USM plans to reduce colleges to add ‘efficiency’

University of Southern Mississippi is reorganizing its colleges from six to four at the 14,000-student university, which has campuses in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast.
University of Southern Mississippi is reorganizing its colleges from six to four at the 14,000-student university, which has campuses in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast. Courtesy Mary Alice Weeks

A reorganization plan for the University of Southern Mississippi makes significant changes to the academic structure at the university and defines the roles of administrators as it tries to meet the challenges of state funding decreases and a trend toward more collaborative scholarship.

The plan was approved Thursday by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees.

The plan reduces the number of colleges at the university from six to four and sets up schools as the primary organizing unit within colleges, with a lead director who acts as a “first among equals” with faculty.

Various drafts of the plan have been posted to the provost’s website for viewing by faculty, staff and students since December. A university ID and password are needed to access the drafts. The general public has not been able to view the draft plans.

The Hattiesburg American obtained the draft plan through a Freedom of Information Act request. University counsel initially rejected the American’s request before emailing the document after being challenged on the law.

The plan eliminates the College of Health and combines the College of Arts and Letters with the College of Science and Technology into a College of Arts and Sciences. The plan states this reduction will lessen administrative costs and promote “additional efficiencies.”

A new College of Education and Human Sciences encompasses schools and departments from the College of Health and the College of Education and Psychology. A new College of Nursing and Health Professions replaces the College of Nursing.

“One of our goals was to increase efficiency by reducing units,” Moser said. “We would begin to leverage our faculty strength through greater interdisciplinary work.

“There will also be greater efficiency through the reduction of the number of administrative units.”

Moser said similar classes offered in different disciplines would be eliminated and there would be a greater emphasis on team teaching. The number of deans would be reduced.

“We have six colleges and we move to four colleges — obviously, we move from six deans and the offices that support each dean to four.”

Moser said two deans have retired recently, so the number of deans would be reduced through attrition. He said staff in the deans’ offices would not be laid off.

“I don’t think anyone will lose their jobs as a result of this reorganization,” he said. “We will reposition our staff to have greater efficiency and support our faculty.

“Cost savings — that’s not the goal, but administrative stipends for deans will be reduced by two.”

Michael Forster, a professor in the School of Social Work and former dean of the College of Health, was concerned about the college structure outlined in the draft plan. He wondered about the wisdom of doing away with the College of Health.

“I regret that the university chose to distribute the health-related professions across multiple colleges,” he said in an email. “To my mind, a better configuration would be to return Nursing to the College of Health — the synergies are powerful, and given the importance of the health industry to Hattiesburg and the acute health challenges facing Mississippi and the nation, it makes more sense to concentrate than to dilute.”

The new, massive College of Arts and Sciences outlined in the draft plan includes a diverse array of 13 schools and 22 departments ranging from journalism to music to molecular biology to political science and legal studies.

Forster said there is an advantage in creating such an outsized college in that it should improve student advisement services and enhance course delivery coordination in those departments.

“But the new College of Arts and Sciences will dwarf the other colleges in size and scope, creating a seeming structural imbalance,” he said. “The provost has thought carefully about this, and I trust he has measures in mind to counteract any negative dynamics associated with size disparity, but I do have concerns.”

Moser said the College of Arts and Sciences will be the core college for the university.

“It’s not an unusual model,” he said. “We look at many universities which operate under an arts and sciences model.

“While it is large in scope and will require a leader with a breadth of experience and opportunity to lead it, it’s not exceptional.”

Ann Marie Kinnell is chairwoman of the Anthropology and Sociology Department, which is in the draft plan’s new School of Social Science and Global Studies. She is not worried about the college’s size, but has disquietude about who the director will be.

“My alma mater is Indiana University Bloomington, a very large, Big 10 school, and that’s the model they use,” she said in an email. “Having said that, I do think there is going to be an adjustment period. It is going to be a huge administrative unit.

“We are going to need someone to lead it who really understands the importance of all the disciplines involved.”

The draft plan addresses the issue of leadership as the university moves from a department-based structure to one rooted in broader schools.

The draft plan states, “Significantly, the role of faculty administrators is changed in this model — the Schools are led by a Director, an administrative lead of departments and programs, which are managed by faculty leadership teams. ...

“In this reorganization, the Director of a School will assume a management role while serving as the ‘first among equals’ or lead faculty in that school. This model will also increase the involvement of faculty in the management of curricular and program delivery issues, encouraging cross-disciplinary communication and decision-making.”

Alan Thompson, criminal justice associate professor, had spoken to the issue of leadership in a previous interview on the reorganization plan. The “first among equals” concept seemed to be something he said faculty were working toward.

“The reorganization provides an opportunity for everyone to consider how academic leadership is not only conceived, but implemented,” he said in an email. “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 peers.’”

Moser said faculty have always made decisions that impact fellow faculty as part of the university’s shared governance ideal.

“In this reorganization model, the chairs of the department will be the lead faculty who represent his or her faculty,” he said. “This is a tenet of shared governance. (’First among equals’) is a restatement of the role of faculty within the academy.”

Kinnell said the draft plan represents many voices at the university. It involved 44 submissions and more than 100 faculty participants.

“Some people feel better about the product than others, and no plan is the perfect plan,” she said. “My hope is that as it is implemented, and as faculty and administration work together, the plan can result in some positive things happening for the university.”

Moser also hopes for positive things.

“We are working under a vision in which we advance USM’s academic rigor and the innovations and achievements of faculty and staff,” he said. “We hope we better position administrators, faculty and staff so there can be better collaboration and we can do even more.

“I have no doubt our committed faculty will rise to the occasion and take our institutional strength and make the university even greater.”

But Forster said a confluence of factors needs to happen for the plan to succeed — elaboration of a compelling rationale for reorganization, strong leadership up and down the division and a stable financial environment.

“The plan promises greater innovation, collaboration across disciplines and resource efficiency,” he said. “But many faculty colleagues remain unconvinced the reorganization will actually deliver the goods.”

Academic reorganization under USM draft plan

  • I. College of Arts and Sciences: combination of College of Arts and Letters and College of Science and Technology with 13 schools and 22 departments. Examples: School of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Security, School of Music, School of Ocean Science and Engineering
  • II. College of Business and Economic Development: old College of Business with four schools and 14 departments. Examples: School of Accountancy, School of Management, School of Finance
  • III. College of Education and Human Sciences: combination of College of Health and College of Education and Psychology with six schools and five departments. Examples: School of Education, School of Kinesiology and Nutrition, School of Social Work
  • IV. College of Nursing and Health Professions: old College of Nursing with four schools and three departments. Examples: School of Health Professions, School of Professional Nursing Practice, School of Speech and Hearing Sciences