Christian Diaz, Staff Writer
Are small academic departments a burden on the college? Vice President for Academic Affairs Paula Garrett thinks that the college could possibly benefit from integrating smaller academic departments into the framework of larger ones.
“Long-term, I am thinking about consolidating departments,” Garrett said. “This doesn’t mean we are eliminating majors. It is just thinking about the ways that faculty relate to each other, evaluate, communicate or even are housed with each other. It makes sense to think about who are the affinity groups.”
Some wonder if it is difficult to hold faculty accountable for their performance as instructors when the staff of a given academic department, such as Physics or Peace and Social Justice, consists of one or two people.
“It is part of improving academics on campus,” Garrett said. “Department chairs encourage professional development. If you’re a one-person department, then you are missing that. We all benefit from feedback on our teaching, on our scholarship and on our service. In a single-person department, or even a small one, that’s just difficult.”
In such a small college every position that is left is not simply restaffed. Careful consideration must be given to how the position fits into the overall structure of the college’s function. These positions are often reassessed and tweaked in order to improve, in this case, the college’s academic performance. Professor of Physics Don Collins is expected to retire at the end of next year, prompting many to ask what will become of the Physics Department. One possibility is an integration into the math or chemistry program.
“Every time there is a retirement or departure, the department has to make a case for the position and assess whether the position can be defined more widely,” Garrett said.
Religious Studies Professor Tsering Wangchuk is leaving Warren Wilson to pursue a career on the West Coast. Wangchuk’s is another in a string of recent staff and faculty resignations within the last academic year.
“Like all positions, when somebody leaves it’s not just filled in by the next person,” Garrett said. “With this position in particular I want to take some time to figure out if we need another full-time religion studies professor who focuses on Eastern religions, or some sort of combination of different facets of Asian studies.”
Chair of Division of Social Sciences Ben Feinberg assesses student needs in the department of religious studies. Feinberg has been in communication with Jeanne Sommer, department chair for religious studies, who is currently on sabbatical.
“We have an obligation and an opportunity to reflect and assess the curriculum and to consider alternatives,” Feinberg said. “We are taking this opportunity in [religious studies], as with other departments with vacancies, but this does not necessarily mean that the structure will change. It does not really matter how the structure works for me in my administrative capacity. What matters is how it works for students.”
As of now, the only change to religious studies occurring next year will be one fewer professor in the department. The structure of religious studies may change in the future, depending on the feedback Garrett, Feinberg and Sommer receive from students.
“We are going to take our time to figure out where that position is best spent,” Garrett said. “I’m not the kind of dean that will just make a decision. I want to hear from the department chair. I have not had lengthy conversations about this.”
The purpose of administrative reshuffling would be to increase cohesion in the academics portion of Warren Wilson’s triad. Garrett believes the school would benefit from a more integrated program.
“To me, the old style of the English Department not communicating with the History Department, which isn’t the case on this campus, is so past,” Garrett said. “We need to be thinking about how our needs overlap. A faculty member can provide courses in a number of different disciplines and really help shore up the needs of different students rather than thinking positions belong strictly to one discipline.”