President Rodney Bennett has the final draft of a plan to reorganize colleges and schools at the University of Southern Mississippi, the university’s Communications Office has confirmed.
This comes after a request for proposals was put out last fall, resulting in 44 submissions and involving more than 100 faculty participants, according to Steven Moser, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. Moser is overseeing the reorganization process.
“These (44) proposals were subsequently reviewed and discussed by Deans and by leadership of the faculty governance bodies — the Academic Leadership Council,” Moser said in a written statement. “These bodies assessed and discussed the proposals and provided insightful, cogent summaries to the Office of the Provost.”
The aim was for faculty and administrators to suggest ways to combine schools, colleges or research clusters to maximize financial and academic resources and highlight the strengths of the university, according to the initial request for proposals.
The latest draft of the plan is available online to Southern Miss faculty and staff, but not to people outside the university. The Hattiesburg American has requested to see a copy of the plan, but so far has not been given access to the draft.
Any plan approved by Bennett must be submitted to the Institutions of Higher Learning for final approval. Southern Miss officials hope to take the plan to the IHL in August.
The purpose of the plan is to promote interdisciplinary teaching and research and to allow for reallocation of resources. Duplication of programming and administration would be reduced.
Amy Miller, vice provost for academic affairs, said the plan proposes moving to a smaller number of academic colleges built around relatively large schools that often contain multiple, related programs.
“A reduction in the number of colleges and schools will come with some immediate savings in administrative costs,” she said in an email. “In addition, the proposed school and college configurations are designed to highlight our unique programs and opportunities for faculty and students alike, enhancing our student recruitment and research productivity over time.”
Miller said many faculty are currently engaging in collaborative research and university officials want to build a structure that continues to encourage that engagement.
“We believe the reorganization will be of benefit to the institution in four key ways,” she said. “Heightened efficiencies in process, improved budget flexibility for colleges and schools, strengthened climate for research and teaching collaboration and increased visibility for our unique programs and university identity.”
Moser had previously said the intent is not necessarily to eliminate majors, but there could be “retooling” to meet market demand. He had earlier said the reorganization would be aimed at enrollment growth and university financial robustness.
Moser had also said the reorganization was not a “workforce-reduction initiative,” but some faculty and staff seem less than reassured.
Alan Thompson, criminal justice associate professor and president of the Southern Miss chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said there is anxiety in the atmosphere.
“Any measure of substantive change such as this brings considerable anxiety to many staff and faculty — with good reason,” he said in an email. “It is our sincere hope that any reason for such anxiety is quickly alleviated through transparent actions that are guided by integrity and consideration for those who may be affected.”
Thompson also said tenured faculty, whose positions are seemingly secure, may have to take the lead as the reorganization is rolled out.
“It is vitally important that we look out for the welfare of our staff colleagues, many of whom have loyally served the institution for years,” he said. “As tenured faculty members, we have the responsibility to represent the interests of those who may not be able to do so on their own behalf.
“I personally do not want them to feel anything less than valued and considered throughout this process.”
Thompson also said the new plan will give administrators the chance to make some changes in the way they operate.
“The reorganization provides an opportunity for everyone to reconsider how academic leadership is not only conceived, but implemented,” he said. “We are hopeful that faculty-generated suggestions for redefining the culture of leadership will be implemented in a way that transforms certain roles from that of a ‘boss’ to one of a ‘servant leader among professional peers.’”
Moser said new discoveries about how students learn, advances in disciplinary knowledge and innovations in collaborative work support new directions for Southern Miss.
“The university is poised to respond to such challenges and opportunities so that instructional and research productivity will increase and resources will be maximized to support the academic mission,” he said.
Moser reemphasized the reorganization is not a response to an immediate financial crisis, but arose from a commitment to enhance and sustain academic programming.
“The academic leadership at all levels and faculty advisory bodies have played a critical role in shaping the reorganization initiative and the concomitant success of academic programs,” he said.
How reorganization plan was shaped
1. Initial draft of plan crafted with deans and faculty committee
2. Draft released to university community for comment
3. Changes made based on feedback received
4. Second draft released to university community for comment
5. Plan revised again
6. During two comment periods, Provost Steven Moser and Amy Miller, vice provost for academic affairs, met with individuals and groups to discuss plan and get suggestions for improvement
7. Draft finally released to President Rodney Bennett
8. Draft expected to go to IHL in August