UM Regents Approve Plan to Merge and Rename Eighteen Separate CAS Departments


Courtesy of OneClass

Come Summer 2021, six newly approved departments will comprise the College of Arts and Sciences.

On Thursday Feb. 18, UM’s Board of Regents approved a request to restructure UM-Flint’s College of Arts and Sciences, turning eighteen of the college’s academic departments into six broader departments. 

According to the Board of Regents’ website, departments affected by this change include Africana Studies; Art and Art History; Biology; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Communication Studies; Computer Science, Engineering, and Physics; Economics; English; Foreign Languages and Literatures; Geography, Planning and Environment; History; Mathematics; Music; Philosophy; Political Science; Psychology; Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice; and Theatre and Dance. 

Effective July 1, these departments will merge to form Fine and Performing Arts; Language and Communication; Social Sciences and Humanities; Behavioral Sciences; Natural Sciences; and Mathematics and Applied Sciences. 

The plan was compiled by the Task Force for College Reorganization, which comprises eight faculty members from various UM-Flint departments who sought input from CAS faculty throughout Fall 2020. In a Nov. 9 report, task force members cited multiple reasons for restructuring the college, whose structure had remained largely untouched for twenty years prior. One reason was to ensure the fairer distribution of “shrinking resources” across all CAS departments — resources that have historically been “fought over.” 

According to Susan Gano-Phillips, Dean of the CAS, the decision comes as part of the college’s long-term effort to tailor its programs to the shifting needs of students. “We have to always be evolving and developing our curriculum to ensure that it meets student, societal and employer demands.” One of these demands, said Gano-Phillips, is for a more interdisciplinary approach to addressing societal challenges. 

An intended benefit of the restructuring, according to Gano-Phillips, is that opportunities which were once limited to specific departments will now be available to students from a variety of disciplines. Certain student organizations, for example, will be opened up to a broader pool of students. Career-building opportunities that used to be exclusive to one department will now encompass a larger and more academically diverse group of students. 

A reduction in the number of stand-alone departments will also decrease the need for department chairs. According to the task force’s report, this will allow faculty who are required to double as department chairs to be “less burdened with administrative tasks.” 

This way, said Gano-Phillips, faculty will have more time to devote to research. Along with holding the potential to uncover new knowledge, faculty-led research helps secure funding in the form of grants. It also allows students to build their knowledge bases and resumes when they assist faculty. 

The task force report noted that the total number of CAS students has gone down 22 percent since 2010. Gano-Phillips hopes to see increased enrollment in the future, with programs offered by the newly structured college appearing “attractive and exciting to a new groups of students.” 

CAS faculty have multiple interdisciplinary opportunities in the works, including Data Analytics, Game Design and Urban Science. Though the first two are in various stages of development, Urban Science is set to arrive in Fall 2021. According to the program’s webpage, the Bachelor of Science in Urban Science “provides expertise in qualitative, quantitative and geospatial methods to analyze social, political, physical and environmental challenges facing cities and their metropolitan regions.”   

With various research opportunities on the way and six department chairs to be appointed before the end of the semester, the CAS is preparing to look a lot different. Though department groupings will change come Summer 2021, major and course offerings will remain untouched. Said Gano-Phillips, “[the restructuring plan] really doesn’t affect the way you move through your curriculum.”