Higher education

University of Iowa officials eyeing campus reorganization

Plan could include moving departments, changes to faculty and eliminating majors

Barry Butler, former University of Iowa provost. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Barry Butler, former University of Iowa provost. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A small group of University of Iowa deans is investigating a possible campus reorganization that could involve relocating departments, changing the number of faculty in various colleges and consolidating or eliminating units or majors.

An internal memo from former Provost Barry Butler sent earlier this year to the UI Council of Deans charged the leadership team with studying the institution’s “2020 academic organizational structure” in hopes of making the university more forward-looking and nimble in the face of limited resources.

The charge noted as possibilities creating new colleges, divisions or schools; eliminating or consolidating graduate programs within existing programs; and centralizing academic student support services. Structurally shifting the UI campus has created both excitement and stress across the university, which recently developed a new strategic plan prioritizing research, discovery, student success and engagement.

Some university leaders have speculated the reorganization could mean significant change for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the largest of the institution’s 11 colleges, with 39 departments offering 67 undergraduate majors, nearly 70 minors and 18 interdisciplinary certificate programs to more than 17,000 students. More than 2,300 graduate students also are enrolled in the college, which annually awards about 70 percent of the university’s undergraduate degrees and 45 percent of its graduate degrees.

The college includes more than 700 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, and in the 2015 budget year it garnered about $45.4 million in external research funding.

University of Iowa spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the administration is not looking specifically to break up the massive college as part of the reorganization, adding, “There is no preconceived notion of structure heading into this review.”

The college’s dean, Chaden Djalali, recently announced plans to step down in July 2018 — citing “personal matters (involving health issues with my family) and the ongoing academic, administrative and financial changes faced by the college.”

He couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, but Beck said, “He, like every other dean, will have input” in the reorganization. She also said administrators do not view his departure as an opportunity for realignment.

Butler, in his charge, tied the impetus for reorganization to large-scale research funding opportunities, student demand for graduate education and the reality that popular undergraduate degrees are becoming more interdisciplinary — “rather than existing in a single traditional academic department.”

His memo also noted the institution’s funding woes. Lawmakers have slashed state support for public higher education in recent years — a trend that continued this year. The Legislature took back from Board of Regents universities $20.8 million in base funding for the 2017 budget year before approving a 2018 budget with deeper cuts to base appropriations for UI, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

Butler’s memo asked the Council of Deans to consult with the president’s cabinet, faculty, staff and student shared-governance leadership in studying organizational changes. He tasked four deans — Sarah Gardial, Henry B. Tippie College of Business; Alec Scranton, College of Engineering; John Keller, Graduate College; and Sue Curry, former dean of the College of Public Health — with leading the effort of pulling input from the full council and developing consensus on recommendations.

They are charged, specifically, with coordinating listening sessions, collecting and sharing relevant data, updating campus leadership, organizing discussion sessions and proposing recommendations by January 2018.

After Butler’s departure last month, Curry was named interim provost, and on Tuesday she sent a message to UI faculty and staff updating them on the reorganization.

The task force — which now includes College of Education Dean Dan Clay in Curry’s stead — is in the fact-finding phase, gathering ideas about “how our academic structure might be strengthened in support of our teaching, research and engagement missions,” according to Curry’s message.

That process is scheduled to continue through the summer, she reported.

Come fall, the group is to present its information to campus, offering “ample opportunities for broad discussion and feedback before drafting and submitting a final report to the Office of the Provost.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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