Let’s Talk About CLAS

CLASFor the past several years, faculty members and departments (both in and out of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS)) have raised questions about CLAS’ structure.

  • With its 25 academic departments and 15 centers/institutes, is it too big?
  • How can one college be so diverse as to span the physical, social and natural sciences and the humanities?
  • As one college, do they have a big enough voice “at the table?”

In spring 2014 I had the opportunity to ask if faculty and staff wanted to take a deeper dive into assessing the structure of CLAS. Upon survey review, the voices of over 250 faculty and staff in the College indicated their preference to have a conversation about the structure.

What did the process entail?
I asked newly appointed (then interim) Dean Karen Marrongelle to work with the CLAS department chairs, faculty and staff to create a process for constructive dialog and to produce a report that would summarize the results. Thank you to everyone who participated, shared input and listened. A special thank you to Dean Marrongelle for ensuring the process was inclusive, open and respectful.

Dozens and dozens of meetings were held at all levels over a period of four months. In addition to a Final Report and Summary Analysis there were focus group reports and a report from each department. Also, there were reports from a prior Strategic Task Force, the State of the College Successes Summary, and State of the College Challenges. Please see all reports here.

After reviewing the reports, I met with Dean Marrongelle and independently with the CLAS department chairs, and this is what we found:

  • There was little to be gained for students as a result of a disaggregation of CLAS.
  • Departments saw many ways in which they contribute positively to a holistic college.
  • Many of the items of concern/in need of improvement can be addressed without creating multiple colleges.
  • There is a desire not to spend resources to support the administrative structure of multiple colleges.
  • Some units would like to form a new college or be part of another college.
  • The impact of historical resource allocations, the challenges with the current level of resources and plans for how resources will be allocated in the future are real.
  • There is a need for the CLAS dean and provost to provide greater clarity on how decisions are made.
  • Departments would like greater input on decisions, autonomy and accountability.

Conclusions
Based on the information and discussions I concluded that:

  • The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences should not be disaggregated into multiple colleges.
  • The College and the University must take actions to align support, resource allocations, and services to be more responsive to and fit the needs of departments, faculty and staff members.

Some of the problems and challenges that have been identified as a result of the conversations are due to the changing landscape in higher education and limited PSU resources, while others are within our control to change and will require internal structural and process adjustments.

As a first step I have directly appointed Karen Marrongelle as the Dean of CLAS. I am taking this action based on input from the department chairs in CLAS and faculty members, and consulting with President Wiewel, the President’s Executive Committee, the Academic Leadership Team (ALT) and external donors and stakeholders. This will provide the stable leadership needed for the faculty, staff and administration in CLAS and me to formulate a plan of action.

The conversations reflect the values we place in shared governance at PSU. It was important for me not to ignore the questions faculty had raised about CLAS and I would not make a decision about the College’s future without input from the faculty, staff and administration of the College.

The discussion on how to proceed is just beginning.

Please see further details in my memo located on the OAA website. You are invited to share your views with Dean Marrongelle, CLAS department chairs, and me on this blog space.

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