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Renewal: Academic Reorganization

January 18, 2006

Suzanne Johnson
Michael DeMocker

tulwin06_windowUniversities are organic entities, constantly changing in reaction to their people, their immediate environment and the educational climate in general. Most change occurs slowly, over time. Unless, of course, something happens -- a hurricane, for example -- to speed things up.

The financial concerns raised by Hurricane Katrina caused Tulane's leaders to step back and look carefully at where the university stood in relation to its peers, and where it needed to go. They also assembled an advisory panel of educators from around the country to help them keep perspective and lend ideas.

"We literally looked at every program, at everything," said Lester Lefton, vice president for academic affairs and provost. "We decided early on that we wanted to focus our resources on programs in which we already excelled or had the potential to become world-class without a major investment."

The academic restructuring approved by the Tulane board on Dec. 8 included measures that supported the university's plan to focus on its strongest programs as well as its desire to maximize efficiency.

The academic restructuring includes the following:

  • The Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering are being reconfigured into two schools: the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Science and Engineering.

  • All undergraduate students, regardless of major, will matriculate through the newly created Undergraduate College, which also will feature a core curriculum, an academic advising center and centralized programs to coordinate community service projects.

  • Five undergraduate programs will be eliminated: Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering -- all in the School of Engineering, and Exercise and Sport Sciences, in University College. These majors will continue to be offered through spring 2007, allowing currently enrolled juniors and seniors to complete their degrees at Tulane. The university will help first- and second-year students determine if they want to change to another major at Tulane or will help them transfer to another institution.

  • With the creation of the Undergraduate College in fall 2006, the coordinate college system, consisting of Newcomb College for undergraduate women and Tulane College for undergraduate men, will be eliminated. This is an administrative change that will not impact academic offerings.

  • With the establishment of the new Undergraduate College in 2006, full-time students will no longer pursue degrees through University College. University College will offer night and continuing-education courses and will be renamed the School of Continuing Studies. Students already pursuing degrees through University College will be able to complete those degrees.

  • The Graduate School will be eliminated as a separate administrative entity, effective in fall 2006. Graduate degree programs will be administered by the appropriate school or college.

  • The number of graduate programs will be reduced from 44 to 18, focusing on those programs in which Tulane has established strengths and a competitive advantage and increasing support for those programs. Students in suspended programs will have until May 2007 to complete their degree programs. Otherwise, Lefton says, they can be reassigned to another program or will be offered assistance in transferring to another institution.

The result of these changes, officials say, is a stronger, leaner Tulane with a bright future and assured success.

"But success comes with a cost," acknowledges President Scott Cowen. "And in some cases our cost has been very high."

The cost in terms of streamlining and reorganizing the academic structure of the university, as well as refocusing its academic mission, has led to the difficult decision to phase out several longstanding academic programs as well as the coordinate college system at Tulane.

The School of Engineering was hit particularly hard, with only its programs in Biomedical Engineering and Chemical and Molecular Engineering remaining and its identity as a separate school removed. "It was a difficult decision," says Lefton of the four engineering programs being eliminated. "We have outstanding individual faculty members and students in each one of those programs."

They are small programs and expensive to maintain, however, and Cowen said a major investment of resources would be required to bring those four departments to national prominence.

The five eliminated majors impact 228 first- and second-year students (out of a total undergraduate population of 6,390) and 53 faculty members (out of a total faculty population of 550, which does not include the health sciences faculty).

For board member Rich Schmidt, a 1966 Tulane civil engineering graduate, the decision was a poignant one. "You are always torn" when facing this type of decision, he said. "I have a tremendous interest in the engineering school. But I think when you have a situation like this, you have to take a step back and look at the overall plan and what's best for the entire organization. There were reductions in almost every college. We tried to be consistent in our strategy and look at those programs with exceptional capabilities and focus on those."

Also difficult was the decision to eliminate the coordinate college system -- Newcomb College for women undergraduates and Tulane College for men. Even though this change will not impact any student academically, both colleges are important parts of Tulane history.

According to board member Linda Wilson, NC '57, the board is very sensitive to the fact that the dissolution of Newcomb College, in particular, would be of concern for alumnae of the 120-year-old women's college. Even though the curricula of Newcomb and Tulane colleges were made uniform in 1979, and the colleges' faculties combined into the Faculty of the Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1987, the two maintained separate administrative offices and functions.

Wilson, along with Darryl Berger, L '72, heads a board task force that is assigned the task of determining how to preserve the Newcomb College and Tulane College names, traditions and endowments within the new structure. She says the integration of all undergraduates into a single Undergraduate College makes sense.

"We needed to be able to consolidate functions such as academic advising and coordination of public-service projects within the new Undergraduate College, without having to duplicate services or having the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing," she says. Joining Wilson and Berger on the task force are board members Sybil Favrot, NC '56; Carol Cudd, NC '59; Jay Lapeyre, B '78, L '78; Jeanne Olivier, NC '75; and Schmidt.

A website has been set up for the exchange of ideas:
Board chair Cathy Pierson says the task force will find a way to honor the Newcomb and Tulane College traditions going forward. "We are absolutely committed to it," she says.

The third controversial piece of the academic restructuring is the change to Tulane's graduate programs, which will affect 112 of the university's 5,000 graduate and professional students.

Cowen says the decision was, again, based on the strategy of putting available resources toward areas of proven strength. "Tulane will focus its energy and resources in graduate-level programs that have demonstrated ability to be world-class and, in the sciences and engineering, have the proven ability to obtain competitively awarded grant funding," he says.

From Survival to Renewal
Renewal: The Undergraduate Experience
Renewal: Academic Reorganization
Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine
Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships
Renewal: Intercollegiate Athletics

Winter 2006

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