Faculty Senate Debates College Split

Posted: November 12, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

At a special meeting of the Faculty Senate on Wednesday, senators expressed their views on a proposed split of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and posed questions to the chairs heading committees that are discussing the intellectual merits of the proposal. The committees’ main charge from Provost Peter Stearns is to formulate the proposed vision, mission, and goals of each prospective college.

The proposal to create two separate colleges—a college of science, to be formed by merging the CAS science departments with the School of Computational Sciences, and a college of humanities, social sciences, and interdisciplinary studies—is not only receiving intense study by the committees but is being discussed throughout the academic units affected. “I want to reassure the faculty that the inquiry is an open one and that a decision not to reorganize remains quite possible,” Stearns told faculty in an e-mail last week.

Jack Censer, professor and chair of the History and Art History Department, is chairing the committee for the proposed college of humanities, social sciences, and interdisciplinary studies, which would include interdisciplinary units and the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, Economics, Psychology, Public and International Affairs, English, History and Art History, Modern and Classical Languages, Philosophy and Religious Studies, and Communication.

James Trefil, Robinson Professor of Physics, is chairing the committee on the proposed college of sciences, which would encompass the current CAS Departments of Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry, Environmental Science and Policy, Molecular and Microbiology, Geology, and Geography, as well as units of the School of Computational Sciences and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

Censer noted that the committees will be looking at whether there is a strong case for the split, as well as the problems that could be solved by restructuring and those that can’t. They will also look at other universities, including all of George Mason’s peer institutions, to see how they are structured.

Explaining that the proposal is spurred in part by a view outside the university that Mason’s structure for the sciences is “too Byzantine and complicated,” Trefil noted that other academic institutions are beginning to make research inroads into the Northern Virginia area and this can be seen as a “threat” to Mason. “But it’s also an opportunity,” he said. “We need to look at George Mason in the context of the Northern Virginia community. The high-tech community wants a technological driver like a Stanford University in California.”

While some members of the science departments indicated that “a vast majority” of their faculty was in favor of the split, others disagreed. Chris Jones, chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, said, “The science faculty in my department are conflicted about this. The majority is not pushing for this.”

Other comments centered on the large size of CAS and the desirability of smaller units. Other concerns were that the split would create a “cultural divide” between the humanities and sciences and interactions between the two would be hampered.

Michael Ferri, School of Management, urged that the committees consider “how [a restructuring] would affect undergrads and how it would affect future students and faculty.”

Censer promised that an initial draft of the committees’ findings will be distributed to the faculty by the beginning of the spring 2005 semester. A final recommendation on the feasibility and practicality of the split will go to the provost by May 1, 2005.

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