Faculty Senate approves ISU department merger

Alex Cory

Iowa State’s Faculty Senate has approved a merger between the anthropology and world languages and cultures departments.

The merger, which started with a discussion between faculty members from both departments, has been in the works for more than a year.

“This all really started over a year ago from a set of informal conversations among key faculty from the two departments talking about the possibilities of putting these two departments together,” Max Viatori, associate professor of anthropology.

Viatori said he thinks the two departments fit well together because a lot of classes in both departments cover the same content but provide different methodological takes on similar topics.

After discussing the possibilities of what could be accomplished by the departments merging, faculty began having talks to test the waters for the merger.

The merger was designed primarily to help students, Viatori said.

“The overriding and primary purpose for the merger is to provide students with an even better experience than what they get at present,” Viatori said, adding that the merger could help expand the range of courses and possibilities of study for students.

Viatori is excited for the merger because it will place him closer to colleagues who share his specific focus. A professor of Latin American studies, Viatori hopes to work under the same roof as the faculty who study Latin America in world languages and cultures.

Viatori said the anthropology department has already benefited from the merger and that both departments are already collaborating on recruiting and doing outreach for students.

Viatori said anthropology gets to “piggyback” on world languages and culture’s more developed systems and is already seeing the benefits in terms of student programming and advising.

Chad Gasta, professor and chairman of the world languages and cultures department, is also excited about the merger. He said he considers world languages and cultures and anthropology a good match.

“We’re both sort of international and global departments,” Gasta said. “We both deal with culture, broadly speaking, and languages, and we have been collaborating for several years on a variety of projects.”

While anthropology is a relatively small department that had only six tenured faculty members at the conception of the merger, world languages and cultures had 21. Gasta said being a smaller department gave anthropology a bigger workload, and the merger would allow the two departments to work together much more efficiently.

“It was an opputunity to broaden the collaboration between the two groups and really meet the needs of the students, many of whom are working or studying in the same departments,” Gasta said, adding that the two departments many times shared the “same kind of student” because of similarities. 

Gasta said the departments approached the merger cautiously, taking time to get to know each other better through various meetings and social gatherings.

“It’s not common for departments to merge, and it’s really not common for departments to voluntarily merge,” Gasta said.

The merger is still going through its approval process, with a few stages left to go before a final decision by the Board of Regents, which the departments hope will happen in March or April.

Members of both departments are unanimously excited for the merger, Viatori and Gasta said.

“Could you think of two other departments on campus that are as globally or internationally focused as anthropology and world languages and cultures?” Gasta asked.