The benefits of collapsing the interdisciplinary programs do not outweigh the damage.
Last week, College of Liberal Arts Dean Teresa Scott Soufas announced to collapse five interdisciplinary programs into existing CLA departments. The Temple News speculated what sorts of changes that might mean for those programs’ faculty and students.
But this week, after Soufas met with faculty and students to explain the decision and spoke to The Temple News [“Interdisciplinary programs to collapse into departments,” Page 1], we’re still scratching our heads.
Soufas said the following programs will be “re-situated” into respective departments: Jewish studies to the religion department, American studies to the English department, women’s and LGBT studies to the sociology department, Asian studies to the critical languages department and Latin American studies to the history department.
She said each major and minor will still interact with the same faculty and advisers as before the change, and the titles listed on students’ diplomas from those programs will remain the same.
The only difference, she said, is the interdisciplinary programs will no longer have directors, saving CLA $5,000 per director by depleting their stipends. That could mean as much as $25,000 in savings.
The Temple News has frequently advised the university to be frugal in the midst of Gov. Tom Corbett’s potential budget cuts and mindful that every dollar truly counts. But in the scheme of Temple’s $1 billion-plus operating budget, the savings made by collapsing the departments seems miniscule.
More importantly, the savings don’t seem to outweigh the complications and concerns the interdisciplinary program restructure could cause for its students.
“One of the reasons for that is the programs themselves are very small with regard to their majors [and] the numbers of majors,” Soufas told The Temple News. “What I want to do is to build them so that they can be more sustainable and have growth opportunities within the departments they will be anchored in.”
But if the only true change in autonomy is the elimination of the directors’ stipends, where are those doors opening to allow the interdisciplinary program students to flourish?
If anything, it seems like doors are only closing.
As Ashley Lebesco wrote in her op-ed submission on Page 5, these programs will no longer have a home. And as The Temple News reminded administrators last week, the dollars paid by students in the interdisciplinary programs pad the university’s wallet just as much as those of other students.
Ultimately, if it came down to cutting interdisciplinary program directors or increasing tuition, CLA made a commendable decision. But rather than implementing the change July 1, CLA should have waited four years, when prospective liberal arts majors would be able to enroll in the interdisciplinary programs with full knowledge of the bang they’d be getting for their buck.