Majors in Department Shuffle: Merger of Economics, History, and Political Science

The Dyson College of Arts and Sciences has merged another department earlier this month, merging the economics, history, and political science departments.

The decision stirred minds within faculty and students about what exactly will become of the new department. Will it mean the existing majors will no longer exist? Will students graduate with a different major other than what they had originally applied for? Will students have to take courses in a major that doesn’t interest them?

These questions and more were brought up by students which ultimately led to the creation of a student-fronted campaign titled ‘Save My Major’ on Facebook. The online page gained approximately 270 fans from the Pace community with students asking why weren’t they told by the department changes before. Organizers of the campaign asked students to contact Pace President Stephen Friedman, then-Provost Geoffrey Brackett, and Dyson Dean Nira Herrmann to clarify the purpose and possible outcomes of the merger. There were no replies from Friedman or Brackett.

Dean Herrmann did reply to the students of ‘Save My Major’ late last spring, stating the following, “I would like to assure you that no changes are being proposed to your major or the degree programs in history, economics or political science. Under the proposed restructuring, the faculty currently teaching in your program would continue to teach you, the requirements for the degree would not be changing, and faculty would retain their titles and tenure as Professor of History or any other rank/field designation they currently hold. Additionally, the name of your program would not change: we intend to retain the history, political science and economics majors. The change that is being proposed is administrative, not curricular: it involves a different way of organizing the faculty and staff so appropriate resources can be provided.”

The Dyson Dean stated the merger will increase collaboration among the faculty in their teachings, scholarship, and provide more efficient use of resources, “leading to stronger programs.”

However, an important major change is underway within’ the economics department as Herrmann stated, “The only curriculum change currently pending is within the economic department in Pleasantville, which recently submitted a request to the NY State Department of Education to add a new major, business economics, to their offerings.”

“My goal is to strengthen these programs and assure that your investment of time, learning, and tuition dollars grows in stature and reputation, by sustaining and expanding enrollments and providing a supportive environment for all of our students, faculty and staff.”

Although Herrmann stated her case, the professors within the consolidated departments still have mixed feelings regarding the merger. A few do remain optimistic.

“We have to constantly try to offer more choices to the students, elevate the quality of education, and expand the reputation of our school. Any re-arrangement of departments have to bear this in mind,” said political science Prof. George Picoulas. “I have no doubt that all involved in this transition know this and are eager to make it work.”

Chairs of the three majors will lose their title as “Chair”, now having the titles of ‘Assistant Chair’ or ‘Coordinator’, according to Interim Chair of the new merged department, Prof. Alexander Azarchs of the economics department who was chosen by Dean Herrmann and her three Associate Deans last August. The name of the department is still not determined but will be decided within’ the next couple weeks.

It should be noted that a Chair of a department is decided by a vote by full time faculty members within the department in question. A date for voting for the new chair is currently unknown. Voters for this new department chair are made up of nine people: three history, four economic, and two political science professors.

Prof. Gregory Julian, who previously served as Chair of the Political Science Department, has been vocal in opposition in the handling of the major fusion. He stated that Dean Herrmann should present facts and statistics regarding her decision for the consolidation, stating the following in an open letter to members of the merged departments: “I have observed the attempts by the Deanery at legitimating an unsubstantiated myth, with virtually no reliable evidence, contending they know best how to “recreate” us in order to survive at Pace.”

In the letter, he confirms his name as one of the candidates to be the official Chair of the new department running against Prof. Azarchs. Both Azarchs and Julian are eligible to vote when the election date arrives.

Julian is running under a vision he titled “Center for Transforming Society in the 21st Century,” where he aims to lead a “Strategic change process that fosters developing creative solutions during this academic year that will excite our students, increase our interaction, and redirect academic decision-making into the hands of the faculty where it belongs.”

Interim Chair Azarchs does clarify that there won’t be a major overshadowing another major. He is for the idea of interdisciplinary courses and does not rule out changes in course requirements in the future but there is still no intention of “eliminating any major.”

The idea of possible interdisciplinary studies does not sit well with Julian. “I don’t think students go to college saying ‘I want an interdisciplinary major.’ I just don’t think that will yield academic integrity nor would it yield jobs,” said Julian. “Most often when you go to a job interview, they ask you ‘What is your major?’ and when you say ‘Interdisciplinary studies,’ people will say ‘What does that mean?’. It doesn’t fly.”

In regards to the ‘Save My Major’ campaign, both Azarchs and Julian agree that some of the students involved were misguided and misinformed. Julian, however, does add that student’s should have a voice in matters such as the merger, which is an idea Azarchs doesn’t see the need to as he states that the decisions within’ the department won’t affect students.

A meeting with professors of the merged departments took place last Wednesday, Sept. 22. The meeting was closed for students; however, Prof. Howard Weishaus, from both history and political science departments, spoke of the meeting during the Sept. 24 Student Association meeting.

“There was a very thorough discussion of how the merger come about via the Dean’s office, about the pros and cons,” said Weishaus. “[The professors] then proceeded to discuss the name for the new department. They didn’t come to any particular agreement so that’s been tabled.”

Weishaus confirmed that Interim Chair Azarchs and Dr. Julian are the only nominees to be the new chair of the department and voting for the new chair will “take place very shortly.” He added, “Whatever does take place in the very near future,” in terms of decisions in student courses, “will probably be enacted sometime in the next academic year.”

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