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Bates announces restructuring and reallocation

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 17 - January 18, 1996

As pruning a tree stimulates new growth and strengthens structure, Dean Robert C. Bates has proposed a series of restructuring measures to reshape and strengthen the College of Arts and Sciences and keep it viable for the future.

Driven by the need to adjust to reduced resources and the desire to redirect emphases to serve students, alumni, and the faculty in the 21st century, Bates began a process in April 1995 to allow faculty and staff involvement in restructuring the college. Groups met through the summer to plan a process that was endorsed by department heads in August. In September, departments prepared and submitted reports on their accomplishments and actions for the future. A select advisory committee of faculty members met through November to help Bates analyze the reports and advise him on consequences of actions. His decisions followed in early December.

Those decisions are intended to restructure programs and reallocate funds to enable the college to accommodate in a more structured way a 5-percent budget reduction that, since 1994-95, has meant $2,275,000 less in funding. The decisions also redirect another $1 million to be used for emerging needs and faculty and staff development. The measures include the phasing out of two doctoral programs, the regrouping of some programs, and the combining of others. Three years of transition are expected before a new base distribution of resources can be reached.

"While many difficult decisions need to be made to bring the college budget in line with the revenues available, we can, through careful planning and analysis, use the creative talents of the faculty to rethink the curriculum and provide a learning environment that is both theoretical and practical in nature," Bates said. "These changes are necessary to position the college to take full advantage of the future opportunities and to prepare our students to enter careers in a changing work environment."

The changes will strengthen the already good liberal-arts education at Virginia Tech, Bates said. "The College of Arts and Sciences, by its very composition, is the key, through its emphasis on liberal education, to all the disciplines of the university. This includes the undergraduate experience as well as advanced studies at the master's and doctoral levels in many disciplines."

However, he said, changes are necessary. "As it is necessary to reconsider allocation of our resources to achieve our goals, some graduate programs may need reorganization and refocusing to take advantage of the unique attributes of this university. It may also be necessary to phase out some programs, and, in that view, doctoral programs in economics and sociology are candidates for that action."

Some naturally occurring changes, such as a number of faculty members who are retiring or taking early buy-outs from the state and university, offer opportunities. "While these faculty members have served well and will be missed, we now focus on renewing and redirecting disciplines," Bates said.

Besides allowing for the continued offering of a strong liberal-arts education, the proposed changes are designed to enhance students' education as they create focused curricula, foster working relationships between disciplines that will show students teamwork, and lead to practical, high-quality graduate programs. The changes also will provide services and resources to alumni and will benefit the faculty and staff by providing new challenges for creative activities, breaking the isolation from society and commerce, and fostering greater visibility for college programs both inside and outside Tech's walls.

The remaining proposed changes, which emphasize cooperation and collaboration among departments, include the following:

* A joint, practical-oriented, high-quality master's degree to serve both English and communication studies. "Preparation of the students for specific career opportunities should be a significant part of our graduate programs," Bates said.

* Regrouping such as the already-initiated Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (which includes Black Studies, Programs in the Humanities, International Studies, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Religious Studies, Science Studies, and Women's Studies).

* Collaborative and cooperative efforts such as the proposed School for Public and International Affairs that is designed to foster greater visibility for the Department of Geography, International Studies, and the Department of Political Science as they work with Urban Affairs and Planning and the Center for Public Administration and Policy in the new school arrangement; and the establishment, through science, statistics, and psychology departments, of an integrated course or set of courses built around a theme of issues of importance to individuals and society.

"When we bring people together in new arrangements, the curriculum can be revised and enhanced," Bates said, "and, in some areas, we are providing a more integrated treatment of topics, which will help students in addressing questions and issues of broader implications that require broader problem-solving skills. Critical thinking, problem solving--that's emphasizing the practical bent."

* Course changes, including the integration of the instruction of design in the School of the Arts and the increase of the use of educational technologies in the disciplines of art and theatre; a pilot freshman course in English and communication studies that will combine written and oral communication; jointly designed, jointly taught courses, in new formats, to train students in areas such as the basics and applications of statistics.

* Increased efforts to break the college's isolation from society, commerce, and grades K-12 through such programs as VTOPS (Virginia Tech Outreach Program for Schools) and V-QUEST, the program designed to improve the teaching of math and sciences.

* Restructuring in departments such as biology and chemistry, which must meet large loads without a great infusion of new resources.

* A refocusing of efforts in departments with lower enrollments as several faculty members leave through retirement and buy-out offers.

* New approaches to solving problems related to student need for courses vs. too few faculty members to meet the demand-such as cooperative ventures between engineering and computer science to meet the need for computer-engineering courses.

* Greater efforts to reconnect with alumni in positive and appropriate ways.

The proposal includes budget reductions to all departments ranging from 1 percent to 21 percent of their current budgets. Still, Bates said, the college is not reducing the number of students at the university; instead, through greater efficiency and consolidations, it actually will serve more students. However, there may be fewer options for the students in some areas, he said.

"Students will still be able to get a basic liberal-arts education," Bates said, "and, with some of the changes, I think we actually are strengthening that education. At the same time that we are cutting out some things, we are bringing in things such as service-learning, which connects students to the real-world environment through practical experience combined with classroom learning."

The plan requires no faculty or staff layoffs. Through the reallocation of resources over three years, the plan will provide, in addition to the reduction in budget, a fund that will allow the college to respond to needs for faculty/staff development, special curriculum initiatives, and changing student demands for certain majors.

"A great challenge," Bates said, "is learning to expend collective energy to instruct students rather than separate energy to compete for diminishing resources."