Emory College announces new directions

By Nancy Seideman | Emory Report | Sep. 14, 2012

Beginning this academic year, Emory College of Arts and Sciences will begin implementation of a multi-year plan designed to enhance areas of distinction, transform areas of excellence into areas of eminence, and allocate resources to invest in important new and emerging growth areas. 

Emory College Dean Robin Forman first outlined this ambitious, comprehensive plan at a Faculty Town Hall on Sept. 12, followed by two days of meetings with department chairs and other college leaders directly affected by the plan.  On Sept. 14 the dean sent a letter outlining the plan to the Emory College community.

The plan calls for investment in traditional strengths of the arts and sciences, including departments across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, and in new, interdisciplinary areas of instruction and inquiry, including contemporary China studies, digital and new media studies, and neurosciences.  The plan also calls for revising current structures for supporting research and teaching that cross disciplines, as well as reexamination of how science is taught in the undergraduate classroom. 

Forman has appointed faculty members to lead committees in these five areas with the goal of developing strategies for strengthening the ECAS in these areas over the next 5-7 years.  Emory College expects to invest in each of these areas both through reallocation and new funding.  These measures follow recent investments of Emory College in core areas of the undergraduate curriculum, including the creation of new centers in health and quantitative methods, as well as the hiring of a new director of writing.

The ECAS plan was developed after four years of intense study and discussion, begun under the former college administration and continued by Forman, working in close collaboration with the Faculty Financial Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of Emory College’s Faculty Governance Committee. The plan has been endorsed by the president, provost and Board of Trustees. 

In affirming and endorsing the ECAS plan, Emory President Jim Wagner says he “respects and applauds” the work of the dean, his senior staff and faculty advisors in their “willingness to go back to first principles, look at each department and program afresh, and begin the process of reallocating resources for emerging needs and opportunities.” 

“I am especially pleased that Dean Forman has affirmed the College’s strong, ongoing commitment to what might be called canonical disciplines within the humanities – including English, history, philosophy, and religion––along with the full range of social and natural sciences,” says Wagner.

To create a financially sustainable path for traditional strengths in the arts and sciences, as well as for new emerging growth areas, the ECAS will reduce the number of academic programs it supports through the closing and reorganizing of three academic departments and several programs.

In a Sept. 14 letter to the Emory College community, Forman announced the closing of:  the Division of Educational Studies; the Department of Physical Education (which already is being phased out in favor of new approaches to health and physical fitness education); and the Department of Visual Arts, in addition to the Program in Journalism. 

In his letter, Forman noted that, “These actions will unfold over a period of years, enabling currently enrolled undergraduate majors and graduate students to complete their courses of study.   Staff and faculty positions will not be impacted by this reorganization before the close of this academic year. Tenured faculty in these departments will eventually have their lines moved to other departments. In partnership with the Laney Graduate School, we are also suspending admissions to the graduate programs in Spanish and Economics, so that we can be deliberate in reimagining the role that graduate education in these fields will play at Emory.”

“Finally, we will suspend graduate admissions to the ILA (Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts) and reorganize the ILA into an institute without permanent faculty.  In this reimagined institute, we will strive to create a more fluid structure for promoting interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching, perhaps through rotating faculty appointments.” 

Laney Graduate School Dean Lisa Tedesco, who sent a letter to the Graduate School community on Sept. 14 to announce the changes, notes that, “Every moment of significant change is both difficult and invigorating, and this juncture of reorganization is certainly both.

“We appreciate the thorough and deliberate process that Dean Forman and the leadership of Emory College have gone through, and we especially appreciate their efforts to ensure that we remain closely involved insofar as it affects graduate programs.  The Graduate School and the College are committed to a strong partnership around graduate education, and we look forward to working with faculty, graduate students, staff and Emory College leadership both to manage the changes ahead and to explore and build on the new opportunities to be created.” 

Tedesco further noted that all graduate students in the affected graduate programs will be able to complete the degrees they are pursuing in the normal time-to-degree expected in their fields, and that the Laney Graduate School will work closely with faculty leadership to provide additional support to enable students in affected programs to realize their ambitions.

Forman acknowledges that the departments and programs most impacted by these changes have made “important and fundamental contributions to our campus, and they have passionate supporters…. There is nothing about this process that has been easy. However, we have a primary obligation to our students to allocate resources in a way that will allow Emory College of Arts and Sciences to train leaders of the century to come.  Emory students — both at the undergraduate and graduate level — have the right to assume that they have access to a world-class education regardless of the course of study that they choose here, even if that ultimately means that we cannot support all of the possible choices.”

Wagner points out that, “Emory has a history that affirms our ability to make necessary changes for the greater, long-term good. In 1990, President Laney and the Board of Trustees took a difficult decision to close the School of Dentistry, which was requiring increasing subsidy to remain competitive with a growing number of state-supported schools. In 1986, Emory closed its Department of Geology,” Wagner says.  “Those decisions and other less dramatic ones have helped make possible the trajectory of sustained growth we have enjoyed over the past quarter-century.”