Last June, the college’s Board of Directors approved of academic restructuring which combined the Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) school with the Social Science, Communication and Education (SCE) school into the new school of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHS), and transferred the Criminology, Law and Society department from the SCE school into the McKenna school, according to John Smetanka, vice president of academic affairs and academic dean.
The restructuring, which has taken effect this semester, was mainly planned by Smetanka, in coordination with members of the president’s cabinet and college president Br. Norman Hipps, O.S.B., Smetanka said.
Margaret Watkins, professor of philosophy, is interim dean of the new AHS school.
The restructuring’s goal, Smetanka said, is to lower administrative costs and promote interdisciplinary work.
Keeping administrative costs low, he explained, is necessary to possess the resources required for staffing the amount of faculty needed to enable small class sizes and enable the academic programs Saint Vincent offers. It is also necessary to keep the tuition as low and to give as much scholarship aid as possible, Smetanka added.
“To do that, in these tougher times when everything seems to cost more,” he said, “we need to ensure that we’re running the administration of programs as leanly as possible.”
Since having an academic school costs “a good bit of infrastructure” such as separate budgets and support staff, Smetanka said having only three schools saves on expenses.
He also explained how the merging of the HFA and SCE schools is expected to promote interdisciplinary work among students.
“One of our hopes is [that] students would feel more connected to a broader number of departments, a broader range of activities,” he said.
It’s not only about students, though. Smetanka explained that the merger aids the creation of interdisciplinary academic programs by faculty.
As an example, Smetanka said that Annie Laurie Nicholas, assistant professor of communication, is working with art faculty to come up with new objectives for a digital arts program. Originally, these faculty were members of departments that were in different schools, but after the merger they are all in the AHS school.
While it is not impossible for faculty to collaborate across departments in different schools, Smetanka said “when it comes to doing some really important, innovative work, it does make it easier being in the same school.”
He noted that the AHS school houses most of the core curriculum, and in this he and the president’s cabinet “saw a real benefit.”
“We believe that will promote better discussion and assessment of the core curriculum,” Smetanka said.
The previous deans of the HFA and SCE schools, Fr. Rene Kollar, O.S.B. and Mary Beth Spore, respectively, have returned to teaching. Professor of philosophy Margaret Watkins has agreed to serve as the AHS school’s interim dean.
“We felt that picking either one of the existing deans [to be dean of AHS] would not be the appropriate thing to do, particularly when we have faculty needs that they can fill,” Smetanka said.
He noted this decision follows the strategy of prioritizing faculty and programs, which was a key factor in the restructuring.
A permanent dean is planned to be in place in a year, as a search for a dean that is the “best fit” is to begin, according to Smetanka.
Watkins said her task as interim dean, first and foremost, is responding to students’ and faculty’s concerns “during this period of transition,” which brings many unique challenges.
“We need to learn what we have in common and how we can help each other fulfill our diverse aims,” she said.
In addition to the creation of the AHS school, the restructuring also saw the transference of the Criminology, Law and Society department from the old SCE school and into the McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government.
The department fits with the government aspect of the McKenna school and faculty from the department have been proposing such a change for years, Smetanka said.
“They saw an opportunity to work with economics, politics and business faculty and create some interesting programming there,” he said.
He added that Criminology faculty are interested in creating a legal studies program through collaboration with other McKenna school faculty.
Smetanka explained how the McKenna school, which has the smallest amount of faculty of all three schools, benefits from the addition of the Criminology department.
“Being able to move a new, growing department into the McKenna school changed the faculty dynamic there a little bit,” he said. “So, now they have a little bit more diversity.”
After this restructuring, all three schools are similar in size in terms of numbers of students and of majors, Smetanka said, although AHS has more faculty due to housing most of the core curriculum.
Students were alerted of the restructuring on Sept. 5 through a mass email from college president Br. Norman Hipps, O.S.B. After describing 16 new faculty, the email discussed the change.
“In order to continue our focus on careful stewardship, as called for both in the Rule of Saint Benedict and in our Strategic Plan, we have made a structural change,” the email read.
“Stewardship,” Smetanka explained to The Review, is defined by the Rule of Saint Benedict as using resources to the best of one’s ability.
Students reported not understanding why the academic restructuring took place.
Moira Sullivan, sophomore anthropology major, was part of the SCE school before the merger.
“I suppose it makes some sense, if you have to combine schools, to combine the social sciences and humanities,” she said. “I just don't understand why they had to in the first place.”
Luke Mulloy, senior criminology major, who was part of the SCE school before the department was moved under the McKenna school, also said he did not understand the change.
“When people think of the McKenna school they think of business,” he said. “I am not quite sure how criminology fits.”
Joel Trentin, junior history major, also reported not fully understanding the change. Trentin, Sullivan and Mulloy each said they have not noticed any major changes in their departments.
“I am an administrative assistant in the history department, so I spend much time there,” Trentin said. “I have not noticed much difference.”
Trentin, who has an education minor in addition to his history major, said the creation of the AHS school is exciting.
“The unification of these schools is kind of like the unification of my academic fields of study,” he said.
Trentin and Mulloy both reported finding out about the restructuring through interactions over the summer.
Trentin said he was walking through Headmasters Hall and noticed that a bulletin board displayed the name of the new school.
Mulloy said that his older sister, who graduated from Saint Vincent two years ago, learned of the change and told him about it.
Sullivan, on the other hand, did not find out that her school merged with another until a week into the school year by reading the mass email from Hipps.
She said she does not know what to think about the change.
“I trust Saint Vincent enough to know that they're not going to destroy the academic program by enacting a terrible change to the school structure, but I would like to know a bit more on why they did, and how it will affect the students,” she said.