A&T to consolidate political science and history departments

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A proposed academic reorganization at NC A&T University would consolidate the political science and history departments.

The realignment was announced on Friday in a memo by Beryl McEwen, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. McEwen also announced that criminal justice, which is currently conjoined with political science, would become its own department. The changes require final approval by the university’s board of trustees, and would take effect in the spring 2018 semester.

Derick Smith, a professor of political science at A&T, preempted the official announcement with a scathing post on Facebook yesterday.

“NC A&T State University, the largest public HBCU in the nation, committed to its “Preeminence 2020″ goal of cultivating an environment of high civic engagement, is dismantling its political science department,” Smith wrote.

“The Margaret Spellings, Betsy DeVos, UNC Board of Governors trends continue,” the post continued. “Long live dismantling the academy; death to the NC A&T Political Science Department… death to the UNC Poverty Center… death to the UNC Center for Civil Rights… death to the NCCU Center for Civic Engagement… death to the ECU Center for Special Education… death to the academy!”

Smith’s Facebook page identifies him as the political action chair for the North Carolina NAACP.

In his memo, McEwen said the realignment will produce “greater synergies” between history and political science and provide “stronger faculty support for our students.”

In a thread under Smith’s post discussing staff reduction in political science and other social science fields across the University of North Carolina System, Smith wrote: “The backlash to what we do is under attack. It’s traditional and expected. But now we have to hold the line and reject the extremist infiltration of institutions. They belong to us, the citizens. We cannot let them win, ever!”

Smith also said in the post that the realignment decision was made without input from faculty, and that he learned about it from McEwen on Thursday morning.

UPDATE, Nov. 10, 7:18 p.m.: Smith said his main reason for speaking out about the realignment of programs at A&T is that until a couple days ago the university community was not aware of the board of trustees meeting coming up on Nov. 17 at which the proposed changes will be considered.

“It’s a pretty big decision for a department that’s 48-49 years old,” he said. “We’ve produced a lot of great students. We have a reputation for speaking truth to power, for strong advocacy and social justice. We still get students elected to office. A lot of them go on to law school.

Among the elected officials who have passed through the political science program at A&T are Jamal Fox, a graduate who served on Greensboro City Council, and Marcus Brandon, who took classes and served in the state House. The program has also produced prominent activists, including the Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center; CJ Brinson, a Black Lives Matter leader who recently ran for city council; and Cherrell Brown, who was active in environmental justice and police accountability campaigns.

Smith said faculty were told when they met with the interim provost on Thursday morning that the decision came from the university; it doesn’t require approval by the UNC Board of Governors. He emphasized that there’s no evidence that the decision resulted from political pressure or a suggestion from the board of governors. Still, he has his suspicions.

“There does seem to be a lot of concerns around the state with the propensity in the UNC System to make dramatic changes to programs or centers which have a reputation for being change oriented or being involved in advocacy work or those who speak truth to power,” Smith said. “There’s that suspicion and there’s no evidence that that’s the case, but it does follow a trend.

“My concern is that it’s November; in less than week there’s supposed to be a board of trustees meeting and the university community didn’t know about it until today, and I suspect it’s because of my post. We’re talking about a change that’s to take place in January. We only have a couple weeks left in the semester. Folks in the community were not aware. I thought it was important to get out ahead of it and let any repercussions I may face — I may just have to bite the bullet.”

UPDATE, Nov. 12, 3:20 p.m.: In response to written questions from TCB, Interim Provost McEwen confirmed that faculty members were not consulted about the realignment of the programs, although he said their deans served on the committee that made the decision. He also said the UNC Board of Governors played no role in the decision, and that the realignment will not result in any reduction in faculty positions. McEwen’s full responses to those questions are provided below:

Does the realignment entail any reduction in faculty positions, either in the immediate or long term? For instance, when professors retire, does the university plan to eliminated their positions or leave them un-filled?

“No, this realignment involves no loss of faculty positions. There is absolutely no intention to reduce the number of tenure-track positions in the political science program. And that point was made at the Thursday morning meeting with the faculty. In fact, in response to a question, I informed the faculty present at the meeting that the university has a goal of increasing the number of tenure-track hires and decreasing the number of temporary (often called adjunct) professors, which is another sign of commitment to its academic programs that support the university’s general education core curriculum. There are no plan to discontinue this program at the university.”

Did the UNC Board of Governors have any role, influence or involvement  in A&T’s decision to realign political science with history?

“None at all. These fairly minor changes in academic programming are done at the university level, as are changes in our courses and curricula. The university system does not need to approve them., and they certainly do not tell the campuses when they should or shouldn’t consolidate, realign or merge programs. If we choose to discontinue a program, we are required to inform the system so the inventory of academic programs can be updated. If we seek new degree programs they must be approved by the UNC system.”