Class dismissed?

Trouble has been brewing in the hallowed halls of Wayne State University ever since Provost Nancy S. Barrett proposed closing the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs. The controversial idea is drawing closer to becoming a reality, much to the chagrin of many of the college’s students and professors.

According to the university’s Web site, the college (referred to by the acronym CULMA) was established in 1985 “to coordinate and strengthen programming that advances the university’s urban mission. CULMA maintains a special commitment to address the social, economic and political issues facing urban areas generally — and Detroit particularly. CULMA serves as the university’s center for research, teaching, community engagement and policy analysis in urban affairs and workplace issues.”

Ten years after it opened, it is looking as if the college could disappear. Saving money is the reason.

Proponents say the change will have few repercussions. The majority of degrees within the college, most of which are offered by the department of interdisciplinary studies, will still be available. But the departments will be dispersed to other offices within the university, including the provost’s office. They will also no longer operate under a separate dean, as they are now, says Jack Kay, interim dean for the college.

The college serves some 800 students. Most of them are older, with an average age of 40. Programs are aimed at people who have at least a high school diploma, or its equivalent, and wish to pursue a university degree, says Stuart Henry, chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at the college.

Henry is upset about the prospect of dissolution, and sees the proposal as a “marginalization” and a betrayal of an “urban mission” that focuses much attention on issues of importance to the residents of Detroit.

“Why would you want to mess with a program that’s so successful? That’s what I want to know,” Henry says, noting that the interdisciplinary program alone is now the third-largest degree program in the university.

“We are seeing this as a much broader shift away from adult education,” Henry says.

Student Luann Brennan is likewise concerned about the proposal. An editorial assistant for an information publisher in Farmington Hills, Brennan began working toward her graduate degree in 2001, and is scheduled to graduate next year.

“I’m really upset — I know they have their business reasons and everything but I guess I’m disappointed and annoyed by the way they are going about it,” she says. “They seem to think we’re a bunch of fogies going back to school because we need degrees to keep our jobs.”

Not so, Kay says. Should the move be approved by the Academic Senate next month, and given final approval by the Board of Governors in June, “I don’t think the students are going to see a real difference,” he says. “I don’t want to diminish the views people have, but they are going to have the same faculty teaching and they are going to have the same courses.”

Henry sees the issue as leaving the students open to problems down the road. With students spread throughout the university, rather than consolidated within one college, he says, they will have a diminished voice should the administration decide to curtail classes or make other money-saving moves.

“It’s a less secure environment to be housed in another college than your own college,” Henry says. “You don’t have the protection of the administration — you’re more vulnerable.”

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact this column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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