and halting.”
Despite these stark recommendations, the reorganization plan is still being debated.
According to Associate Dean for Research Affairs in SBS Doug Anderton, Provost James V. Staros will be convening a new committee shortly.
Sam Butterfield can be reached at email@example.com.