Tenure problems in the political science department have raised questions as to whether it should be in the School of Business and what can be done to improve its reputation-and the education it provides students.
The department has lost five professors in the past two years, which some former professors said has had a negative effect on students.
Pete Moore, who is now at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, said students lose from the faculty turnover in the department, as classes offered one year may not be offered again the next one, and professors leave before students have a chance to establish relationships with them. Professors may also not be around when students need letters of recommendation, and students may lose faculty advisers to student organizations.
“Imagine the kind of department this would be if these people had stayed,” Moore said.
However, June Dreyer, a tenured professor and former chair of the department, said the faculty turnover does not directly impact the students.
“If the new people are doing a good job, I don’t see how it affects the students,” she said. “They’ll ask for recommendations from the new people.”
The INS connection
The problems in the department extend beyond political science to the department of international studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
International studies, an interdisciplinary field, has no adjunct faculty and all of the professors are tenured, with the exception of one visiting assistant professor. Of its tenured faculty, four professors (and the visiting professor) are political scientists, and one of them, William C. Smith, was tenured in the political science department before moving to international studies.
And, while international studies students can take political science classes to count for their majors, political science students cannot take international studies classes.
Part of the problem between the departments may come from the fact that they compete for students, as interests and some classes overlap. Moore, for example, said he began teaching a politics of terrorism class because “if not, it would go to INS.”
Provost Thomas LeBlanc said this problem is true throughout UM.
“There are a series of barriers for students to take the classes they want to take in general at the University,” LeBlanc said.
A move to Arts and Sciences?
Moore and other former faculty members suggested that the political science department move to Arts and Sciences, which chair Fred M. Frohock said is the field’s “intellectual home.” A move, they said, would help lower the wall between the department and international studies.
“That way, students won’t have to placate two masters,” Moore said.
According to Frohock, 335 students listed political science as their major last year. Of these, 300 were in Arts and Sciences and 35 were in the School of Business.
However, former department chair Jonathan West said that a possible move to Arts and Sciences is not a priority.
“It’s been a fairly happy marriage [with the School of Business], and if it’s not broken, why fix it?” he said. “We don’t hear a lot of complaints from students.
“We feel we’re an integral part of Arts and Sciences,” West added. “I don’t think it makes a difference where the department is housed as long as we service the students well.”
Dean Paul Sugrue said moving the department would not solve any of its problems, but he would not oppose the move if that is what the faculty wants.
“If they want to leave, I would not stand in their way,” he said.