When Academic Departments Merge: First Principles, Best Practices
Approved by the AHA Professional Division, April 4, 2012
Increasingly, college and university administrators are mandating the consolidation of academic departments. In some cases these mergers are intended to promote cross-disciplinary scholarly inquiry, in other cases to facilitate bureaucratic“efficiency,” and in still others to achieve some combination of these goals. Regardless of the purposes of such efforts, the American Historical Association supports a resulting administrative structure that allows history faculty to retain control over disciplined-based professional standards; the hiring,promotion, and evaluation of historians; and the awarding of graduate and undergraduate degrees in history.
Consolidated departments can and must sustain the disciplinary integrity of historians. Scholars of different disciplines can in fact co-habit and even thrive within these new units, to the extent that administrators and faculty are sensitive to the shared interests as well as the prerogatives of individual disciplines. For example, it is possible to integrate administrative and other functions within the new unit and to allow a discipline to exert authority over its own faculty. At the same time, the new unit can offer opportunities for cooperation across disciplines and among faculty members. A search committee charged with hiring a historian might include representatives of the other discipline(s) in the department. Faculty members might jointly offer cross-disciplinary courses, sponsor lecture series, fund post-doc positions, initiate faculty discussion groups, and serve together on a variety of committees. The respective directors of graduate studies might sponsor unit-wide programs related to preparing future faculty.
A department governing or executive committee should consist of representatives of both (or all) disciplines in the new unit. Department bylaws should allow for faculty in the specific discipline(s) to meet regularly and to make their own decisions related to promotion and tenure, annual evaluations, and standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
At times the process of subsuming two or three individual departments under a single administrative head leads to a severe reduction in both staff support and Full-Time Equivalent faculty positions. Reduced clerical and teaching staff can have an adverse effect on the basic responsibilities of faculty members.
Historians must insure that prospective students and colleagues from other institutions can quickly and easily find historians and history courses on the web site of their college or university. Consolidated departments should not obscure historians’ presence in a college or university, or historians’ contributions to the mission of the institution.