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Consolidation, approved Thursday Board of Regents, represents significant change in UNK’s academic structure
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – A historic change at the University of Nebraska at Kearney will promote increased collaboration among faculty and students.
UNK’s colleges of Fine Arts and Humanities and Natural and Social Sciences are merging to form a new College of Arts and Sciences. The consolidation, approved Thursday by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, represents the most significant change in UNK’s academic structure since the school joined the university system in 1991.
The College of Arts and Sciences will be formally launched Aug. 13, a week before fall semester classes begin.
The merger, which has been in the works for more than a year, provides several benefits to UNK students and faculty, according to Charlie Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
Bicak said the College of Arts and Sciences will reaffirm UNK’s liberal arts core while complementing the university’s two professional colleges – the College of Business and Technology and College of Education.
Plus, he added, a majority of UNK’s peer institutions, as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha, utilize a college of arts and sciences structure.
“That provides us a certain consistency,” Bicak said. “It also allows for potential collaborations, a little more easily, with UNL and UNO.”
Bicak said the College of Arts and Sciences was created with a focus on improving UNK and opening new doors for student research and engagement. He expects to see more faculty and students working together on interdisciplinary projects moving forward.
“We have much more in common across a university campus than we do that’s different, and we ought to be exploiting those similarities to leverage answers to questions that society asks of a university,” he said.
UNK also plans to implement an experiential learning initiative in 2019-20 that ensures all students gain firsthand experience through research, internships and related activities.
“What I fully expect will happen is more and more of that will be interdisciplinary,” Bicak said.
Moving from four academic colleges to three will provide some cost savings for UNK, although Bicak stresses that wasn’t the driver behind the change.
“We never went about this with the idea that it was about cost-cutting, saving money or a budget cut,” he said. “Frankly, we started the conversations before we knew what the nature of our budget cuts would be on this campus.”
UNK expects to save about $326,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 through administrative reductions tied to the merger. The new alignment results in the elimination of three positions – a dean, associate dean and administrative associate.
William Jurma, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities, is retiring July 1 after 20 years at UNK. Peter Longo will continue serving as interim dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences through the summer.
A dean for the combined College of Arts and Sciences will be hired at a future date.
The merger won’t result in any changes to the curriculum or degree requirements for programs within the two colleges, and programs will remain in their current locations on campus until the new STEM building opens.
Bicak said the academic restructuring dovetails with the STEM building, which will house science, technology, engineering and math programs.
“That building is a nice catalyst to bring people together to help move the agenda of this college along,” he said.
The $30 million, 80,000-square-foot STEM building is expected to open in fall 2019 on UNK’s west campus. It will promote collaboration and innovation among UNK students and faculty, including those in the College of Arts and Sciences.
More than 60 faculty members served on committees that provided input throughout the academic restructuring process.