Bruce's Blog

Jan. 10, 2010

Western seems to have too many academic colleges. Can we save dollars there?

Here’s how I count. We have two very distinct colleges in Fairhaven and Huxley. These are relatively small colleges and they would not be found on many university campuses. Precisely because of that, they do contribute in major ways to Western’s distinctiveness and, I can report from the numerous alumni sessions held wherever travels take me in Washington and in the country, Huxley and Fairhaven have many very successful graduates who are extraordinarily proud to have graduated from these two colleges. And, their uniqueness has, according to the extensive branding research now wrapping up, shaped the image of our University among much wider circles. They are relatively small and their administrative overhead is proportionately small. They have the reputation and strength to stand on their own. And, folding them administratively into another college, no matter how sensitively done, would be seen by many externally as abandoning important roots. I take Huxley and Fairhaven off the table and then ask, for the remainder of our colleges, how do we stack up in terms of number of colleges universities of our size have.

Well, we are a campus with a current headcount (Fall, 2009) of 14,575. People are sometimes startled by that number, thinking of the 12,500 “state support” full time equivalent number we sometimes misleadingly use. The 14,575 number paints a more accurate picture of our relatively large size – right with WSU in terms of undergraduate enrollments.

For campuses of similar size, the professions (Education, Business, Allied Health, Engineering Technology) would be divided among two, three, or four colleges. A little unsystematic pursuing of the web suggests to me that, at two colleges for professional programs, we are at the low (but not unusually low) end.

Then there are the arts and sciences: humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, natural sciences, performing arts, fine arts. While all sorts of combinations can be found, we appear to me to be right at the median for universities of our size: three colleges.

Just because we seem to be like most universities (when we look just at the programs most universities have) does not mean that we are where we optimally should be. I have learned this through many years, though: the savings of combining units (colleges, departments, you name it) are relatively small. Maybe a dean’s salary but, then, we have to add an associate dean for it to reasonably work. And, the disruptions are great. Only makes sense, in my experiences, where there are academic synergies that result from the amalagam. And, even there, it takes several years of turmoil before the benefits begin to be realized.

Let’s think about our three colleges in the traditional areas of the liberal arts. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is already, by far, our largest. Making it larger would make no sense from the typical “span of control” approaches to administrative structure. And, universities our size long ago found trying to keep the sciences together with the liberal arts to be too unwieldy.

So, that leaves combining the College of Fine and Performing Arts with the College of Science and Technology. Now, there’s a union that would put us on the map although probably not positively so. My tongue is firmly in cheek as I write this paragraph but I do imagine the fun we might have stretching our creativity by having a naming contest for the new, combined unit.



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