Written by Ben Lane and Emma Jones // Graphic by Cooper Turman
Harding University announced that starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences will be merged to create the College of Arts and Sciences. University Provost Marty Spears announced the merger to faculty from the colleges during a meeting on Nov. 16, and to other faculty and staff via email the next day.
Spears said the administration has discussed the merger since the end of Dr. Bruce McClarty’s presidency, but it was not until this year, as the University is attempting to streamline and be as efficient as possible, that the time was right.
“It was very strategic going into our centennial year to put back together into one college … there’s a lot of synergy there that you can really tap into by having all of those programs together because they’re so strongly connected just through the traditional liberal arts approach,” Spears said.
The decision also stems from lower enrollment rates in both colleges, Assistant Vice President of Finance Tim Jones said.
“Those are two areas, sciences and arts and humanities, that have disproportionately had lower enrollment the past six years or so, compared to [other areas],” Jones said.
Spears also announced that Dr. Dana Steil will become dean of the new College of Arts and Sciences. Steil is currently the associate provost for academic affairs and an associate professor of computer science.
Steil said the merger will better organize the College and Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences, which will result in more efficient communication between the two colleges. The change may also decrease scheduling conflicts for students attempting to enroll in different colleges on campus because chairs within the College of Arts and Sciences will meet periodically to discuss curriculum. Steil also said that because Harding has a “culture of niceness,” faculty do not speak up in full-faculty meetings when curriculum is being voted on, which is an issue the merger may mitigate.
“I see this as a really big serious responsibility that I’m very happy to do, but I take it very seriously,” Steil said. “It’s not something I can do alone.”
Another part of the rationale for the merger, Spears said, is that Harding will financially benefit from decreasing the amount of deans at the school. Harding will have one less dean and one less dean’s assistant, and Steil said his position as associate provost for academic affairs will not be filled after he leaves.
In the Nov. 17 email sent to faculty, Spears wrote that Dr. Warren Casey, dean of arts and humanities, will retire after the school year, and Dr. Zane Gastineau, dean of sciences, is considering other leadership roles within the college. Both deans will complete the remainder of the academic year as deans. Casey declined to comment to The Bison, and Gastineau did not respond to request for comment.
Established as the College of Arts and Sciences in 1924, the college split into the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Sciences in 2000. Historically they have been the largest colleges by department, with seven departments in arts and humanities and eight in sciences.
Spears said that for faculty and staff, the merger should not make much of an impact.
“I think it will create some new opportunities,” Spears said. “I think we’ll see some curricular changes, but we announced the combination of the colleges so this could be a season of time where we think about how this is going to impact us. There’s going to be a real diligent effort not to have a negative impact … on the different cultures … in the individual colleges.”
Also announced to go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year is the elimination of the University College. According to Spears, the same services provided through the University College will shift to the Center for Student Success, which will be led by Dr. Kevin Kehl, current University College dean. The interdisciplinary studies major will be moving from the University College to the College of Arts and Sciences, as will the Honors College.
“I’m excited about this change,” Spears said. “And even though there’s a lot of things that lead into making a big change like this, it is something that is very strategic that we’ve been thinking about for a while.”