One year ago, SF State traded an eight-college structure, two deans and two assistant deans for six colleges and a projected $1 million in savings. But a year after the fact, the merger still seems to be a decision with varied reactions among students and faculty.
The merger was first proposed to soften the blow of a $650 million cut in funding to the California State University by the state legislature, intending to save the University $1 million over the course of one year. After many revised proposals, two-thirds of the faculty and administration voted to approve the six-college structure as it is known today. The Creative Arts college and the College of Humanities combined into the newly-renamed College of Liberal and Creative Arts, and the Behavioral and Social Sciences college dissolved into several other remaining structures.
Some critics believe the merger to be futile.
“It was a smoke-and-mirrors gambit by President Bob Corrigan, who wanted to look like he was doing something,” said cinema Professor Steve Kovacs.
Although he had seen few changes in his department after its movement from College of Behavioral and Social Sciences to the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, political science Professor Robert Smith did not approve eliminating two colleges.
“I think the merger was a terrible idea in terms of sound administrative principles and the intellectual coherence of the organization of the disciplines,” said Smith.
Not everyone objected to the consolidation. Music Professor Roger Woodward was among those who supported the changes, and credited both the University president and CLCA Dean Sherwin for their roles in the merger.
“Whichever way it is viewed, the historic merger is a very happy one, destined for greatness and a magnificent tribute to President Corrigan’s vision.” Woodward said. “Stability and a meaningful collegiality were restored by Dean Paul Sherwin.”
The CLCA has become a sort of “super” college, housing 21 departments and 17 programs, the most of any college at SF State. While it absorbed all former creative arts departments, it also received the departments of anthropology, history, international relations and political science, which were castoffs of the former Behavioral and Social Sciences college.
Some students, like liberal studies senior Judy Tran, did not even take notice of the reorganization.
“I heard about the budget cuts, but I haven’t heard anything about a merger,” Tran said.
According to many faculty members, the biggest challenge the merger has brought has been adapting to new administrative procedures.
“Every college has their own way of doing things,” said Julia Lewis, chair of the psychology department. Lewis said with her move from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, tasks such as requesting lab equipment and new hires changed. “An advantage we had was we joined an existing college. The problem with the rest of the BSS was the new college itself has to figure out how to work.”
Sherwin was a key figure in developing that new college system.
“We’ve more than doubled in size,” he said. I have been a dean for 28 years; there’s nothing I haven’t seen. But now there’s lot of learning for me to do.”
Sherwin noted that he often stays up until 3:00 a.m. and works weekends and most holidays to maintain his work load. His responsibilities include managing enrollment, reading and writing faculty reports, retaining professors, interviewing new hires and going through grant and scholarship proposals.
“I could give a five hour lecture on what a dean does,” Sherwin said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
Some feel that although the merger does not seem to have made a huge impact now, there will be future consequences. According to cinema Professor Aaron Kerner, learning to cope with less support could result in long term administrative and financial neglect.
“Infrastructural support, for instance, is squeezed and so I simply don’t rely on college support. I just fend for myself, so I take on more than I really need to,” Kerner said.
Kerner described how he performs small administrative tasks—opening facility doors for students, fixing dysfunctional equipment, hand-delivering documents to avoid them getting lost—that aren’t part of his job description. “Perhaps not huge things, but we’re dying a death by a thousands cuts,” he said.
Kerner worries his assistance will mask the severe shortage of hands lurking underneath the merged colleges.
“If the administration looks around and says, ‘Well, you seem to be managing just fine…’ there will be no incentive to restore budgets,” he said.
As for the $1 million that the merger was supposed to have saved, that remains to be seen.
“No, if the point was to save money or divert money back to the department level, that hasn’t happened yet,” said Lewis. “I know it takes a while for these kinds of changes to take place.”
Nonetheless, some faculty members question whether the ends of this merge will justify the means.
“I think the entire reorganization process was flawed and any benefits in future savings will probably not compensate for the high levels of stress induced in the faculty of many departments,” said psychology Professor Ken Paap.
Regardless of the mergers cost or benefit, Sherwin anticipates circumstances will improve with time.
“I think years two and three will be a lot easier,” Sherwin said. “I’ll have gotten to know everyone, and some of the changes I plan to make will make things easier.”