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Regents approve University restructure despite faculty opposition

The Board of Regents approved a plan to restructure the University in a controversial decision that would merge Seton Hall’s nine schools and colleges into seven to reduce administrative costs, the Office of the Provost announced on Sept. 28.

The announcement said that the College of Communication and the Arts would be merged with the College of Education and Human Services, and the College of Nursing would be merged with the School of Health and Medical Sciences if it did not reach academic targets. The mergers were approved despite widespread faculty dissent.

The plan, entitled “seeds of innovation,” was initially proposed last spring but was modified in response to faculty criticisms. However, the revised plan was not made public before the Provost’s office sent it to the Board of Regents for approval.

Three of the involved colleges, the Faculty Senate and Seton Hall’s advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, have protested the plan.

A majority of the faculty in three of the four colleges that would be merged rejected the Provost’s plan. The College of Communications and the Arts and the College of Education and Human Services both opposed the plan to create a “College of Education, Communication Arts and Human Services.” The College of Nursing also opposed its merger with the School of Health and Medical Sciences.

The Regents approved the mergers anyway. 

In her email to the University community, Provost Katia Passerini explained that the College of Nursing requested more time to meet its financial targets. The College, she said, will be merged with the School of Health if academic targets are not reached within two years. 

Passerini did not directly mention the opposition of the CommArts and Education faculty. Instead, she cited “a range of opinions supporting and opposing the initial draft” from the schools.

In advance of the Board of Regents’ September retreat, the Faculty Senate sent a resolution to Passerini, University President Joseph Nyre and the Chair of the Board, calling on Regents to reject the plan.

The provost responded to the resolution, calling it “redundant.”

“Members of the faculty spoke, and we listened,” Passerini said in her response. “Indeed, our use of shared governance resulted in an improved proposal to the Academic Affairs Committee and to the Board of Regents. The Board considered all feedback.”

Seton Hall’s advocacy chapter of the AAUP also called for the plan’s rejection in a letter to the Setonian in September.

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Professor of diplomacy Benjamin Goldfrank is the president of the chapter. He said the Association received no response from the administration.

The plan was organized by the University Structure Committee, chaired by Provost Katia Passerini and University Chief Financial Officer Stephen Graham. 

The 12-person committee included three faculty members: two from the College of Arts and Sciences and one from the Stillman School of Business. According to faculty sources, these representatives did not communicate with the rest of the faculty. The University spokesperson did not directly address whether or not faculty representatives were allowed to disclose details of the planning process outside of committee meetings.

The School of Business, along with the School of Theology, is not undergoing any changes in the restructuring.

Nursing, Health and Medical Sciences, Diplomacy, and — perhaps most notably — CommArts and Education, were not represented on the committee, and thus had no input on the initial plans.

Passerini said she discussed the plan with members of the faculty, and that their concerns were addressed since the spring.

Goldfrank questioned the effectiveness of the provost’s outreach over the summer, saying her meetings with faculty centered around committee members explaining the plan, with few opportunities for faculty members to raise questions. Not all comments raised were addressed, according to Goldfrank.

“A few questions could be asked and there were comment boxes,” Goldfrank said of the meetings. “But we did not view those comment boxes as constituting real shared governance.”

In the spring, The New Jersey AAUP raised concerns that by acting against the wishes of faculty, the University administration violated shared governance principles. The administration, the state Association said, may have been in violation of the University’s faculty guide, which outlines those principles.

Article 11, Section 4 of the guide states that changes in internal academic organization of a college, including the number of divisions therein, must be determined by a majority vote of full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty members and approved by the dean of that college.

The revised restructuring did away with an earlier plan to change the internal structure of the College of Arts and Sciences. However, some faculty members disagreed with the University on whether or not the merging of two colleges necessarily constitutes an internal academic reorganization.

The University spokesperson did not directly address whether the restructuring would violate 11.4, though the Provost’s announcement said the restructuring would be in line with the faculty guide.

Associate Professor of Communication Dr. Jon Radwan disagreed, saying a merger would constitute an internal change. 

“Mergers break down walls,” Radwan said. “Walls have two sides, inside and outside. In my view, it is impossible to remove a wall without affecting internal organization.”

Passerini said “Seeds of Innovation” was mandated by the strategic plan. However, the plan only calls for a review of the University’s structure, not changes.

The plan requested that the administration “review the size, distribution and configuration of colleges, administration and academic and non-academic departments to ensure maximum effectiveness and the highest and best uses of resources.” 

“Seeds of innovation” does not include any changes to non-academic departments.

Goldfrank said an investigation by the national AAUP into whether shared governance was breached was a possibility.

The restructuring plan has also faced backlash from the student body in the past. It is currently unclear how much input the Student Government Association, or SGA, had in the planning process.

SGA President Julia Nicolls spoke briefly at a “town hall” meeting hosted by Passerini in the spring. The virtual event did not have a chat or question-and-answer feature. All questions were submitted in advance of the event and chosen by administrators.

A “Concerned Seton Hall Student” posted a petition on Change.org following the initial plan’s announcement in the spring. The petition gained over 260 signatures.

Daniel O’Connor can be reached at daniel.oconnor1@student.shu.edu, and you can find him on Twitter @itsDanOConnor.

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