Opinion: College consolidation will spell disaster | Opinion
What do a guy who studies rocks, a guy who writes novels, and a mad scientist who mixes chemicals have in common? If you answered interrogatively, “nothing”, then you earn bragging rights. (I’m a broke student with nothing to give you).
For those confused, welcome to the new world of over 14,000 Aggies. On December 14, 2021, Texas A&M President Dr. Katherine Banks announced that the Colleges of Geosciences, Liberal Arts, and Sciences would be consolidated into a new College of Arts and Sciences based on the report authored by MGT Consulting of America.
Banks’ decision is surprising for several reasons. First, it’s based on a recommendation from a consulting firm currently under criminal investigation – ironically for mismanagement of school funds – in Colorado, but let’s give Banks the benefit of the doubt since this development is relatively recent. Worst of all, Banks’ attempts to expand our arts and science programs will eventually stifle their growth. All we have to do is look at the history of A&M, the successes of other universities, and the concerns of our fellow Aggies.
First consider that A&M had a College of Arts and Sciences in the past. According to an old journal from The Battalion from July 15, 1965, the university divided its former College of Arts and Sciences into what we now call Liberal Arts and Sciences. The College of Geosciences opened in October of the same year. This reorganization was ordered to “strengthen the offerings in both colleges and allow for a focus on each area”.
Now these colleges are combined to reform the College of Arts and Sciences, an institution that students at the time viewed as inefficient. The battalion’s editorial staff at the time said that the social and behavioral sciences “have been neglected both at A&M and nationally since the emphasis has shifted to the physical sciences”.
Of course, these words were written over 50 years ago by the voice of a very different student body. Banks wouldn’t have been a student at Aggieland, let alone its president. A&M in the 1960s was in a much different situation than we face today. At least, that’s what we generally think.
One of the banks’ concerns under the Vision 2020 flagship plan is that A&M “will never be considered a leading institution nationally without a much stronger humanities, arts and sciences program.” But the administration of President James Earl Rudder had the same concern, hence the reorganization of the old College of Arts and Sciences.
In fact, the benefits of this division are still visible today. Geoscience students can conduct research on radiogenic isotopes. Anthropology students can play Indiana Jones on undergraduate digs. Karen Wooley, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemistry, won the 2021 SEC Professor of the Year award for her research and mentorship. (She was even featured in a commercial that aired at every SEC football game).
Of course, college consolidation would reduce administrative costs. You would have two less deans to pay, a single system and more overlap between faculties. However, the ability of the three colleges to adequately meet the unique needs of their respective students is a small price to pay in the grand scheme.
Think of it like this – Texas, California and Maine all have different state governments. Would combining them into one megastate save money? Yes. There would be two fewer legislatures, two fewer governors, and generally fewer government entities. However, Texas has very different needs than California. The same is true for colleges of liberal arts, sciences, and geosciences.
The individual successes of each department alone justify their own administration. However, if we look at our neighbors, we also find that college separation is not the problem.
I already know what I’m about to say will be unpopular, and the redass part of me already hates it. I’m going to ask everyone to put aside our rivalry with the University of Texas, or UT. (And no, as much as I wish, I will not refer to them as something else). I’m not saying it’s a better school than A&M – I’m Aggie for a reason. However, let’s look at how the US News and World Report ranks it against us.
For context, UT had separate liberal arts, natural sciences, and geosciences colleges like A&M before the change happened in September. For graduate programs in the humanities, UT ranked 19th, 17th, and 11th in Political Science, English, and History, respectively. A&M trailed at 28th, 73rd and 67th in the same respective categories. In geosciences, or earth sciences, UT is a national leader at 7th place compared to A&M’s 31st.
Now, one could look at those numbers and say they’re the reason Aggieland needs a drastic overhaul. However, our rival’s national recognition clearly demonstrates that the lack of unity between the liberal arts, sciences and geosciences is not the reason A&M is not well known for its prowess outside of engineering. .
Ignoring the teaching staff and the curriculum, A&M’s division of attention is painfully apparent in the stratification of its facilities. As an engineer, my only experience with the College of Science has been at Blocker and Heldenfels, two crisp old buildings with steep stairs that take the breath away of any Aggie who dares climb them. The interdisciplinary life sciences pavilion is nice, but it’s rarely used for classes. Geosciences do a little better with the imposing oceanography and meteorology building and state-of-the-art meteorological laboratories. The liberal arts claim the relatively new liberal arts and humanities building.
None of these structures compare to the opulent masterpiece that is the Zachry Engineering Education Complex. After a $228 million renovation and a goal of having 25,000 engineers by 2025, it’s clear where the university’s focus is. Many of these efforts are supported by generous donations from former students, but without equal investment in other programs, A&M will stagnate as a school of engineering rather than the well-rounded powerhouse that Banks envisions.
What is often overlooked the most when balancing budgets, planning logistics, and battling public relations nightmares is how a decision will affect students. Banks considered extensive student and faculty input before finalizing the MGT recommendations, which she accepted. However, many Aggies like environmental geoscience junior Kate Faris are still worried about the future.
“Some of my concerns about merging with larger colleges is losing that element of community,” Faris said. “Having this tight-knit community specifically in an educational setting has been very helpful.”
The academic realignment might preserve different academic departments to further preserve that community, but the merger into a larger college presented Faris with other administrative fears.
“Counselling at the College of Geosciences is amazing,” Faris said. “You have the same adviser every four years.”
With the merger into a larger institution that presents the potential for more board overlap, Faris said she fears the one-on-one connection will be lost. With administrative changes, there is also concern that some research programs may be lost.
“For students, one of the biggest research programs on our campus is the International Ocean Discovery Program, or IODP,” Faris said. “Losing a lot of these admins who have worked with IODP for years…is going to be a big blow for them.”
More worryingly, Banks’ decision to consolidate the College of Geosciences could have the intended opposite effect.
“If I had just seen a College of Arts and Sciences, [A&M] wouldn’t have been so distinct from other universities,” Faris said.
Instead of creating a “critical mass”, these departments would slowly lose their identity and attract future Aggies.
While many of Fairs’ concerns are admittedly speculative, you’d be hard pressed to find a consolidating college student who was happy with the academic realignment. Many of the 14,000 affected students share Faris’ concerns, and they deserve to have some of these issues addressed.
These concerns are compounded by a recent email ordering several liberal arts departments to vacate their historic home in the academic building. Hispanic Studies, Sociology, Institute of Race and Ethnic Studies and many others will soon be homeless and still have no details on where they will be relocated.
Students rightly feel marginalized and ignored in favor of other programs, especially engineering. The bank’s administration did little to provide a concrete plan to the relevant departments, or if they did, it was poorly communicated. Since these changes do not come with additional steps, students and faculty, including the acting dean, are left in the dark.
University administrators have an obligation to provide more communication with the Aggies who are significantly affected by their decisions to reorganize A&M. If the bank’s administration continues to shake up the university without engaging the community, it is failing A&M’s core values of leadership and selfless service. Because if the people you “lead” are in the dark and upset, your service is not selfless.
Where do we go from here?
Looking at our history and past successes, it is clear that creating three separate colleges that have three unique missions has benefited the image of the university, created a better society and served generations of students effectively. .
Unfortunately, it looks like Aggies will be wearing burnt orange before Banks changes his mind and shuts down the academic realignment. At this point, it is almost inevitable that the successor to the College of Arts and Sciences will be reborn to serve a much larger and more diverse student body.
Some of the recommendations in the MGT report are good, but consolidating three important colleges is not one of them. The equivalent of an entire section of Kyle Field shouted in opposition, only to be met with silence. Letting other Aggies feel confused and alone is unacceptable.
Bank administration needs to reach out and engage more with students, perhaps by holding a town hall meeting or continuing to accept feedback about upcoming changes. Our president needs to do something to allay the fears and be directly accountable to the students she leads.
We will expect our leaders to show us the respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service that we expect. In the meantime, don’t take it easy on college.
Caleb Powell is a biomedical engineering junior and opinion writer for The Battalion.