WSU may be going back to the future. It is considering merging the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Sciences, 15 years after the original College of Sciences and Arts was split.
 
These discussions are occurring at the same time the university ponders refreshing its strategic plan and debates program priorities and budgets. And it’s no coincidence they converge as WSU’s new president Elson S. Floyd is hitting his stride.
 
“The president is here at an opportune time,” said Erich Lear, dean of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). “Many of these things have been discussed for the past three years. Now, the new president is saying, ‘Let’s quicken the pace.’ “
 
Integral to all these discussions is one of the goals for which Floyd was hired: improving WSU’s AAU-like qualities with the long-term goal of membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
 
Arts and sciences prevalent
Lear sees AAU criteria as requiring a balance between a university’s areas of pre-eminence with a comprehensive high-quality education for all students.
 
Of the 17 AAU universities that are WSU peer institutions or Pac-10 members, 11 have a combined college of letters/arts and sciences. Most of the general education requirements come from this college’s offerings. They address the goal of a rigorous comprehensive education for all students.
 
Most of the other colleges and schools at these AAU universities have strong ties to specific professional fields: business, communication, design, education, engineering, law and varieties of health disciplines. Some AAU members have graduate schools. The AAU land-grant peers have colleges of agriculture, while others have specialty schools in their areas of pre-eminence — chemistry, environment or fisheries, for example.
 
Merger pros and cons
There would be significant advantages and disadvantages to merging the CLA and College of Sciences (CS) at WSU, said Mike Griswold, CS dean.
 
Years ago, the disadvantages were more significant, and two separate colleges resulted, he said.
 
It is appropriate to re-examine the question at this time, he said. But, he added, change should only occur if it will result in major programmatic advantages for each college.
 
CLA changes
Within the larger context of AAU aspiration, the CLA is looking at its own configuration and making changes that have been discussed for years. For example, CLA recently made music and theater arts separate departments.
 
“More small units can provide more synergy because they will have to seek partnerships and collaborations,” Lear said. But these interactions will be initiated by the departments and members themselves and not thrust upon them through merger into a larger department.
 
Because of its ties to industry — even in undergraduate classes — WSU’s Edward R. Murrow School of Communication is more like a professional school (such as nursing or engineering) and less like the CLA, Lear said. These ties help it secure outside industry support, he said — support that might be greater if the school were separate from the college.
 
Murrow independence considered
Such independence was reviewed Monday, Oct. 22, by four communication school deans — from the universities of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Oregon — who visited the Murrow school. The deans considered an in-depth self-study of the school completed by a WSU task force last spring, and they spoke with faculty and administrators.
The WSU task force recommended independence — as a school or college — but only if the university committed to investing more money in the Murrow.
 
“They said we should be independent, but not without the appropriate funding,” said Erica Austin, interim director of the school. “We don’t want to be set up to fail.”
Specific recommendations from the deans are expected within a few days to a week after their visit, Austin said.
 
On the Tuesday morning after their visit, she said at least three points seemed clear from their discussions:
• They viewed the evidence as supportive of increased independence for the Murrow school.
• They supported keeping all aspects of the school intact.
• They indicated the school is worthy of significant investment so it can reach its potential. With sufficient infrastructure, Austin said, the school could attract money from extramural grants, contracts and outside donations. 
   
Timeline
Lear described committee work on college reconfiguration, program priorities and budgets, and the strategic plan as “several paths leading to July 1, 2008.” The study groups and timing involved include:

  • Murrow. Deans from four communication schools were at WSU Oct. 22 to make recommendations for its future direction. The school is expected to launch a search for a director or dean once the president and provost have received and made decisions based upon the deans’ recommendations.
  • CLA/CS. The reconfiguration committee is expected to conclude its work this semester. Members include Alex Hammond, Amy Wharton and Greg Yasinitsky from the CLA and Nancy Magnuson, John Nilson and Skip Paznokas from the CS.
  • Strategic plan. The committee working on refreshing the strategic plan is expected to conclude its work this semester. Names of committee members are in the Oct. 12 issue of WSU Today and ONLINE @ www.wsutoday.wsu.edu, search “strategic plan.”
 
  • Program prioritization. There will be two program prioritization and budget task forces for academic programs. Non-academic affairs units also will be reviewed and details on the process are expected to be available in the near future.
 
The first task force for the review of academic units will develop a process and criteria for assessing the programs, said Provost Robert Bates.
 
Academic units will use these during the spring semester in a self-assessment activity, which will complement work already under way for 2010 accreditation.
The second task force will review input from the academic units and will host hearings, with the president and provost, in March-April. The committee will recommend organizational and allocation changes to the provost.
Members of the second committee will be selected later. Member of the first group are:
Bob Bates, provost, ex-officio
Dan Bernardo, CAHNRS
Ruth Bindler, nursing
Tori Byington, graduate school
Ken Casavant, co-chair, economic sciences
Tom Dickinson, physics
Mary Doyle, co-chair, vice provost
Linda Fox, extension
Cathy Fulkerson, institutional research
Joan King, budget office, ex-officio
Erich Lear, liberal arts
Don Lynch, WSU Tri-Cities
Terry McElwain, animal disease/diagnostic lab
David McLean, engineering
Jim Petersen, research
Brian Pitcher, WSU Spokane
Jane Sherman, provost’s office
Dawn Shinew, teaching and learning
Matt Skinner, provost and budget offices
Lynn Valenter, WSU Vancouver
 
See related article at the Moscow Daily News at www.dnews.com/archived-story/Local/76004. A subscription is required to view this article.