Academic merger to bring new opportunities for students, faculty

A strategic plan to realign two departments and several degree programs in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) promises new opportunities in education, research, and outreach for students and faculty university-wide.

Approved by the WSU Board of Regents at their regular meeting on May 4, the realignment will combine personnel and resources in the Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures (FLC) with those in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies (CCGRS) and the interdisciplinary General Studies Humanities and Social Sciences programs to form a new School of Languages, Cultures, and Race.

The realignment will be effective on July 1, 2018, with courses offered on the Pullman, Tri-Cities, Vancouver, and Global campuses beginning in the fall semester.

Multiple advantages expected

“The new school will build upon the existing units’ unique strengths and provide an array of additional benefits for students and faculty at all levels and across the university,” said Larry Hufford, interim CAS dean.

Increased course offerings, improved faculty-to-student ratios, streamlined services, and greater diversity are just some advantages of the merger, he said. It will also provide expanded opportunities for new and ongoing collaborations in teaching, research, and outreach throughout WSU and beyond.

The new school will unite faculty with similar interests and will make more tenure-track professors available to train graduate students and mentor junior colleagues without increasing the total number of faculty. Increased efficiencies in student advising, staffing, and resource allocation are also anticipated.

“Current students in existing programs can continue, without interruption, to progress toward timely completion of their degrees while they experience a range of additional benefits from the realignment,” said Ana Maria Rodriguez-Vivaldi, CAS associate dean for student affairs and global education, acting chair of CCGRS, and associate professor of Spanish.

“Our undergraduate and graduate students will gain access to more courses addressing important current issues and providing the skills and diversity training that so many employers seek today,” Rodriguez-Vivaldi said.

The graduate program in American Studies and the master of arts in Hispanic Studies will be greatly enhanced by the “cross-pollination” of FLC and CCGRS faculty whose expertise addresses these areas from different perspectives, she said.

Numerous meetings and conversations with faculty, staff, and graduate students in the affected areas and elsewhere in the college led to broad support for the final plan, said FLC chair Jolyon Hughes.

New structure similar to other institutions

Of current CCGRS faculty, seven now in the Comparative Ethnic Studies program will become part of the new school. Six others, mostly from the Women’s Studies program, elected to join either the English or history department based on their strong academic backgrounds in those areas. They will form a new, interdisciplinary  program tentatively named Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) , which will be housed in the Department of English.

By putting these study areas under the English department umbrella, WSU joins numerous other universities utilizing a similar structure, said Todd Butler, department chair. At the same time, combining these areas at WSU will encourage innovative new approaches, he said.

“This faculty-led transition reflects the rich range of connections and longstanding relationships we already share. At the same time, with our large digital footprint, together we are well equipped to engage questions in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, not only historically but also across the many forms of contemporary culture.”

Likewise, the new school focused on languages, cultures, and race also mirrors broad, interdisciplinary schools at peer institutions, such as the School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University and the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University.

Focus on student success, global context

The vision for the new school centers on cultivating deeper, transdisciplinary understanding of linguistic, cultural, national, social, and racial perspectives in a global context, and on providing students the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to thrive in an increasingly diverse and integrated global society.

Pamela Thoma.
Carmen Lugo-Lugo.

Faculty of the new school selected Carmen Lugo-Lugo, a professor of comparative ethnic studies, to serve as director. Faculty affiliated with the women’s studies program selected Pamela Thoma, associate professor, to direct the program.

Discussions related to the realignment began more than two years ago at the request of WSU Provost Dan Bernardo. It was approved this spring by the Faculty Senate and provost.

By Adrian Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences