Monday, October 27, 2008

Panel weighing UA overhaul's proposals faces daunting task

[Source: Aaron Mackey, ARIZONA DAILY STAR] - One day into a review of roughly 75 proposals to make the UA more efficient, those charged with sorting through the ideas see a monumentally confusing task before them.

While there are several large-scale plans to merge colleges or create new ones at the University of Arizona, most of the proposals deal with smaller department-level changes that are directly connected to proposed changes at the college level.

The web of connections between many of the proposals — on top of several that overlap or contradict each other — is forcing committee members to rethink how they'll evaluate the ideas before offering up final recommendations to administrators in November.

To make matters even more difficult, some of the proposals argue for the status quo, in a sense rejecting UA President Robert Shelton's call for a massive overhaul of the university's operations in the face of declining state support.

Shelton in September said that the UA needed to change how it teaches students, conducts research and serves the state so that the institution could continue to increase its academic prestige and streamline operations.

He called on faculty, staff and students to submit proposals on how to meet those goals, with the ideas being made public on Tuesday.

They range from small moves, such as blending two majors into one, to large-scale mergers of some of the UA's most research-intensive colleges.

A subcommittee of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee met on Wednesday to discuss the larger proposals.

While some of the college-level proposals were discussed, members of the committee quickly realized that many of the smaller proposals connected to larger changes and needed to be examined at the same time, said Miranda Joseph, the subcommittee's chairwoman.

Instead of focusing on the big proposals first, the committee will group together all ideas — big and small — and then try to examine their potential, Joseph said.

For example, perhaps the largest proposal calls for the colleges of Optical Sciences, Engineering and Science to merge into one massive unit.

The proposal for the move only briefly touches on how the many departments and schools within the colleges would fit together, relying instead on other proposals to flesh it out.

Those proposals call for a handful of new schools or departments, including a new School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences that would merge programs such as hydrology, mining and tree-ring research.

But not every small proposal fits in neatly with larger ideas. One, for example, calls for the centralization of all the physical-sciences classes on campus.

In that model, physics would be at the center of the teaching, collaborating with other fields such as chemistry and optical sciences.

It's not clear how the proposal would fit in with the current college structure or any of the proposed college-level changes.

Making matters even more complicated for the committee is that there are several colleges and departments that argue they should remain unchanged.

In a proposal from the College of Optical Sciences, it's clear that leaders don't believe mergers with another college or department is necessary.

Instead, the college proposes to help teach a few more physics and math classes while helping other departments and colleges boost their research funding.

Similar calls to remain unchanged are echoed in proposals by the College of Fine Arts and the University College, which serves students who haven't picked a major.

By arguing for the status quo, the colleges could be seen as potential roadblocks to several other ideas being considered by the committee.

In the case of Optical Sciences, the college is at the heart of a handful of other proposals that involve merging all or parts of it with other colleges.

On top of the example mentioned earlier, another proposal recommends merging Optical Sciences with Engineering to allow for greater collaboration.

The competing proposals among the science colleges are just a glimpse of the types of wide-ranging, often contradictory ideas that the subcommittee will have to reconcile in the next two weeks.

While Joseph said there won't be changes made merely for the sake of shaking things up, she's hopeful the committee will be able to identify ideas that will make the UA better and meet Shelton's goal.

"We're looking for proposals where there's a meaningful benefit, where change is worthwhile," Joseph said.

On StarNet: Keep up with other happenings around the University of Arizona with the Campus Correspondent blog at

No comments: