Rider announces merger of CLAS and WCA

By Sarah Siock

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Donnajean Fredeen announced the merger of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and Westminster College of the Arts (WCA), at an all-faculty meeting on March 25, a move that she said will save the college $500,000 annually as it attempts to combat a projected $20 million deficit. 

A ‘top-down’ decision

Pending negotiations with Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), beginning July 1, CLAS and WCA will merge to form a new, single college called the College of Arts and Sciences. Current CLAS Dean, Kelly Bidle, was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Science and will lead the new college. Within the college, there will be four schools: Westminster Choir College (WCC), the School of Media and Performing Arts, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Science, Technology and Mathematics.

When asked at the faculty meeting, Fredeen said the merger was made without faculty input and was a “top-down” decision, and added that the university’s hired consultant CREDO also played no direct role in the reorganization.

“As early as last summer when we began exploring options for restructuring the institution, we asked the question, given our size, does it make sense to have four distinct colleges? Quite honestly, the answer is no,” Freeden said at the faculty meeting. “I firmly believe that this merger will enhance our ability to provide a more integrative educational approach, creating opportunities for our students to realize the interconnections of knowledge and inquiry, and the humanities, social science, arts, mathematics, technology and science.”

Union negotiations

Fredeen said the merger requires negotiations with the AAUP regarding the contractual language of the existence of CLAS and WCA. AAUP President Barbara Franz told The Rider News that until this language is negotiated the merger remains only a proposal.

“This is a top-down proposal designed by the administration without any faculty input, like the hiring of CREDO, the cuts in library funding and the idea of selling WCC,” said Franz, a political science professor.

At the meeting, Fredeen said she felt the merger would not affect students. However, Franz expressed concern over how the merger could impact students’ coursework. 

“It seems clear to me that, if implemented, many students will face substantial changes to their curricula and especially their core course requirements. I assume the faculty will advocate for their students and vote against changes that will impose additional burdens on our students,” she said.

Earlier this month, the current Dean of WCA, Marshall Onofrio, announced to WCA faculty, staff and students via email that he would be departing from Rider on June 3, due to taking part in the university’s voluntary leave program. Those who partook in the voluntary leave program were offered financial incentives that are not normally in place.

Fredeen said the new college will include two associate deans: Brooke Hunter, the current CLAS associate dean, and Jason Vodicka, the current chair of WCC’s Department of Music Education. Hunter will oversee the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Science, Technology and Mathematics, while Vodicka will head WCC and the School of Media and Performing Arts.

Questions over reorganization

Professor of communications David Dewberry questioned the reasoning behind the Department of Communication, Journalism and Media being placed with performing arts instead of with the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dewberry said, “If you look at anything any of us [faculty in the department] have written or published, it’s social, scientific and humanities-based. It’s not creative performance-type stuff. … In terms of our research, it makes sense to be [with humanities and social sciences].”

The change in the structure of the colleges also brings questions about how the departments will interact with each other in the new schools. Professor Emerita Pamela Brown, who was the chair of the Department of Communication, Journalism and Media for six years, said she felt it made more logistical sense for the department to be lumped with social sciences. 

“I think that there’s a failure by the Provost’s Office to understand the Department of Communications, Journalism and Media focuses on factual content, not entertainment content, not fictitious content and not creative storytelling. That’s a significant difference between the kinds of majors that are in Communication, Journalism and Media and the kinds of majors that are in performing arts,” said Brown, who retired in 2019. 

In an email sent on March 28 to union members AAUP Chief Negotiator Jeffrey Halpern reiterated Franz’s statement that the merger is not final until a contract negotiation takes place.

In the email, Halpern, a sociology professor, said, “The fact of the matter is that the proposed reorganization would alter numerous elements of the agreement ranging from promotion and tenure through all the elements of the shared governance of the university and cannot be implemented until we have come to agreement on all of those elements. Until that happens, the present agreement remains fully in force, and the timing and actual shape of any reorganization is yet to be determined.”

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