Department Changes Up for Discussion

Whitney Bashaw, Editor-in-Chief

Students may see changes when they return for the Fall 2012 semester, namely a thinner list of physical education classes, as the department is facing dramatic cuts, and a newly minted department: Environmental Science.

Last week a meeting was called by Julie Freeman, Dean of Science and Social Science as well as the chair of the physical education department, where professors were faced with a complete restructuring of their departments. Talks are underway to finalize the creation of an Environmental Science Department while Physical Science will be reduced to a minor.

“It’s unclear exactly where everything is going. My understanding is that there won’t be as much offered,” said Genevieve Marchand, assistant professor of Outdoor Education.

Physical education has been struggling as a department. “The physical education department is at a crossroads because they have very few faculty who are full time and they have no majors so they are trying to figure out what the best future is for them and how to continue to provide the programs they have like certifications and Outdoor Education as well as continue providing activity courses,” said SUNY Oneonta President, Dr. Nancy Kleniewski.

Currently the department does not have majors and the former chair left this summer for a position at SUNY Cortland. “Physical education became a crisis this summer because there were only two full-time faculty members and one of them left. He took a position at Cortland and that kind of left the other one unsure about what the future was going to be,” said Kleniewski.

This lack is echoed by professors within the major, “This department, unfortunately, is lacking the culture that comes from having a bunch of professors together,” commented Marchand.

The changes going on will affect professors without tenure the most, “You have all of these adjuncts that are hired and unfortunately they’re the ones that are most at risk. Some of them have been working for this department for 20-plus years,” said Marchand. The entire department, excluding Marchand, is comprised of adjunct professors.

This problem extends to athletic coaches, who teach physical education classes as a part of their contract. According to Kleniewski, “they have to be included in the decisions too because what happens to the department is going to affect them even though they’re not full time, so there are discussions going on.”

Marchand commented on the administration’s initial statements on the department changes, “I think it’s sad, it would have been nice to at least have been consulted on how we can solve this without completely eliminating a department.” Many professors expressed discontent with the lack of communication between faculty and administration. For this reason, there is now going to be discussion before final decisions are made about the future of the programs. Those discussions, according to Kleniewski, will include students, the professors involved in the programs, Freeman and Provost Dr. Maria Thompson.

“They’re [the students] disappointed, I heard one of the kids say they have taken some of the best classes with the physical education department and anyone who has a chance to take a class this spring should do it because we don’t know exactly where they’re going to be or how many are going to be left,” said Marchand.

As the Physical Education department is faced with disbandment, Environmental Science will be formed into its own department, with Outdoor Education as a minor, offering some of the same courses that physical education has currently.

Dr. Tom Horvath, Director of the Environmental Science program, has spearheaded the environmental science’s upgrade from program to department. “Horvath has been advocating for [two years] that it be made a department and this is part of the discussion as to how many departments we should have and how big they should be,” explained Kleniewski.

The Environmental Science program has grown in numbers in recent years and is bolstered by its interdisciplinary approach, something students fear they will lose if the program changes too drastically. Alex Soroka, an Environmental Science major and one of two students who attended the faculty meeting that included Thompson, commented on the changes “When we get some full time faculty, we will be able to have consistency in courses. Excellent!” However, his excitement is not without skepticism, “A larger size unfortunately means less communication between each faculty and the students. I am able to get really close to my professors now, will that change?”

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