Editorial: ISU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences needs leaders in the face of an uncertain future

Editorial Board

A third public forum regarding the Blue Sky Task Force’s report will take place this afternoon, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., in 302 Catt Hall.

We’d like to laud the efforts of the task force members, who were brought together to tackle an unwieldy challenge.

In fact, it’s clear that their intentions were sound from the closing line of the report’s introduction: “This report should be viewed as a first step to begin many conversations regarding the future of the arts, humanities and the social science programs at Iowa State University.”

The task force approached the challenge with these factors in mind: intellectual synergy, content, scholarly culture, disciplinary breadth, research and teaching, and inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches.

In addition to several suggestions for changes to graduate programs, new master’s and doctoral interdisciplinary programs, and pleas for instituional support for the `sciences and humanities, what is likely the group’s most notable suggestion is its plan to reorganize the college’s existing departments.

The report generally suggests departments be grouped into two divisions: the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the Division of Arts and Humanities.

Within these divisions, then, the report generally suggests departments be further organized into schools: a School of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences, a School of Social Sciences, a School of Humanities, a School of Creative Arts and a School of Literatures and Languages.

Task force members then tried to find homes for existing departments and programs within these divisons and subdivisons.

The report includes several variations of these divisions and subdivisions.

To many of our readers’ disappointment, the report doesn’t tackle the issue of undergraduate programs in much detail, boiling any discussion on the topic down to two paragraphs, and saying, simply, “it was premature to make any assessment regarding redundancies and/or overlap in the curricular offerings.”

And that leaves a great number of questions unanswered.

Are large class sizes inherent to a “state” school education?

At Friday’s public forum, one student raised the concern of whether changes to structure within the college might affect future students’ hirability. In her words, “If an undergraduate or a graduate student has a degree that says ‘Interdisciplinary Social Sciences,’ does that even mean anything?”

As the University’s largest college continues to grapple with a smaller budget through less and less support from the state’s coffers, slow-to-rise tuition rates — for which we’re thankful — and the ever-looming threat of lower enrollment numbers, progress will come from, as the task force members suggest, continued discussion, but, too, from leadership exhibited by its administrators who are employed to make difficult, forward-thinking and comprehensive decisions in difficult times, such as these.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Whiteford has said repeatedly in interviews with the Iowa State Daily that he expects to see recommendations come before the Faculty Senate sometime around Spring Break.

We look forward to seeing those proposals, and expect many of you do, as well, because the uncertain future of a beleaguered college and its faculty, staff and students hangs in the balance.