Southern Oregon University students returned to classes this week with three fewer schools and one new college. For now, the faculty is feeling the most flux, while the most noticeable changes for students are yet to come, officials said.




The schools of science, social science and arts and letters joined forces on July 1, forming the College of Arts and Sciences, now home to 75 percent of the student body. In addition to combining the three deans' offices into one headed by Acting Dean Josie Wilson, the university reduced 25 departments into 17 as part of the $4 million budget cuts begun last year.




"All in all, I think it's a very good move for the university," said Prof. Greg Jones, who is part of the new environmental studies department. "However, that doesn't mean there aren't going to be challenges. The transition is going smoothly, but there's still a lot of work to do."




Changes for Faculty




The biggest changes so far have been administrative, officials said, with the mergers of several smaller departments. Faculty members are serving joint appointments for the first time at SOU, which can cause headaches in the transition, professors said.




"There are a reasonable number of faculty that have split appointments," Jones said. "I'm glad that I don't have that, but I feel for my colleagues who have to deal with two sets of meetings and two sets of agendas. That does make life difficult."




Joint appointments raise questions about the process for promotion and tenure, said Charles Welden, interim chair of the department of environmental studies, where seven people are now serving joint appointments.




"I'm split half and half between environmental studies and biology," Welden said. "Who evaluates me if I want to be promoted""environmental studies or biology?"




There is also some concern that larger departments would create too much bureaucracy, Dean Wilson said, but the university was careful to match departments with natural affinities like history and political science.




"Some of the bigger complex mergers are going to take longer," she said, adding that she viewed the first year as a transitional phase for new departments to develop an identity and review curriculums.




English Prof. Terry DeHay, teaching in a new department including English, foreign languages, philosophy and Shakespeare studies, said she was looking forward to the opportunities available in a larger department.




"There's a lot of potential for developing new courses and new synergies," she said. "I am enthusiastic about working with some of my new colleagues. I think it will bring us into contact more and encourage us to develop new degree tracks."




Changes for Students




Students could see changes in curriculum or additional majors, Dean Wilson said, but those changes will mainly affect later incoming classes. The biggest changes for current students are likely to be slightly larger classes offered less often.




"In the short term, students probably won't notice much change," Wilson said. "In the long term, what students are likely to see as programs develop is new ways of working together."




The change in class size will be most apparent for upper level classes in the less popular majors. A class might increase from 10-15 students to 20-25 students. Some classes will be offered once per year instead of every term, and electives may be offered every other year.




"It does mean students are more likely to have to plan ahead," she said. "Students can't assume 'Oh, I can take that class any time.'"




The decrease in the number of classes offered could also help students, because the university is now less likely to cancel a class at the last minute. Cancellations happened too often in years past, she said, because there were more spaces available than students to fill them.




Students said it was too early to tell what they thought about the changes, but they noticed a positive vibe on campus this year.




"Winter and spring term people felt very uncomfortable and really worried about the university," said Lacey Hunter, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Everyone really pulled together to make there be a positive feeling, and I think that really shows."




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