Academic Reorganization

The current economic crisis and associated budget woes in universities requires us to be open to more radical and rapid change than we are used to. What follows is a description of a method to transform the academic organization of the university to fit the current mode of intellectual inquiry – which is broader, more individualistic, and more interdisciplinary than previous modes – and at the same time to conserve university resources.”  (Capaldi, 2009, p19)

Ten years later and the paradigm shift continues. The mode of intellectual inquiry continues to move in the direction of interdisciplinary and team-based investigation into both the grand challenges facing the planet and the less sensational but immediate problems associated with everyday individual and community life. Design and systems thinking along with high-impact pedagogies continue to transform the nature of teaching and learning. The process of teaching and learning itself is undergoing a transformation as the tradition of providing knowledge through lectures alone gives way to experiential application of knowledge, skills, and competencies. The “spaces between the disciplines” are emerging as potential sources of solutions to our most chronic and solution-resistant challenges, and universities are increasingly being tasked with taking a more active role in supporting the development of healthy and productive local and regional communities through economic development and social innovation.

Similarly, budget conditions at state-supported institutions of higher education continue to undergo disruption by all manner of unanticipated and often uncontrollable external impacts. Population demographics point to a diminishing pool of prospective students in the near future. The longstanding view that higher education served a public good has been re-interpreted by many to suggest that higher education serves a private (individual) good. As a result, economic support for higher education has gradually shifted from the state to the individual, and this trend has created significant student debt at graduation. Accessibility and affordability of public higher education diminishes even as data reveals a clear and significant life-long return on this investment.

UIS is not immune to these and other trends. The question is not whether these trends and others will continue – they will. Higher education is embedded in a constantly changing world, and change is a given. The question is whether UIS will be bold and proactive in envisioning a future that allows us to achieve our mission of providing students with a premier educational experience in and out of the classroom while also demonstrating stewardship of university resources.  Does UIS possess the will and the courage to act on the shared mission, vision, and values reflected in the Strategic Compass to create an academic and intellectual environment that will better prepare our students for life?  Whether and how members of the university community respond to the opportunities and challenges of academic reorganization will determine the answer to this question.

Make no mistake, the penultimate goal of academic reorganization is academic revitalization. The primary value of conserving university resources is in the extent to which those saved resources are re-invested to enhance the quality of the academic enterprise. Elizabeth Capaldi (2009) authored a compelling paper entitled “Intellectual Transformation and Budgetary Savings Though Academic Reorganization” based on her experiences as Provost of Arizona State University. There is one significant take-away from this article that we should always keep at the forefront of our thinking as we explore this path – academic reorganization must better position the organization so as to enhance its ability to deliver on its stated mission. Although budgetary savings may be realized, the driving motivation must be to revitalize the quality of teaching and learning that the institution delivers to students, working professionals, and other constituents.

Why Now?

  1. The UIS Strategic Compass 2028 has resulted in collectively shared and adopted Mission, Vision, and Values statements that support efforts to provide our students with a premier educational experience both in and out of the classroom. With the overarching goal of the Strategic Compass to provide each student with a Premier Educational Experience, the Division of Academic Affairs has advanced several related tactical plans that will: create a culture that values innovation and creativity in teaching and learning; facilitate the development of new and revitalized academic programs; and create new intellectual synergies through academic reorganization.
  2. Higher education is in the midst of a paradigm shift in which established conceptualizations of teaching and learning, scholarship, and outreach are undergoing transformation. Our understanding of effective teaching and learning is expanding well beyond the classic lecture in a classroom towards multiple delivery methods combined with the integration of active learning opportunities. Heavily siloed research and scholarship is ceding ground to broader interdisciplinary teams of scholars looking for creative solutions to the most pressing issues of the day. Finally, the impact of our outreach and service is increasingly being viewed through the lenses of economic, entrepreneurial, and social innovation activities.
  3. The literature in higher education is replete with examples of dramatic fluctuations in the level of state support; the most recent being a 40% cut in state appropriations faced by the public system in Alaska. Though we have been and will continue to be good stewards of our resources, we must become more proactive and intentional in organizing ourselves to both revitalize our academic portfolio while also reinvesting saved dollars into the academic enterprise.

Three-Phase Process

I have had extensive experience with academic reorganization at several institutions. I have seen reorganizations falter, and I have observed reorganizations that produced transformational results in which the impact of the reorganized units had a multiplier effect on attracting, retaining, and graduating students who were uniquely prepared for a lifetime of success. When the processes used to achieve the reorganization are examined critically, the most successful efforts occurred in three distinct phases (Faculty Of, Division Of, and School Of).

Do not be distracted by the descriptors “division” and “school”. In this usage, a division is a term to denote a temporary (approximately one year) designation signifying that there is extensive planning taking place to support and justify the creation of a new unit (department, division, school, or college). Similarly, the term “school” is a broad term used to signify the creation of a new unit achieved through the realignment of other existing units or parts of units. The new units may be a department, division, school, or college.

The three phases are described below with respect to a general description of what functions are focused upon in each phase along with a few informational items describing specific steps that mark the beginning and ending of each phase.

  1. Phase 1: “Faculty Of …” Begins with conversations between faculty from different units who perceive and seek to explore potential curricular, scholarly, and outreach/service synergies that could be leveraged to provide students with a unique educational experience that better prepares them for a lifetime of opportunity.
    1. Faculty wishing to establish a “Faculty Of” conversation should, as a matter of courtesy, inform the dean(s) of the units involved in this initial exploration. This information sharing with deans is not for purposes of approval or permission, but to facilitate open communication and transparency.
    2. There will always be more reasons to do nothing than to change. The question is whether the reasons for change are more compelling (offer a brighter and more successful future for you and your students) than does the status quo.
    3. The “Faculty Of” phase ends when a decision is made that either the discussion is not sufficiently meritorious to continue pursuing, or to formally seek recognition as a “Division Of” from the VCAA & Provost. The request for recognition will take the form of a concept paper and it does require approval to advance into the “Division Of” phase.
    4. Samples of concept papers developed at South Dakota State University are linked to from the website so that you have examples to work from. These examples are not prescriptive but intended to provide relevant ideas and information that might be presented in a concept paper.  There may also be other examples that could be used to guide your work in developing a concept paper (See COPLAC and UI BOT Peer Institutions).
  2. PHASE 2: “Division Of …” Granting recognition of a request to advance to the “Division Of“ phase is tacit approval of the concept by the UIS administration. The approval is necessary to ensure that valuable faculty time and effort are not invested in the pursuit of a new unit that does not align with the UIS mission or the UIS Strategic Compass. During this phase, faculty, chairs, and deans will collaborate on developing the concept of an interdisciplinary unit by establishing a plan and preparing the infrastructure that could support the newly established unit. It is also possible during this phase that the parties decide that continuing to explore and develop the concept is not appropriate.
    1. In this phase the faculty will develop the infrastructure (curricular, scholarly, service, facilities, requisite faculty skill sets, bylaws, etc.) that will be needed to achieve new unit recognition.
    2. The focus in this phase is on establishing the academic functions to be achieved or enhanced by the creation of a new unit. The administrative structure necessary to execute the plan for achieving the function will be the last task of the working group. (Function precedes structure.) (NOTE: If you start with structure, you will never get to function)
    3. An Academic Reorganization Team Support (ARTS) group has formed to create a one-stop support system for working groups. Described on the VCAA website, ARTS will provide all the information needed for working teams to access and assemble data, gain an accurate understanding of institutional and system policy and procedures, receive support and guidance in budget planning, and any other advice and counsel that is needed or desired. Find help: Link to a list of Academic Reorganization Team Support (ARTS) members and descriptions of their supporting roles
    4. Even when well-executed, this phase of the process may require a year or more to successfully complete. The timeline for moving proposals forward will shorten as we all become more experienced.
  3. PHASE 3: School Of… The final phase involves seeking formal recognition and approval for the creation of a new unit through local governance structures, from the UI Board of Trustees and, if applicable, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). Again, the use of the term “school” is not intended to be taken literally – the new unit could be a department, division, school, or college. Board approval is the final step in the reorganization process.

There is a tendency to assume that Board approval marks the end of an intensive effort on the part of faculty and administrators. It is the end of the creation process, but it signals the beginning of the real work necessary to execute the plan and deliver on the promise associated with the particular reorganization. I say this not to demoralize anyone, but to inform you of the realities of the work on which we are all about to embark. Equal parts terror and exhilaration. Terrifying because it is initially a process filled with angst and anxiety associated with ambiguity and uncertainty. Exhilarating because you have a once-in-a-lifetime professional opportunity to be innovative and creative in developing new academic units that will position UIS to deliver students uniquely prepared (experience-engaged and liberal arts skilled) for future personal and professional success.

Guiding Principles

I offer the following Guiding Principles help to create a clear and unequivocal understanding of the nature of the process and purpose of academic reorganization.

  1. This must be a faculty-driven process if it is to achieve its fullest potential of providing our students with a premier educational experience. There is no hidden mandate or preconceived organizational chart.
  2. The academic reorganization must be aligned with the UIS Strategic Compass (Mission, Vision, Values) as well as the strategic goals of the Division of Academic Affairs, College, and in some cases units (departments).
  3. No conversations about academic reorganization are off-limits.
  4. The planning associated with the “Division Of” phase of the process should be comprehensive, including specific recommendations for teaching and learning facilities that would be central to the academic functions of the new unit. In other words, what cutting-edge teaching and learning facilities (if any) will be needed to build the unit around so that the unit is positioned for future success?

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do we have to participate in this process?

This is your opportunity to reflect upon and take an active role in shaping an academic environment that will achieve the mission of providing every student with a premier educational experience. The choice is entirely yours.

2. What will happen if we choose not to participate in forming a new unit?

Some units are large and diverse enough that they may continue in their current form (department) and location (college). Or, they could remain a department but change location, become part of a division or school within a college, etc.

Some units are so small that maintaining them as independent stand-alone units is not academically or financially justifiable. In the event that they remain independent during the reorganization process, decisions will need to be made by the administration about how the unit/program/faculty should be redirected.

Many of the medium sized units are not quite large enough in terms of metrics to stand alone, but some may be able to grow themselves to greater academic impact. Hopefully, many of these units will form a new department, division, or school with other allied units. If not, decisions may need to be made about how to redirect the unit/program/faculty.

3. Are there any prohibitions about the scope of the conversations?

You are free to discuss any potential academic alignments you wish. If you are interested in a new college, part or all of one of the existing colleges would need to be realigned. Similarly, I do not anticipate creating even more small units. You are free to discuss these issues, but any proposals coming forward that do not reflect these assumptions are less likely to be approved or enacted.

4. What will happen if units get together and forge a path forward before we are aware of the opportunity and we are left behind?

The UIS Academic Reorganization blog will allow individuals to initiate Faculty Of conversations and post thoughts and ideas about on-going and potential future conversations. In addition, a list of approved Division Of working groups and the phase of their activity will be posted on the web so that the entire university community is able to see who is talking to whom. It appears short-sighted and counter-productive to exclude any potential partners, especially in the early exploratory phases (Faculty Of).

5. Will reorganization result in a reduction of faculty and staff?

This reorganization is not aimed at changing the current staffing pattern for faculty or staff. For faculty, the changes are most likely to involve some degree of change in teaching, scholarship, and service. For staff, there may be changes in the location and the focus of work they are expected to perform.

6. Will there be any additional support provided by the administration?

Support will be provided by members of the Academic Reorganization Team Support whenever needed. In addition, the Provost and Deans will be hosting open houses periodically throughout the Fall 2019 semester to provide informal opportunities for faculty to ask questions, share their thoughts and ideas, or to find out what other groups are discussing. The dates, times, and locations of the open houses (with beverages available), will be:

  • Tuesday, September 24, 3:30-5:00 pm, location tbd
  • Wednesday, October 23, 3:30-5:00 pm, PAC Restaurant
  • Tuesday, November 19, 3:30-5:00 pm, PAC Restaurant
  • Monday, December 16, 3:30-5:00 pm, PAC Restaurant

7. What is the timeline for this academic reorganization?

Everyone will have a window to initiate Faculty Of conversations that will lead to the planning associated with the Division Of phase. The academic reorganization process is complete when the changes are approved by the BOT.

General Timelines

Fall 2019:             Faculty Of – Conversations

Spring 2020:        Division Of – Planning

Spring 2021:        School Of – Approval

Dennis R. Papini
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Provost