After making their way past a few dozen angry students and exchanging a lengthy, heated discussion, the University of Miami Faculty Senate overwhelmingly approved the disintegration of the School of International Studies and the incorporation of its departments into the College of Arts and Sciences.
The 29-4 vote to close the five-year-old school came down a week after UM officials announced they would eliminate the school’s “structural” barriers and administrative costs to improve the quality of the programs.
Six senators did not vote and two abstained.
The dissolution of the school, the second in the school’s 76-year history, may be one of President Shalala’s most controversial measures since she started her mandate last summer.
The decision has outraged and dismayed many of the nearly 500 SIS students and 22 faculty members, who have criticized the administration for excluding them from the process.
Students and faculty worry the move will erode the prestige of the degrees and hinder UM’s ability to recruit professors and students for the programs.
About an hour before the meeting, about four dozen enraged students marched around the campus chanting “Save SIS! Our voices will be heard!” carrying brightly colored placards, which urged faculty senators to strike down the plan.
Shortly after the professors arrived, the protesters crowded the steps of the Storer Auditorium and denounced the dissolution as the faculty senators and administrators were entering.
Two police officers were stationed at the only open entrance of the four double-doors of the lobby.
At one point, the students shouted “Bring Foote back!”
“I would rather not discuss that,” said former UM President Edward T. Foote, a key architect of the school, when asked to comment on the merger.
Present at the meeting were Provost Luis Glaser, who presented the proposal to shut down the school; Dean Gomez from SIS; Dr. Patricia Whitely, Vice President for Student Affairs; about six SIS professors and three dozen SIS students.
Steven Priepke, the student government representative before the senate, addressed the senate on the students’ behalf.
While most of the senators said they welcomed the change, many criticized the administration for failing to inform them on the reasons behind their decision and to provide them with a “comprehensive plan” for the transition.
They said they were concerned with the lack of SIS faculty and student participation in the decision-making process.
Some proposed that the vote be delayed to have more time to review the plan and a committee be created with faculty and students, but their proposals were discarded.
“I was unclear with the motivation behind this [the dissolution],” said Tony Hynes, a marine and atmospheric chemistry professor at RSMAS. “I was surprised that the faculty of that school was not united, vociferous. When you hear a silence like that, you worry they have to keep their mouths shut.”
“The process was clearly flawed,” Hynes said.
Some of the senators also said they worried this would set a precedent for other schools.
“I think SIS was a special case,” said chair of the senate, Steve Green. “It was a very small school with programs that fit well and naturally into another school.”
SIS professor Bill Smith, who said he believes the move will strengthen the programs, said the senate vote was a “correct” one and hopes Shalala puts forth her promises to improve the program “with her enthusiastic support and necessary faculty and financial resources.”
Nuri Haltiwanger, a senior in SIS and one of the students who led Wednesday’s protests, said she was disappointed with the outcome but “was very happy to hear there were professors who were concerned with the way things were handled.”
“We all feel kind of betrayed and violated,” Haltiwanger said.
She also said some SIS students are planning to transfer to another school within UM or to other universities as of next fall.
As, the faculty senate was making their decision, student government was likewise voting, but to pass a resolution, which stated in part, “that Student Government at the University of Miami supports the School of International Studies, and their endeavors to keep their college separate from the School of Arts and Sciences.”
The resolution was passed with a majority of 32 to four opposed, mainly because SG senators felt it was unacceptable that the decision was made without the consent of the student body.