Photo by Cameron Lane-Flehinger
In a couple of years, students who apply to the agriculture college at UW-Madison may see fewer majors and departments, while students applying to other UW System schools could see new options available to them.
UW-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is updating how the college’s administration operates in an effort to make it more efficient under the CALS Organization Redesign Project, according to Kara Luedtke, the project’s manager.
Luedtke said other universities are undergoing “significant change that has implications for higher education and academic science,” which is what prompted the project’s creation.
“It is time to change our organizational and support structures to match the innovations occurring in our classrooms and laboratories and meet new demands,” she said. “Many things are certainly different today from when the college was formed in 1889.”
A major component of the redesign project will involve merging some of its 17 departments that overlap in curriculum and subject areas.
But as departments at UW-Madison face consolidation or elimination, UW-Platteville is looking to create new degrees and expand agriculture educational opportunities, even as the university faces its own restructuring process.
Last fall, the UW System Board of Regents voted to merge two- and four-year colleges, and as a result, UW-Baraboo/Sauk County and UW-Richland will become branch campuses of UW-Platteville.
Dean Dwayne Weber of UW-Platteville’s School of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture is viewing the merger as an opportunity to develop and grow the three schools’ agriculture education
Weber said he is excited at the prospect of utilizing the resources the three universities have and opening the availability of those resources to students from all three schools.
“What we want to do is look at ways of how we can be stronger together,” Weber said.
At UW-Madison, Luedtke said CALS is hoping to find new strength through department mergers and collaboratives, which are structures that allow departments to share resources and work together while still retaining some independence.
“I can see [the merger] benefitting the students … because students who come from family farms can move back home to help on the farm but they can still get their degree.”
In March, the Redesign Committee provided departments in CALS with guidelines and recommendations to follow when considering which departments they could potentially merge or become collaboratives with.
The committee said departments that lend themselves to consolidation have overlapping research areas and facilities or support services that different departments could share. Departments will be submitting potential consolidation plans throughout the spring semester, and they are due to the dean by May 15.
The CALS Redesign committee’s final recommendations state that majors and certificates that graduated fewer than 15 students on a yearly basis over the past four years should be eliminated. With that suggestion, majors that could be eliminated are entomology, poultry science and soil science.
The low enrollment numbers in those majors could be due to a combination of factors, including decreased student interest in the majors, increased interest in similar majors and job availability, according to Luedtke.
Though some majors may be eliminated or merged with others with more generalized curriculums, new options within majors could be created under the redesign, Luedtke said.
One of UW-Platteville’s goals with their restructuring, in contrast to the CALS redesign, is to introduce more specialized associate’s degrees at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County and UW-Richland.
“Right now, [the two-year campuses’] associate degrees are excellent degrees but at the same time are very generalized,” Weber said. “I think for us to be able to thrive at those two-year campuses, we need to be offering degrees that are relevant to the local regions and communities.”
Jillian Diehl, a UW-Platteville sophomore, also advocates for introducing degrees that will cater to prospective students from the surrounding areas of UW-Platteville’s future branch campuses.
“I can see [the merger] benefitting the students … because students who come from family farms can move back home to help on the farm but they can still get their degree,” she said.
As both universities’ restructurings progress, student input will play an increasingly important role in decision making.
“[UW-Platteville is] a relatively small campus — in our agriculture school we have fewer than 800 majors — so student involvement and student engagement is exceedingly important to what we do,” Weber said.
The Student Advisory Board for the CALS dean is currently the main source of student input on the CALS redesign, though future information on the project will be shared with all students via newsletters.
As CALS students’ awareness of the redesign project is relatively low, the board is also determining how to increase awareness and bring general student feedback and suggestions into the project’s conversation.
Some students on the Student Advisory Board have voiced concerns about departments getting adequate funding to function and thrive, and they want to ensure all departments have the resources they need to provide for students’ educations, according to Jinal Patel, the chair of the Student Advisory Board.
Patel doesn’t hold these same concerns, however.
“I think this [project] will be really beneficial because the main goal of this university and school is to provide an excellent education to its students,” she said. “By focusing on the departments that teach the core subjects, CALS will be able to do just that.”
Another worry some of the board members have with the project are the class sizes for required courses within CALS majors, which could worsen with the consolidation of departments and majors.
“I am personally concerned with how students will gain access to courses with already limited enrollment space in required courses such as introductory chemistry and popular elective courses such as physiology,” said Kris Carlson, another student serving on the Student Advisory Board.
Despite this concern, Carlson believes the CALS administration will address students’ competition for spots in already-crowded lectures through the redesign.
“Discussions at the Student Advisory Board meeting have made it clear that administration takes these concerns seriously and plans to implement solutions to alleviate enrollment concerns,” she said.
“I think for us to be able to thrive at those two-year campuses, we need to be offering degrees that are relevant to the local regions and communities.”
While the restructuring taking place at both UW-Madison and UW-Platteville may create a level of uncertainty for some, others are excited.
“I think some really innovative things can come out of this redesign,” Luedtke said. “I look forward to seeing the creativity of faculty and staff in designing new ways to support our teaching and research now and in the future.”
Carlson also hopes the project will positively impact the diversity on campus and students’ academic opportunities.
“I am excited about the growth to our student body and the kinds of opportunities that this growth will open up,” Carlson said. “I expect to see a diverse student body that will continue to foster a connected community in CALS through our shared academics, student organizations and community outreach.”
The CALS Organizational Redesign Project is still in a conceptual stage — as are the ideas being bounced around at UW-Platteville — and there are currently no specific proposals that face review, Luedtke said. Discussions regarding more finalized plans, however, are expected to begin taking place during the summer.