UW Arts and Sciences eyes reorganization

LARAMIE — When University of Wyoming students return to campus next fall, operations of the College of Arts and Sciences will seem a bit different.

Administrators are re-imagining the college’s purpose and has begun a process of consolidating similar subject areas.

By the time the changes are complete, the physical, mathematical and biological sciences, with the exception of psychology, will move from the College of Arts and Sciences to other colleges on campus.

The transition will start in July when the division of mathematics and statistics moves to the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Later on, the physical sciences such as chemistry and physics will end up in the College of Engineering and Applied Science as well. And the biological sciences such as botany and zoology will move to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

While the changes call for a heavy lift from staff and administrators, life for students should remain relatively similar, said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Camellia Okpodu. Aside from some changes to general education requirements that are being considered at the university-wide level, degree tracks and programs shouldn’t change.

While administrative-level changes announced last year are part of a plan to save money during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the reasoning behind re-imagining the College of Arts and Sciences is more practical than financial.

“(There are) some savings in terms of fewer department heads, but it’s not really just a budget reduction exercise,” said UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin. “It’s more about organizing ourselves and schools in the most appropriate way for a modern university.”

These changes could help put the university in a more competitive position when it comes to seeking federal research money, he said.

The plan came as a surprise to Okpodu, who started her position at UW in last July. Since there wasn’t much guidance available about restructuring an entire college, Okpodu has been working with associate deans and staff to brainstorm the best way to implement the changes.

“The College of Arts and Sciences will continue to be the heartbeat of the university,” Okpodu said, adding that she will continue to push for excellence.

This year’s UW Class of 2022 graduating class has 171 honors students. Of those, 67 are from the College of Arts and Sciences. Only six would be considered part of a different college once the changes are complete.

Still, the task of switching so many degree programs is one to navigate carefully. There are 17 systems that the changes will have to work across, and it will take special care to make sure students aren’t frustrated with administrative problems, Okpodu said.

The college held a symposium last week as a way to take scholarly opinions and brainstorm a future vision for the college, which will be focused on the arts, humanities and social sciences.

“People come here to get education for a lifetime,” Okpodu said.

She described a desire for the college to act like a “C-4 explosive” in producing creative, compassionate, curious and critically thinking global leaders.

In addition to meeting student concerns and satisfaction, Okpodu hopes to retain the faculty members who are currently with the university.

The re-imagining process is still in the beginning stages. The next steps are deciding on a new name for the college and seeking input on the changes from students and alumni.