Dean proposes new college

By Ken Goze

Almost all NIU students have heard or lived the horror stories of being an undecided freshman or transfer student. Unnecessary classes, lost time changing majors and poor advisement are some of the more common complaints.

Professional Studies Dean James Lankford hopes to improve advisement and end the horrors by creating another college at NIU. Tentatively called the University College, Lankford envisions it as a place for undecided students to call home—a place to seek advisement, take all their general education requirements, and start on their way to a major and graduation.

Lankford proposed the idea in an October memo to James Mellard, chairman of the Committee for Review of International and Special Programs.

In the memo, Lankford proposed merging the College of Continuing Education and the Division of International and Special programs into one unit called the College of International and Continuing Education.

He recommended the creation of the University College to address general education and consolidate many existing programs currently spread throughout NIU.

The plan would move university interdisciplinary courses, University Resources for Women and, possibly, the Center for Black Studies into the University College. All three currently are in International and Special Programs.

The Bachelor of General Studies, an individualized program of studies now offered in four colleges, would be the only degree offered by the University College.

Lankford said he mentioned the idea last spring, and it was talked about as long as 10 years ago, but the memo was the first written proposal. “I decided a few months ago to just surface the idea and see how people react to it,” he said.

Although the idea is just in the brainstorm stage at NIU, Lankford said it seems to be working at other schools.

“I haven’t looked into it in great detail because I want to look at the needs of students and faculty at Northern and design a program reasonable for them. But I’m told they have a similar system in some of the California schools, and it seemed to work real well,” Lankford said.

Under the University College concept, students would either enroll as undecided students on a volunteer basis, or be required to enter and transfer to their major college later. “My tendency would be to not disrupt the process we currently have,” Lankford said.

Lankford said he became convinced of the need for a new college after hearing many student complaints firsthand.

“I think students who are undergrads at NIU are not advised very well,” he said. The University College would help steer students toward a major, help them get through it, and improve retention.

Lankford said he has gotten positive responses from students and faculty in his college, but concedes the idea might not fly with many faculty, who would need some kind of joint tenure to teach in the new college.

James Norris, dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the creation of a new college would be disastrous, separating senior faculty from freshman teaching, adding a layer of administration and disrupting a basically effective advisement system.

“The best way to integrate freshmen is to put them in classes with students at all levels. One of the wonderful things about NIU is that freshmen and sophomores have the chance to be taught by full professors. When I teach, I like to teach freshmen,” Norris said.

“The best advising is already done by faculty and could be improved with the proper funding. There’s nothing wrong with the system that a couple of million dollars won’t fix,” he said.

Lankford said there would be no net increase in administration because one layer would be eliminated in the forming of the College of International and Continuing Education.

Although LA&S, which handles nearly all general education courses, would lose students, Lankford said they are often without majors and difficult to advise in the current system.

The proposal would also move the Career Planning and Placement and Counseling and Student Development offices from Student Affairs to the University College to provide primary support services for undecided students.

Although Barbara Henley, vice president for Student Affairs, was not available for comment, she said in a Nov. 8 memo that “such a move would severely limit the present mission and scope of the two departments.”

Lankford said restructuring would be a long undertaking, requiring review by a committee or task force, input from students and faculty, and ultimately, approval by the Board of Regents and Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“It may be a grandiose theme, but it is working at other institutions, from what I understand. I don’t know why it couldn’t work here,” Lankford said.