by Josh Kelety
The Humanities and Social Sciences Division (HUM/SS) of Seattle Central’s academic programs is the largest grouping of faculty, classes and students in the entire institution. The massive nature of the division has prompted administrators and faculty to discuss a theoretical reorganization of the division’s managing administrators. Surveys were sent out and options proposed. However not all faculty are happy with how the process has been handled and the direction in which it is moving.
The push for reform came from Warren Brown, Vice President of Instruction and Student Services. A group of faculty (deemed the name of the “Disappearing Task Force”) was set up to get input from the rest of the faculty in the division on what the open-ended question of reform should look like.
“The group’s purpose was to organize and facilitate the process and report in the HUM/SS faculty’s consideration of reorganization,” said Seattle Central history professor Tracy Lai in an email.
The reasoning for reform comes from the massive size of HUM/SS. The division is roughly twice the size of any division here at Central as well as any in the State of Washington, having high numbers of faculty, part-time faculty, along with masses of students taking classes.
“There are over 100 faculty who teach in the division each quarter, 30-40, full timers, [and] 30-40 priority hire. That’s a huge amount [of work] for a dean and one or two secretaries,” said Bruce McKenna, an English professor here at Seattle Central.
Lai described the HUM/SS division as being dysfunctional for a long time, and that the prospect of reform could have some division wide benefit.
“The hope is that by adding a person with authority (Dean-type person) could actually improve everything from faculty evaluation and support (resulting in better teaching) to course scheduling and student access,” Lai said in an email.
Division administrative responsibilities include the various steps of the lengthy pre and post tenure process, observing and evaluating professors, as well as dealing with student scheduling issues.
On the other hand, Anthropology Professor Pete Knutson felt that the issue was overblown considering the cuts that have been devastating academic programs and student services.
“I’ve gone through four deans in four years and it doesn’t affect what I do in my classroom at all,” said Knutson. “If we’re cutting deaf studies, if we’re cutting all this stuff, let’s put the money into something that more directly benefits students, like restoring day-care service for example,” he added.
To tackle the issue the Disappearing Task Force sent out surveys and gathered data on the faculty’s various reorganization preferences. Bradley Lane, Interim Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, who was originally tasked with organizing the Disappearing Task Force, sent an email to the division describing the survey results.
According to the taskforce report most faculty wanted anything but status quo, with 62% preferring some sort of organization. 25% wanted one dean and an assistant dean and a majority 92% sided with adding more administrative assistants to the division.
The President’s Cabinet, made up of five administrators (including Warren Brown), will be making the final decision on the division reform. Brown, the Vice President of Instruction and Student Services has been the point man in the cabinet for the HUM/SS restructuring.
However faculty eyebrows were raised when Brown brought forth a option that hadn’t been listed on the taskforce survey, implying that it would be the preferred option. The option was the creation of a new administrative dean who would straddle both HUM/SS along with the Math & Sciences Division.
In an email to the division Warren said that the “conceptual (and not yet reviewed/nor approved from Cabinet) Associate Dean would work across divisions. So conceptually the person could work across HUM/SS to Math/Science in support of part-time faculty processes/issues.”
To some in the division it seemed like the entirety of the faculty input gathered by the taskforce was being arrogantly tossed aside in favor of what the administration wanted to do.
“There was this illusion that faculty were somehow involved in the governance process and we never were involved,” said Knutson. “A lot of people who were involved in the polling and the conferencing felt a little bit betrayed at the end of it.”
In addition, in an email train being circulated throughout the division, Warren Brown and Bradley Lane, faculty expressed dismay at the apparent lack of clear budget parameters for the reorganization. Essentially the administration initiated taskforce report polled opinions on options that the Cabinet then discarded due to funding issues.
In his defense Brown sent out an email saying “I thought I made clear that the taskforce would look at providing recommendations about structure versus costs of the structure.” Brown has been allegedly trying to “sell” the taskforce proposal.
Though unofficial, emails between the division faculty and Warren Brown clearly show that the Cabinet will be moving towards the joint-division option.
“After our Disappearing Taskforce went to great lengths to compile the data and write up recommendations, morale has nosedived because Cabinet is proceeding as if this process hadn’t been so carefully followed,” said Lai via email. “There is tension which could have been reduced if our original questions about process had been answered, namely, the budget parameters,” she added.
Interim Dean Bradley Lane declined to comment until after the final vote by the President’s Cabinet.
The vote will take place during a Cabinet meeting on May 7th, after which the decision will be made public. A follow-up update will be released shortly after the vote.