Umberto Speranza withdrew from the University of Miami two weeks before the start of his senior year.
Speranza had been arguing against faculty including Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), to keep the international studies (INS) department from merging with the political science department.
“The whole spring semester turned into a battle,” he said.
The Faculty Senate voted Monday not to merge the two departments and developed a more interdisciplinary curriculum for the international studies degree, according to Bachas.
Speranza voiced his opinions during Faculty Senate meetings last semester and gained a victory in April that temporarily halted the merger. But he ultimately decided to leave UM when he heard that Steve Ralph, former director of student services for international studies, was going to be reinstated to a new position.
“What sense does it make to take an experienced adviser to the wayside,” Speranza said.
Instead of accepting a new position, Ralph decided to leave the university altogether. His position was eliminated in an effort to centralize advising in CAS.
Ralph’s departure was not related to the potential international studies and political science merger.
Senior Todd Hebert, an international studies major who worked with Speranza last semester, is suspect of the connection.
“Advising was supposed to be centralized, but there are still departmental advisers in other departments,” Hebert said.
Speranza’s journey began in January when he returned from his hometown in Dayton, Ohio. He discovered from a professor – whose identity was not disclosed – that a potential merger was in the works.
Speranza could not believe that students were not being informed. Aside from the merger, he challenged the lack of transparency between the administration and students.
“No one had a clue,” he said.
He and Hebert joined forces and organized a group of international studies students to raise awareness throughout the university. The loose organization made its goal to inform as many of the more than 300 students studying international studies.
Speranza used grassroots methods – word of mouth and social media – to inform students. He and Hebert circulated a petition that got 150 signatures from international studies students in a few days.
Speranza and Hebert spoke at CAS faculty meetings twice, and Speranza also met with Bachas to voice his concerns. These concerns included the value of an international studies degree a few years after the department merged, and that students did not have a say in the decision.
“A decision was being made behind closed curtains,” Speranza said. “It was disregarded for INS students. Why would Miami downgrade this program?”
According to an early proposal published in 2010, the original plan would have created a department of political science and international studies and would continue to offer two distinct undergraduate majors, including international studies.
Hebert claimed that UM once had an entire college designated to international studies, and for four years, the department also published a magazine.
“I wish there was a communication channel between administration and professors with students,” he said.
Bachas said that students play an important role in curriculum development, but this was one case where that did not happen.
“It was a good idea to consult them,” he said. “They delivered an important message.”
Monday’s Faculty Senate meeting ended the possibility of a merger. But, according to Bachas, the degree will offer more elective options from departments such as Women and Gender Studies to become more interdisciplinary.
“Nothing will change the programs,” he said. “The students will not see the difference. Faculty who teach in that program will oversee it.”
The Faculty Senate had to vote on two motions: The department staying separate and the development of this interdisciplinary program. Monday’s meeting voted on the approval of the program.
These changes still need the approval of UM President Donna E. Shalala and the Board of Trustees.
“This proposal needs to replace the prior legislation that was suggested two years ago,” Bachas said.
Joseph Parent, a political science professor, supported the merger and felt that the final outcome was disappointing.
“It’s disappointing the merger did not go through – all the departments ranked above us are larger and publish more, but Monday’s vote to make international studies a program is another step away from dysfunction,” he said.
The closest that the international studies department will get to the political science department is physical distance. The two along with the geography department will move to the Campo Sano Building near the wooden buildings by the Memorial Building. The move is anticipated to happen next month, Bachas said.
Hebert and Speranza had to make personal compromises, too.
Speranza attends the University of Dayton, where he is finishing his international studies degree and will graduate in May, as he would have done at UM. His reasons for leaving were political as well as personal.
“The University of Dayton took care of me,” he said. “I got a generous scholarship and have good relationships with faculty over there.”
Speranza’s decision was not easy. He dreamed about studying at UM since he was little and did not view his time as “a waste.”
Richard Weisskoff, an international studies professor, believes that Speranza and Ralph’s departures were the real waste.
“Umberto was one of my top students last year,” he said. “His transfer doubles UM’s loss: Steve Ralph, a super employee, and Umberto, a super student.”
Hebert considered transferring, but did not want to forgo the personal and professional connections that he formed in Miami.
“I would have lost all of that,” he said.