Post Academic

Broke-Ass Schools: Kean University, the school with no departments

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by postacademic on May 31, 2010
Tags: , ,

"Schere" by Horst Frank (Creative Commons license)

You read the headline right: Kean University in New Jersey has a plan to cut 38 departments, consolidating them into 18 schools headed by “executive directors” who would replace typical chairs.  And Kean is no podunk university, being the 3rd largest public univsersity in New Jersey with an enrollment of 15,000 or so.  The plan to dispense with any sense of a conventional academic structure was done to save the school around $2 million, although the entire budget shortfall Kean is facing is $17.7 million, according to Inside Higher Ed.  IHE reports that the plan could go into effect by July, although claims that it will take two years to phase in the changes.

The drastic response was apparently conceived of by the school president and OK’d by the University Senate without input from the faculty at-large.  Faculty critics who dispute the Kean admin’s numbers argue that costs could even go up by replacing dept chairs with another level of bureaucracy with directors.  Per Inside Higher Ed:

“This new structure is adding an entirely new layer of administrators that never used to exist,” said James Castiglione, who teaches physics at Kean and is president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.

The union, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers, will challenge the plan on several grounds, Castiglione said. Most notably, union officials fear one of the plan’s chief goals is to convert department chairs into executive managers, who will then be removed from the bargaining unit, even though they’ll still carry some teaching duties.

More below the fold…

If I get what Castiglione is suggesting, chairs would probably have the option of staying professors and losing the income that comes with being a chair or they could become a director/manager, but lose faculty status, which would leave the union without some of its leadership.  Tricky, tricky, appealing to the personal interests of the chairs, although it seems like the union has seen through this ploy.

Sad to say, but the articles we’ve looked at reporting on this unorhodox move focus more on the economic pros-and-cons than on the impact such drastic measures have on the students’ educational experience.  But you’ve gotta believe it can’t be good, considering all the arbitrary disciplinary combinations that are being thought up.  For instance, the proposal outlines turning what is currently the English dept into a “School of Literature and Communications”, while splitting composition from English and locating it in the “School of General Studies” along with remedial math.  Oh well, dysfunctional staff meetings between comp and math types fighting it out for dwindling resources might be a situation that’s far from ideal, but it beats being totally downsized, as philosophy and social work (now that’s an anomalous combo!) have.  Apparently, history is the only department preserved under the plan, but that might only be because they’re housed in a historic building and/or it’s the institutional home of the provost.

I guess what this means is that, if the faculty can’t figure out what program they’re in, the students will probably have a hard time getting a grasp of the most basic elements of their curriculum.  You know, like what the distribution requirements are and what major they’re in.  We’d like to see what a Kean diploma looks like at the end of all this.

5 Responses to 'Broke-Ass Schools: Kean University, the school with no departments'

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  1. Jeannette said,

    Hampshire College and Evergreen State ( I think but could be wrong) also don’t have departments. All students at Hampshire College get a liberal arts BA degree. However, the real point is that this is such a naked power grab by administration. Faculty really need to reassert themselves in shared governance. I hope that faculty really begin to get their act together and begin to see the value of spending time not shirking committee work all in the name focusing only on research. One of the fundamental problems in the American academy is that research is seen as the most important or only important part of a faculty’s job. A very distant second is teaching. An even more removed third is service. Faculty need to realise that all three parts are very important and serve critically important functions in the operation of the university.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      Sorry for not responding sooner, Jeanette. You raise some good points about how other ways of configuring things outside the dept structure can work well under the right circumstances. But, yeah, I agree that doesn’t seem like what’s happening at Kean, although, admittedly, I don’t know what it’s like at the school. Reading between the lines of the stories, it almost seems like the school’s structure is the rope in a tug-of-war power struggle between admin and faculty. Whatever the case, the dissolving of the depts seems to be a pretext for something else.

  2. James Franklin said,

    This is funny, but I ought to cut in here and let you folks know something, having had my family, and friends study at this institution for as long as I can remember and myself being a graduate of this school, the departments were cut because of the power abuse and misappropriation of funds. The administration have actually done one good thing by cutting it down to size to tell you the truth.

    This centralization has finally helped to bring some well deserved respite to the university which otherwise is ruled by a tyrant totalitarian president!

    • Arnold Pan said,

      Thanks, James, for the on-the-ground report. We didn’t want to make light of the situation, but it struck us as something very, very drastic. It’s interesting to hear that both sides–the depts and the president–have their hands in making a mess of things. But if cutting departments and getting things in order through an unorthodox way yield results that are helping students, more power to the school. Thanks again for giving us your expert take on what’s happening at Kean.

  3. Daisy said,

    As a faculty at the school, I can tell you it had nothing to do with the students, and nothing to do with FACULTY misappropriation of funds.They’ve been working with zero-base budgeting for quite a while – that is, there are no budgets – you have to ask for what you need. The president has been trying to punish what he sees as deadwood faculty for a long time now, and his method is to punish everyone in order to get at what he says are 20% deadwood.

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