Committee Assesses Possible Merge of School of Liberal Arts and School of Science

by, Nicole Fitzsimmons, Victor Franco & Maria Thomas, Asst. News/Features Editor, Staff Writer & News Editor

Manhattan College has formed a committee to determine the possibility of merging the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Science. 

The plan to explore this idea is fairly new, and has only been in the works for a few months. The idea arose due to the current circumstances in both departments in which the spot for a dean has opened in both schools.

“We’re going to be looking for new leadership in both schools, so both teams need to be replaced, and therefore it’s an opportunity to talk about it, that’s really all it is,” Provost Steven Schreiner said. “There’s no big push to actually combine them, the administration’s just asking the question.”

In the past month, the college has set up an ad-hoc committee to explore pros and cons of the potential merging of the two schools. The committee consists of 17 individuals ­­— five faculty members and one student from the School of Science, five faculty members and one student from the School of Liberal Arts, an “ex officio dean” from the school of engineering, and faculty members from the schools of engineering, education, and business. The directors of the School of Education, the School of Business, and the School of Continuing Professional Studies are also on the committee.

Schreiner worked to set up this committee with numerous different members of the college community in order to get an all encompassing consensus on the matter.

“I think that’s good for a vetting process,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to hear voices, I don’t know how it’s gonna play out. But I think if you have a lot of people expressing their opinions and giving reasons for that, I think that’s what we like to do in arts and sciences anyway.” 

This general idea of combining the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Sciences, however, is not necessarily new. Manhattan College had a combined School of Liberal Arts and Sciences during its earliest years as an institution. Many colleges and universities across the country have never separated their School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Due to its common nature, the question has been lingering over Manhattan College for decades now. 

“My understanding is, even though it wasn’t official, the faculty in each of the schools’ faculties were talking about this long before I arrived here,” Schreiner said. “So, you know, I’m new here. I arrived in July and the discussions were happening as soon as it was announced that Dean’s are stepping down.” 

Even in early June, School of Liberal Arts faculty who were experienced with dean searches decided to investigate this idea. However, many in the School of Science were opposed and the School of Liberal Arts did not show much interest. During this time, the matter was dropped.

 “In late August, however, Provost Schreiner felt there should be another effort to identify whether such a merger would be desirable,” Robert Geraci, a co-chair of ad-hoc committee and the chair of the religious studies department, said. “The Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) and Provost Schreiner charged a new committee composed of representatives from across campus to investigate the pros and cons of such a merger. The report of the committee is to be passed to EAC for its evaluation.” 

The advantages and disadvantages of merging the two schools are widely spread amongst members of the ad-hoc committee. Some believe that they may lose their voice in such a large group of disciplines and students, while others argue that there will be more representation within the schools if they were combined. 

“I am pretty firmly committed to the idea of a well-rounded liberal arts education–and that includes the sciences,” Geraci said. “Personally, I believe that any student, including those in the professional schools, who gets short shrift on either the liberal arts or the sciences has not received as good of an education as that person deserves.” 

This opinion seems to be an important value in the minds of many faculty members at Manhattan. Alongside the idea that learning can be enhanced and connected amongst the liberal arts and sciences, there is also opportunity for greater coordination in departments and programs.

“It’s certainly a venue to have more coordination, more joining that sort of stuff. For example, right now we have a program in liberal arts of environmental studies, and we have environmental science in science,” Michael Judge, the other co-chair of the ad-hoc committe and a biology professor, said. “There’s some overlap between those … There’s more discussion between what might be weaved together more tightly, as more of an integrative across those.”

The greatest changes due to the merging of both schools will be administrative. The departments merging together would not have major effects, if any at all, on the curriculum or general education of the schools. What may be tweaked are the general education requirements between both schools.

“There will probably be a better integration of coordination between those,” Judge said. “Because right now, in the school of arts, one set is geared towards students in liberal arts majors, or to science majors. ‘Is that necessary to have those separate? Or is it better to have it together?’ I think that discussion will happen.”

Aside from these minor tweaks, the greatest change will impact those who are controlling the department. Deciding upon who will become the new dean comes with many questions. 

“It does become very much an administrative change of how resources are allocated through one Dean or through two Dean’s, and how the faculties meet and discuss topics together,” Schreiner said.

The question of how the college will be economically affected by a merge is yet to be answered or discussed in detail. There is the potential of saving funds through a single dean of one combined school, however budgeting is not something that is being explored by the ad-hoc committee and is not the intent of the conversation.

Schreiner is excited about having conversations regarding an adaptation of curriculum as the schools evolve. Scheiner believes the ad-hoc committee’s discussions about the possible merge serves as a forum to discuss curriculum change as well. 

“Curriculum should never be static, it should be dynamic, because its needs to change with the needs of society, with the needs of the professions, with the different domains that they live in, so they should be evolving,” he said.

Schreiner, being a first hand witness to the open discussion about this topic, mentioned that he just wants to explore this possibility of merging both schools, and that as of now it is only a conversation. 

“The conversation itself is productive in my point of view,” he said. “I think there really should be nobody nervous that somehow the administration is trying to force something. There’s nothing like that happening — we’re just having a conversation.”

The scope of this decision will be wide-reaching, given that general education requirements at Manhattan College are interdisciplinary. 

“It doesn’t affect just arts and sciences directly,” Judge said. “Everybody in the professional schools take classes in the arts and sciences as well, so there’s a lot of people at stake.”

Throughout this process, Schreiner’s greatest intention has been to promote the Jasper community and elevate the prestige of MC. He explained that his main goal through this discussion is to hear back from the community and see how they feel about combining both schools. Schreiner believes that Manhattan College is a tight knit and productive community that allows for conversations like these to occur, where the school can initiate a committee to do research on the pros and cons of merging both schools. 

“Manhattan College is a great place,” he said. “It’s got a very warm, friendly atmosphere for deep learning. So as Provost, I always want to preserve those really good things, and then just amplify and help them help them grow.”