Go to the U of M home page

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reorganizing CLA

Many thanks to you all for the interest you’ve shown in the CLA Roadmap and the five goals that will motivate our action over the coming years. As I mentioned in The Road Ahead address and have discussed with many of you, I am proposing a reorganization of CLA along three intellectual groupings representing the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Each corridor would have an academic associate dean from within that intellectual tradition who would have the responsibility and authority—in consultation with me—to work with departments on their hiring, planning, and other issues, and to advance the five goals identified in the Roadmap.

My primary interests in this proposal are fourfold.

First, this arrangement would provide departments with a main point of contact within CLA administration who would be widely versed on the issues and opportunities facing the department. One of the concerns I’ve heard from departments is a coordination problem: do messages and concerns raised with one part of the college administration get relayed to other parts? Having an academic associate dean who is a main point of contact for departments reduces this coordination problem. In many cases, the academic associate dean will handle issues directly. In other cases, an issue will be handled elsewhere in the college but the academic associate dean will be in the loop and thus aware of the college’s interaction with the department on an issue. Similarly, the academic associate dean will be in a position to convey collegiate thinking, policy, and plans to departments, and to engage in discussions on these.

Second, the proposal would give each group of departments an academic associate dean with deep knowledge and expertise in the intellectual traditions of that particular corridor. These associate deans would also be well positioned to identify potential research, curricular, and organizational linkages across units (both within and across the three corridors) in a way that would make us more intellectually dynamic and more effective as a college. And as decisions are being made in the college, faculty can know with assurance that voices from our major intellectual traditions are present.

Third, I believe this reorganization would provide me with the kind of advice, counsel, and information needed to make effective decisions. Although departments are our most prominent organizational unit within the college, our current administrative structure does not interact with departments as organizational wholes. While we can and do work collaboratively in our current structure to discuss departmental plans, requests, and strategies, I believe the proposed new arrangement would allow us to consider all three (plans, requests, strategies) more effectively.

Fourth, in our current administrative arrangement, the dean has over 40 direct reports, including all chairs and directors. The proposed arrangement will provide additional time to advocate for the college’s agenda both internally and externally and to focus on strategic collegiate concerns. Chairs will still have the opportunity to discuss issues with me.

These comments tell you what the proposal is. Let me explain what it is not. This is not a proposal for a full, top-to-bottom divisional arrangement as exists at some other institutions. Individual faculty members will not declare themselves as members of one corridor or another. Resources will not be allocated by division. Promotion and tenure will continue to go through a single committee, not committees set up for each corridor.

Let me also address a few commonly asked questions.

Would such an arrangement hinder interdisciplinary research or teaching? It would not and, as suggested above, I believe it might help us identify additional areas for fruitful collaboration. The proposal is about how departments interact with the college and more generally about the information flow between departments and the college. Faculty members will continue to do their work as they wish to conduct it and define it.

One concern that has been raised is that for some departments, the range of scholars within the department might make it difficult for the department to identify predominantly with the humanities, social sciences, or arts. I understand this concern. I would suggest that it would nonetheless be an improvement over our present arrangement for such a department to have an academic associate dean who works with the department holistically on the range of issues that it faces. We can be sure that department chairs will inform the academic associate dean about the range of scholarly orientations in the department.

A related question is whether this arrangement would make an individual faculty member feel out of place if, for example, a department is in the social science grouping but the individual scholar is a humanist, or a scholar is strongly interdisciplinary in his or her work. There might be a worry that one’s work is misunderstood by the college, or a worry that their academic associate dean might not adequately represent them. On the first worry, because the proposal is primarily about how departments interact with the college and not about individual faculty “assignment” to a division, I don’t believe this misunderstanding will be prevalent. On the second worry, as noted above, academic associate deans have the responsibility to understand the departments in their portfolio in all their intellectual diversity.

What would stay from the current structure? Under the proposal, the college would continue to have an associate dean for undergraduate education and an associate dean for graduate education and research. These are large and important portfolios, and other institutions with academic associate deans typically have these two positions (or more) as well. To improve coordination, when they are not the lead on an issue, academic associate deans will be kept informed in this arrangement of the important undergraduate and graduate issues facing the departments in their portfolio.

Will the arrangement create a large new bureaucracy? It will not, and I am sensitive to this issue. We will be discussing within CLA administration and with department leadership, both prior to and following implementation of the new system, how to make the new structure work effectively without appreciable bureaucratic expansion.

I will continue to seek feedback from our governance groups on this proposal and welcome your thoughts and questions as well through the Dean’s Suggestion Box form or via email.