President Donna Shalala’s meeting with students from the School of International Studies [SIS] last Friday did little to convince them that dissolving SIS and transferring the school’s departments to the College of Arts and Sciences would strengthen the programs.
Early last week, university officials announced the five-year-old school, which has been running on a deficit since its inception, would be disintegrated to save on administrative costs and make more resources available to students and faculty.
The news has outraged students, who have complained that the move will diminish the prestige of their degree.
Many said they applied to UM because it had a school of international studies.
Many also feel they will lose the personalized service of the small school, which currently has about 500 students and 22 faculty members.
With over 3,000 students, the College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of UM’s 14 schools and colleges.
At the meeting on Friday, held two days after students were notified of the change, Shalala assured students the move would improve the quality of their programs because it will give them access to more resources, such as scholarships and research grants, and increase the interaction among faculty members.
“We saw this as eliminating an administrative structure to strengthen international studies,” Shalala told a crowd of about 80 students, staff members and faculty who gathered at the Bill Cosford Cinema Friday afternoon.
Also addressing students at the meeting were provost Luis Glaser, Dr. Patricia Whitely, vice president for student affairs, UM Faculty Senate president Steven Green, and SIS interim dean Andy Gomez.
The change, Shalala said, would not affect their course requirements nor affect the value of their degree.
“We are well aware many of you signed up to the program because [it was a]free-standing school,” she said. “I hope you stay.”
Shalala promised students she would “make every effort” to improve student services within the college, and vowed to “push for funds” for interdisciplinary programs when the university launches an aggressive fundraising effort next semester.
But students were not swayed by Shalala’s promises.
“What we are concerned about is reputation,” said senior Natalie Palugyai.
Palugyai and other students also argued that folding the school would do little to improve the relationship between the faculty, as most of the general education requirements, such as art history, history, biology, are within the College of Arts and Sciences.
SIS faculty members have said they are disappointed.
Several professors said they worry about being able to attract new faculty members, graduate students and future funding of their programs, which had increased when they were incorporated into the school.
They are also concerned about the leverage they will have in determining the course requirements in the SIS undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Some have also questioned how the merger will improve the coordination between the SIS professors and faculty members of the college’s social science departments.
“I’m not sure I understand the logic behind it,” said a professor, who requested anonymity. “But it’s possible, and I’m willing to support it.”
The faculty senate is scheduled to vote on the transfer tomorrow afternoon.