College of Engineering proposes merger

By Dan Shah

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two part series.

The College of Engineering is currently proposing a merger that would combine the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, commonly known as TAM, with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. The proposal, if agreed upon, will take effect Aug. 16, 2006, and will create the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

The goal of the proposed reorganization is to strengthen the College of Engineering and better position itself to sustain long-term excellence, according to the proposal, sponsored by the Interim Dean of the College of Engineering, Ilesanmi Adesida. There will be no immediate change in degree programs for the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics or the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

The idea to merge the departments originated several years before Adesida became interim dean.

“This has been discussed for some time,” said Donald E. Carlson, professor and chief advisor of the engineering mechanics program. “The current proposal was dated last month.”

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The recent departure of several TAM faculty members and the similarity of the missions of the two departments, led to the proposal.

“The TAM department has become smaller in terms of faculty numbers,” said Huseyin Sehitoglu, head of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “The department does not have a sufficient number of faculty. That is one of the issues the college faces right now. The TAM department and mechanics department have had distinct and different missions in the ’50s and ’60s. That difference has narrowed in the last 20 years.”

Sehitoglu, a graduate of the University’s TAM department, makes it clear that the merger has nothing to do with the quality of the TAM department.

“The fact that the TAM department is being merged does not degrade the department,” Sehitoglu said. “The contributions from the TAM department should not be questioned.”

The proposal points out the small size of the TAM department as justification for reorganization.

“There are only two TAM programs in the country,” Adesida said. “This and Cornell (University).”

The proposal also carries the belief that the TAM department will help boost the overall rankings of the University’s College of Engineering.

“It provides new opportunities for students to collaborate,” Adesida said. “Ten years from now, we want to be able to compete with our colleagues. I want every department to be in the top five. We want to move up.”

The College of Engineering supports the merger, Adesida said.

Several departments within the College voted on the merger. The Administrative Committee voted 15 to 1 in support, the Executive Committee voted 14 to 1, and the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering voted 34 to 1 in support of the merger. When the 279 (65 percent) of the tenured and tenure-track faculty voted on the proposal, 66 percent voted in favor as well.

The TAM department voted 8 to 0 against the merger.

“We are lost to explain why we are being merged,” said James W. Phillips, professor and associate head of the TAM department. “The TAM department was founded 115 years ago, in part, to provide unified training in mechanics for all the students in engineering. This important function of the department has been carried out by the TAM faculty, and we see no reason to change this efficient instructional organization. By combining us with another department, this important instructional focus in mechanics for (other engineering) departments will be lost. Period.”

Carlson said he doesn’t think the administrators understand the difference between theoretical and applied mechanics and mechanical engineering.

“It’s like combining computer science and computer engineering,” Carlson said. “Higher level administrators could easily think they are the same thing since both use mechanics.”

Phillips believes a generous portion of the justification for the merger is the size of the department and its relation to the state budget.

“Our department is a small department among mechanical sciences,” Phillips said. “All mechanical sciences have been shrinking in size compared to (electrical engineering) and (computer engineering). All of the engineering faculty (have) been on decline due to decline in the state budget. Administrators at a higher level would naturally ask if small units should be combined with others. They don’t understand other viewpoints.”

Tomorrow: student reactions