On any given day at the University of Oregon, about half of all students and faculty come to campus under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences. CAS, which includes majors ranging from biology and physics to romance languages and creative writing, could undergo a major reorganization in the near future, according to the Provost Jayanth Banavar’s office.
In the fall, after the dean of CAS announced he was stepping down, the provost established a task force to analyze the potential changes to CAS, according to the group’s charge. Currently, CAS is made up of three smaller divisions (natural sciences, social sciences and humanities) under one central umbrella, but that could change.
The task force, which is only assigned to consider options and not to make a formal recommendation, has already begun to meet to discuss the future of the college. Karen Ford, the chair of the task force, says she is excited for the opportunity to make CAS “stronger and more efficient.”
“One of the really good things that could come out of the conversation is we’ll imagine a structure for all of these faculty, staff and students in their pursuits that improves greatly what we have,” Ford said. “We want to retain the liberal arts core of the university, but we see ways to structure internally that make it better for faculty, staff and students.”
While Ford says many options are on the table, many faculty have expressed concerns about potential restructuring to the leaders of United Academics, the union that represents university faculty members.
The union ran an informal survey of its members regarding the task force’s work. Many of the survey’s 115 responses came from faculty in the humanities, expressing what UA Secretary and Instructor of English Eleanor Wakefield described as “panic in the humanities.”
“The humanities in general have a lot of concerns about their prioritization among the other things that the university is focused on,” Wakefield said.
Humanities faculty are comforted, UA President Chris Sinclair said, by the fact that Ford is a member of the English department and previously served as the CAS divisional dean for the humanities. Her selection to lead the task force, Sinclair said, was a “wise choice” on the part of the administration.
Other faculty concerns, according to the survey, included more difficult integration between departments and loss of the faculty or programs if CAS is broken into several different colleges or schools.
Sinclair also expressed concerns about the expedited timeline the task force is scheduled to take. It is set to share its report with UO President Michael Schill and Provost Jayanth Banavar in April and has about 10 hours of discussion planned between now and then.
“To me, that feels really fast, and I question how deep one can really go in five meetings,” Sinclair said. “That does worry me.”
Ford said she’s also aware of how tight the timeline is for a large project like this.
“My only concern is time. I’m much more worried about time than the content of the discussions,” Ford said. “We have to balance clipping along and not lingering or dawdling on anything with not scrimping on the thought and discussion this conversation deserves.”
What the task force will find and what decisions university administrators will make about the structure of CAS at the end of that timeframe, Ford said, can’t be foretold at this stage.
“I truly can’t predict,” Ford said. “I feel confident that the provost and president care about the conversations we’re going to have and the information we’re going to share and that we’ll all have a say in what’s going to happen.”