Szymanski changes little in final realignment decision

The most thorough reorganization of MSUM in decades is now underway.

President Edna Szymanski’s final decision on how to align departments within five new colleges, released in a April 2 email to faculty and staff, differs from the previous version only in a few details – none of them related to organizational structure. Administrators, faculty and deans crafted the plan during more than a year of discussion and revision.

In an interview Thursday, Szymanski said she doesn’t deserve credit for academic realignment.

“The administration didn’t do it,” she said. “A committee of faculty did this. We know not everybody agrees about everything, but the majority of folks are pretty happy about what has happened.”

Faculty union president Ted Gracyk said professors generally found the realignment process to be fair and open, since after all, people the Faculty Association appointed made up the majority of the task force.

“If there was contention it was whether we should do anything at all,” he said.

The final decision, made after an informational meeting with the union, includes three changes from the previous version, released in March.

It clarified the role of “centers,” proposed units that involve colleges and departments collaborating within the revamped university. The president’s email announcing the finishing touches included a “call for letters of interest” due to deans by April 26.

Denise Gorsline, associate vice president for academic planning, said “centers” would be “interesting, compelling and issues based” and could take any number of forms. While noting it was not an active proposal, she suggested there could be a Center for Social Justice, incorporating mass communications, criminal justice and philosophy, among other departments.

Szymanksi said “centers provide an opportunity for faculty to be extremely creative.” One option, a Center for Entrepreneurship, she called “highly probable.”

Gracyk said he wouldn’t be surprised if some “centers” formed, but he said it would be important they do not violate the union contract.

Departments can make recommendations, he said, but two or more departments are not allowed to without the group being approved by the Faculty Association, and all of its recommendations are subject to review.

In an email, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Anne Blackhurst wrote, “centers will operate within the bounds of the (faculty) contract.”

And Gorsline said she doesn’t view working with the union as a hurdle, but rather as a “way to gain insight.”

“It’s not inherantly adversarial,” she said. “We should be having these dialogues.”

Another final revision temporarily changes the College of Critical Thinking and Integrative Studies – a name widely panned among faculty – to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. That college’s interim dean, which will be hired from MSUM ranks by July 1, will work with the faculty to “identify a (permanent) name that reflects the mission and vision of the college,” according to the president’s email.

The third change to the academic realignment decision involves the creation of a “committee on health-care professions,” which Blackhurst wrote, “will work to increase the visibility of health-related programs at (MSUM).”

Szymanksi pointed to the successes MSUM has had in preparing medical school students, the nursing completer program and various health-care administration programs as evidence of the university’s under-recognized prowess in the field.

“Lots of good stuff is happening here,” she said. “It’s just largely not known.”

Szymanski added the committee “could be a prelude to a ‘center.’”

MSUM administrators emphasized that academic realignment is just one part of the university’s strategic plan – a document in the final stages of revision that includes a mission statement, core values, five priorities and also a “vision” statement for 2032.

“Because it coincided with the strategic planning process, the realignment process was a rare opportunity to examine how we might increase the potential for achieving our vision by aligning our academic programs with our strategic priorities,” Blackhurst wrote. “Whether, and how, realignment will change the university depends entirely on what happens next. If we embrace this opportunity to ensure that the university is relevant and responsive to the needs of students, employers, and the communities we serve, I think realignment will prove to be transformative.”

BY BRYCE HAUGEN
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