Lehman calls for restructuring of engineering school by 1999

A reorganization intended to lift the School of Engineering and Applied Science out of a financial and enrollment slump has irked many of the school’s faculty members, who say they had little input in the decision.

The restructuring, outlined in an Oct. 2 memo from Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman to SEAS faculty and staff, is slated to be fully implemented by July 1, 1999, the first day of fiscal year 2000.

Under the plan, the four departments that currently comprise SEAS will be split and recombined to create five departments: civil and environmental engineering; electrical engineering; computer science; mechanical and aerospace engineering; and engineering management and systems engineering.

In his memo, entitled “SEAS – A new beginning,” Lehman called the engineering school’s financial and academic future “uncertain” because he said SEAS is not meeting the financial and enrollment benchmarks set by the University’s Board of Trustees. He also said SEAS “is failing to take advantage of educational and research opportunities available to it in the marketplace.”

Data compiled by the Office of Institutional Research shows the number of credit hours taken by SEAS students fell more than 20 percent in the last five years – from 16,736 credit hours in 1993 to 13,298 in 1998. The number of students in the school fell from 2,339 in 1993 to 2,083 in 1996 to 1,696 in 1998, according to the data.

Interim Dean Thomas Mazzuchi said SEAS has not met the financial benchmark the Board of Trustees set for the school – a 1.05 ratio of income from sources such as tuition to costs such as travel and salaries. If SEAS meets the benchmark, the school brings in a 5 percent return, he said.

Despite enrollment and financial data that indicate the school’s future “may be in jeopardy,” SEAS has a solid base to build on, Lehman said in the memo.

“The reorganization is meant to bring to the fore the basic focuses of the school,” Lehman said in an interview. “It will increase the potential opportunities for enhanced education and research. The purpose is to make the school a much better school.”

But some SEAS faculty members said they see little connection between the restructuring plan and the improvements administrators say need to be made within the school.

“We are unaware of a logical linkage ever having been made between the proposed reorganization and the benefits to the school,” said Murray Loew, chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department, which will be split in the restructuring. “How will the reorganization solve the problems?”

“It’s a refreshment of the school,” Lehman said. “Many times, reorganizations with new configurations can revitalize an organization.”

“It’s our chance to really restart,” Mazzuchi said. “We expect smaller departments to be more responsive.”

Lehman and Mazzuchi said they see faculty reaction as mixed – some professors are excited about the change, others have concerns about how decisions were reached and how the reorganization will play out.

“I think some faculty members absolutely positively didn’t feel like they had any input in the change,” said engineering management department Chair Robert Waters.

Five SEAS roundtable discussions over the last year and a half served as a partial foundation for the restructuring plan, Lehman said. Faculty from each department were involved in the meetings, and they culminated with a special meeting of all SEAS faculty Sept. 8.

“We decided we needed more communication among SEAS faculty and between the SEAS faculty and the administration,” Lehman said. “We started having roundtables and strategic planning sessions to talk about things in terms of what faculty thought about them. The whole idea is to have the faculty drive the plans.”

“There were good points made by the faculty at the Sept. 8 meeting, but the linkage between the reorganization and the solutions was not made clear,” Loew said. “It was an interesting meeting, but it didn’t give us any better feel for the connection.”

Some faculty members said they were unhappy with their role in the decisions that led to the reorganization, but they said the long-term effects of the new structure could be positive.

“We think that the net effect is going to be excellent,” Waters said. “Overwhelmingly, it seems the faculty supports the change.”

Lehman said discussions with faculty members and with Mazzuchi underlie the reorganization, along with the strategic plans developed by the school’s departments, the SEAS computing group and the school’s two associate deans.

Loew said the departments each drew up a strategic plan and faculty members offered comments on an all-SEAS plan developed by Mazzuchi last spring. Loew said the school plan was presented to GW’s Board of Trustees at its June meeting, but the entire faculty never voted on it. The school’s strategic planning documents contain nothing about a reorganization, he said.

Lehman said the departments’ and school’s strategic plans were central to his plan, but he said the plans are not finished and many do not have the financial budgets he asked the departments to include.

A timetable for the reorganization was laid out in Lehman’s memo, with the immediate recommendation of chairs for the new departments outlined as the first step.

Lehman said he and GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg are prepared to begin a national search for a new SEAS dean as soon as the reorganization is complete.

The restructuring is outlined in six steps: the recommendation of new department chairs; the organization and allocation of space, staff and course offerings; development of departmental plans with related financial and business plans; the creation of a SEAS strategic plan; review of the school’s governing structure; and preparation of a three-year faculty recruiting plan.

Logistics will figure prominently into the reorganization, and Mazzuchi said SEAS faculty and staff will spend the next few weeks determining how space and resources will be reconfigured.

“The problem I see is space,” Waters said. Under the restructuring plan, the engineering management department – currently housed in Gelman Library – will merge with the operations research department, which has its offices in Staughton Hall on 22nd Street. “I hope that the powers that be will put us all together.”

SEAS departments are spread across campus in Tompkins Hall, Gelman Library, Staughton Hall and the sixth and seventh floors of the Academic Center. Several programs also are based at GW’s Virginia campus in Ashburn, and a flight sciences program is run out of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Loew said the electrical engineering and computer science department faces the possibility of splitting up the support staff that currently works in the department.

Keeping faculty and staff together is a major concern, Mazzuchi said. He said interaction breeds the kind of innovation that he and other administrators encourage.

“There are a number of unanswered questions that we are quite concerned about – staff, space, budget,” Loew said. “What sort of resources will we have available to us?”

“This reorganization is not the only change we have to make,” Mazzuchi said. “This is not the be-all, end-all.”

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