SF State restructures departments as part of college merger

While last year’s college consolidation involved a considerable amount of restructuring, more extensive department reorganization looms in the distance.

Turning some departments into programs whilst merging others is the University’s next step to save funds, according to Provost Sue Rosser.

Such a transition from department to program includes changes such as sharing funding, resources and administrative authorities with other similar programs, according to various faculty, including professors Jeffrey Snipes and Colleen Hoff.

“Such mergers save salaries of chairs, freeing more faculty to teach, and of staff,” Rosser said. “This is already happening in the College of Health and Human Services. It is supposed to be occurring in other colleges.”

The difference between departments and programs is largely administrative, and some programs that were once departments now have to share resources, funding and leadership with other similar programs, according to public administration professor Genie Stowers.

“A department has a chair and a program has a director, for instance. Faculty and students would probably not even notice the difference,” Stowers said.

But Akash Singh, a junior and international business major, has noted the possible effects of these merges from a fiscal perspective.

“Personally, it’s kind of a bummer. It’s like those majors don’t have a place. They seem to have been really limited in resources. It’s not really even a smart decision from a business stance,” Singh said.

Another difference between programs and departments is the security and stability the latter structure provides, according to associate health education professor Ramon Castellblanch.

“If you get demoted from department to program, in terms of your survival, it’s not a good development,” said Castellblanch, who previously served as the California Faculty Association chapter president for SF State. “For programs, it’s harder for them to get a faculty hire. Once you become established as a department there’s a much better likelihood that what you’re doing will stay in place.”

Departments with few tenure-track faculty are considered to be small and are more likely to either merge with another department or become a program along with other studies of a similar nature, according to criminal justice professor Jeffrey Snipes. This, he said, was an imperfect logic as it ignored other aspects of a department’s size.

“One problem is that the number of students isn’t taken into account. Criminal justice has about 700 majors, but a relatively low number of four tenured and tenure track faculty, if you don’t take our lecturers into account,” Snipes said.

Castellblanch added that departments with fewer educators are especially at risk in the consolidation.

“If you get a department that’s under 10 (faculty), it’s more likely that you’re going to be considered for some type of merger,” Castellblanch said.

Some former departments such as public administration, urban planning and criminal justice are now programs in the larger School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, a new academic body that also houses environmental studies. The four entities share resources and funds, and have even collaborated to write a grant proposal as a school.

Stowers stated that while the programs loved being a part of SPACE, the movement created a need for reorganization.

“The program directors and the school director meet every three weeks to talk about issues and how to coordinate. Two weeks ago, there was an event for all faculty and staff to help us all to get to know one another, which was really excellent,” Stowers said.

For some departments that have become programs, the forced transition seems evident that the University has abandoned them.

“More disturbing is that the department of sexuality studies has been downgraded to a program and merged with the department of sociology,” said human sexuality professor Colleen Hoff. “While we have tremendous support from sociology and we are all working together to preserve the richness and rigor of the master’s degree in sexuality studies, this feels like our program, our students and our faculty do not have support from the greater University.”

While becoming a program involves some administrative challenges, some faculty feel their new placement is appropriate.

“After gaining department status several years ago, we are now once again a program by default,” Snipes said. “We are part of an exciting new school in a college that is a good fit for us. Our view is that our new placement has opened up new opportunities for us despite the challenges.”

The College of Liberal & Creative Arts may be tentatively slated to streamline departments in the future, according to LCA Dean Paul Sherwin.

“There’s considerable talk about merging or partnerships. No hard and fast decisions have been made yet,” Sherwin said.

The business, education, science and engineering and ethnic studies colleges currently have no plans to merge departments, according to College of Business Dean Caran Colvin, College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth Monteiro, College of Science and Engineering Dean Sheldon Axler, and the Graduate College of Education Dean Jacob Perea.

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