On August 10, 2020, a task force established in December 2019 by former Interim Provost Chet Gillis—with the stated purpose of “evaluating the advisability of restructuring the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) to better ensure the success of all programs, departments, and of the University”—published its preliminary report.
The task force’s report reads more like a final proposal awaiting implementation, rather than an initial offering open to revision or rejection, a suspicion confirmed by an August 24, 2020 email from current Interim Provost Mike Lewis, who stated that he expects the task force’s final report by October 1, 2020, following a relatively brief period for community feedback, at which time he expects to “act upon the Task Force’s recommendations in a timely manner.” The interim provost reminded everyone that “the report is ultimately a recommendation to me, so I am comfortable finalizing those details if needed.”
The report caught many of the programs and departments directly affected by the proposed CAS reorganization by surprise, as they were never consulted. In fact, three of the five CAS social science departments—the Departments of Communications, Political Science, and Women’s and Gender Studies—were neither represented on the task force nor consulted at any point in the process. This led to recent votes by these departments, in which their faculties unanimously opposed the task force’s proposal.
The longstanding wish of the Departments of Chemistry and Biology to remove their departments from the CAS in order to create an autonomous College of Sciences, together with the fact that the interim provost is a member of the Department of Chemistry, further call into question the legitimacy of the process. Indeed, the task force was formed at the behest of the former interim provost, following a report of a committee chaired by the current interim provost. How were the members of the task force selected? Why were departments that are directly affected by a CAS reorganization not given representation on the task force? It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the deck has been stacked toward certain outcomes.
Unfortunately, the process of CAS reorganization represents a chronic pattern at SLU, where university administrators demonstrate, by their actions, that they are fundamentally opposed to meaningful shared governance. Major academic initiatives, such as the reorganization of the university’s largest college, need to be substantively discussed by all affected faculty at every stage of the process. Faculty bodies, such as the Faculty Senate and CAS Faculty Council, need to have decision-making power about important academic matters via majority votes.
Leaving the final decision about a major structural reorganization to the provost—let alone an interim provost—after limited consultation belies the administration’s claim to believe in “shared governance” and “transparency.” Instead, senior administrators evince a paternalistic, top-down managerial style that fundamentally opposes genuine shared governance.
The current process for reorganizing CAS has been bereft of meaningful shared governance. As such, it should be scrapped. The process needs to start anew, with broad-based faculty input from the start and with the final decision being determined by votes of relevant faculty bodies.