Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Merging departments at U of W postponed

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THE University of Winnipeg has postponed a controversial plan to amalgamate its philosophy, classics and religious studies departments.

Dean of arts David Fitzpatrick said he takes responsibility for misunderstandings and misconceptions that quickly developed on campus when he announced a plan in mid-November to merge the three into a new humanities department. Fitzpatrick said all three departments would remain as separate units, each chaired by a member of its department, at least for the current school year.

But faculty and students still fear the philosophy department could disappear altogether, said Prof. Jane Forsey, a tenured professor.

"We were sent a memo Nov. 12 saying the amalgamation was happening, a done deal," Forsey said. "There was a hue and cry."

Students set up a Facebook page to oppose the merger, which had 476 members by Tuesday afternoon, and there is a petition being circulated by the Canadian Philosophical Association.

Forsey said the department of philosophy will drop to four professors next fall from seven two years ago, courses offered are down substantially and there is uncertainty whether two sessional lecturers will be retained. "We lost two to retirement and one resigned to take a job in Alberta.

"We are afraid that recent moves by the department are signalling what will be the end of the program," Forsey said. "Our concern is there are not enough courses available for students to fulfil the requirements (to get a degree in their major). A number of students now are talking about going to the University of Manitoba."

Fitzpatrick said at least half a dozen western Canadian universities have already merged their departments as a cost-saving measure.

"This was an administrative efficiency" that would have reduced from three department chairs to one, freeing up two faculty members for more teaching time, while maintaining 'academic integrity' by leaving the three departments as separate units within humanities, Fitzpatrick said.

But rumours were rife of faculty layoffs, dropping of programs, even the loss of philosophy altogether.

"Faculty members teaching philosophy (now) will be teaching philosophy in the fall term, Fitzpatrick said."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2009 A6

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