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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SDSU Merges Education and Family & Consumer Sci; Model for Broader University Reforms?

Dr. David Hilderbrand is coming back to work full-time for my alma mater, South Dakota State University. His new post: interim dean of a whole new college, the College of Education and Human Sciences. The Board of Regents is expected to approve this new college at its regular meeting this Thursday and Friday at USD. The College of Education and Human Sciences will arise from a merger of the College of Education and Counseling, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.

At first, I thought, "What the heck are we putting Education and Home Ec together for?" (I know, "home ec" is a dirty word among the FCS practitioners, but that's still the term that pops into my head. Remember, when I was at SDSU, there were still folks calling the Nursing and Home Economics building the "Henhouse.") Can we really fit everything from nutrition and food science to aviation education under one administrative roof? Then again, there is already a lot of overlap in the missions of Education and FCS. FCS houses the Department of Human Development and the Fishback Center for Early Childhood Education.

The merger appears to be focused on busting organizational silos, which is what Society 2.0 is all about. As FCS Dean Laurie Nichols explained it in a letter to FCS alums last September, the aim is to create a new college "focused on individuals, families, schools, and consumers within our communities." Dean Howard Smith explains in his letter to CEC alums:

Families, schools, and communities are facing increasingly complex challenges in today’s world. It is difficult, particularly in small rural communities, to imagine ways to strengthen the quality of each without taking the others into account. Educators face a formidable task trying to enhance learning, without strong families and communities to support that effort. The proposal would bring together the complimentary disciplines in each College to carry out teaching, research, creative work, and outreach aimed at finding ways to better address the challenges families, schools and communities face.

This reorganization around a problem—community development—seems to parallel the thinking of Columbia University's Mark C. Taylor, who called in a New York Times op-ed for us to "End the University as We Know It." Dr. Taylor, chairman of religion at Columbia, sees universities fragmenting, turning out research and publications that "more and more are about less and less":

Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations [Mark C. Taylor, "End the University as We Know It," New York Times, 2009.04.26].

Among his numerous recommendations (transforming dissertations is my favorite), Dr. Taylor recommends abolishing permanent departments and creating "problem-focused programs." He would bring academics together from multiple disciplines to help students investigate topics like "Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water" from scientific, philosophical, and even artistic perspectives.

SDSU isn't merging our beloved Philosophy and Religion department into this new college of Human Sciences... but maybe that wouldn't be a bad idea. The modern university should strive for interconnection, among disciplines, between researchers and practitioners, and between campus and community. SDSU's new College of Education and Human Sciences may be a good step in that direction.

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