Riffs and rifts at UNR

The university president makes his final pitch for a controversial reorganization plan that would split UNR’s biggest college

UNR President John Lilley tells a crowd of faculty members how a split College of Arts and Science will make their lives better.

UNR President John Lilley tells a crowd of faculty members how a split College of Arts and Science will make their lives better.

Photo By David Robert

To some, the performance live on stage Friday at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nightingale Hall may have seemed like a scene from Broadway’s The Music Man.

The house was packed, mostly with university faculty. An hour-long monologue by the university president touched on nearly every facet of UNR’s operations. It was made clear that there was trouble—with a capital T—right here in academia.

“We are facing an economic climate in which our state appropriation is uncertain,” UNR President John Lilley said. “Coupled with anticipated enrollment increases of approximately 43 percent over the next decade, this situation poses considerable challenges.”

Lilley, a Ph.D. in music education who’s been president for less than a year, unveiled his final recommendations regarding controversial plans devised by the University Planning Committee for a massive overhaul of the university. No, no one’s saying that Lilley’s role at UNR is anything akin to a con man who walks into a town and promises big changes. But some faculty members are still concerned about such drastic measures as the division of the College of Arts and Science into two smaller entities, and the moving of Mackay School of Mines into the resulting College of Science.

"[Lilley] is going to end up destroying one of the few things unique and effective at UNR,” said John Louie, associate professor of seismology. “The faculty of the Mackay School of Mines is frustrated because we’ve let our views be known and we don’t feel like we’ve been heard.”

The College of Arts and Science is now the largest college on campus in terms of enrollment. In its place, should Lilley’s plan be enacted by the Board of Regents, will be a College of Humanities and Social Sciences (containing a School of the Arts) and a College of Science (containing the renamed Mackay School of Earth and Environmental Sciences). Louie said he feared that such a change, though it’s intended to help the school grow and attract even greater funding, could actually injure the mining school.

“We get the largest amount of research funding per faculty on this campus. That’s the evidence. That says why we’re special,” Louie said. “Without having a dean, it will be harder to get those research dollars to come in.”

This measure would eliminate the dean and independence of the Mackay School of Mines—which is one of the most prestigious of its kind in the country, boasted Mackay School of Mines Coordinator Leslie Rumph.

John Price, director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, said that the president has used sound logic in addressing programs with shifting enrollment patterns.

“If the new structure prompts students to enroll and explore mining and engineering programs, then it has done its job,” Price said. “The problem is there in the enrollments, and this may address it.”

Lilley said the split would give all the faculty members more resources on which to draw.

“The College of Arts and Science contains a diversity that is the source of considerable intellectual strength, but it is also an administrative challenge,” Lilley said. “Faced with numerous competing and divergent needs, it is virtually impossible for a talented dean with limited administrative resources to satisfy all or even most of its needs.”

Since the idea was first introduced early this year, the possibility of splitting the College of Arts and Science bothered many faculty members within the college. About half the faculty signed a petition asking the University Planning Committee to slow down the process and allow for more input from the university community.

Much debate took place on the university’s own Web site, at a bulletin board created for the dialogue by university administration.

In one post to the board, associate professor of political science Erik Herzik, one of the faculty members who circulated petitions, stated that the dismantling of Arts and Science would be “perhaps the worst aspect of the proposals.”

“It may serve faculty needs in a limited sense but is detrimental to the idea of a liberal education and the overall student experience,” Herzik wrote. “We are likely to create a virtual free-for-all of self-interested behavior with the new model and ‘fix’ something for which no compelling case that something is broken exists.”

But trouble starts with a T, and that rhymes with C—and that stands for cash.

The new alignment of the colleges is necessary to save money, Lilley said Friday. The split may add more administrative staffers—another dean’s salary and another dean’s support staff—but dough will be saved as faculty begin to delete duplicate classes that occur in different majors and get rid of programs that have low enrollment to accomplish this end.

“Dollars will also more closely follow student enrollment in order to meet the rising demand for courses,” Lilley said. “Positions currently located in departments that have low student enrollments relative to their faculty numbers will be reallocated to departments with growing enrollments.”

In other plans, the creation of four new academic centers, according to Lilley, both addresses the university’s role as a land grant institution and its responsibility toward bolstering the state’s economy.

The centers will focus on core curriculum, environmental studies, information sciences and technology, and molecular biosciences and biotechnology.

Each center will have a director who will shoulder some of the academic responsibility of colleges, allowing deans to focus more on fund-raising.

“These are the areas in which the university will invest additional resources in the coming years,” Lilley said. “The proposed four centers have in common the feature that they are multi-disciplinary and cross-college initiatives that provide opportunities to participate in a unifying effort.”

No changes in the reorganization of colleges can occur until the plan is brought before UNR’s faculty senate, which is expected to take the entire summer to consider the plan. The faculty doesn’t have the clout to do much more than make a recommendation, however, regarding the proposed changes. The entity making the real decision as to whether to accept the reorganization plan is the Board of Regents. If the board approves the reorganization, it could be implemented as early as July 2003.

Lilley stressed Friday that the reorganization will help bring the university to “the next level,” a catch phrase used extensively by university administrators.

In response to complaints that the University Planning Committee’s actions seemed less than transparent, with some meetings not open to the public, Lilley and UNR Interim Provost John Frederick said that the process was one of the most transparent in the nation.

“We’ve held over 130 hours of meetings, one-third of that with actual faculty,” Frederick said. “There will be a mixture of attitudes about the plan. Some will be wildly enthusiastic; some will be wildly opposed. But in the end you have to step back and do what’s best for the university.”

Now if they can just get the faculty to think about the “Minuet in G” …

Jeremy Dutton is the editor of the Sagebrush, UNR’s student newspaper, for the 2002-2003 school year.