Student and faculty react negatively to TAM merger proposal

By Dan Shah

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two part series discussing the proposal to merge the TAM department.

While the majority of the College of Engineering faculty favor the merger of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, the reactions displayed by many of the TAM students and faculty are disapproving.

The TAM department, which must vote on the merger in accordance with the proper procedures for a merger, voted 8 to 0 against the merger.

The TAM student body seemed to follow suit.

The sentiment of the TAM student body was made evident by the tombstone displayed outside Talbot Laboratory (the TAM department building) last week that read, “Glory of Mechanics at UIUC 1890 to 2006. Will You Let This Happen? Save TAM.”

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“If you read the proposal, its not too good,” said Rhonda Jurinak, junior in TAM, who donned a pin which read “SAVE TAM.” “It doesn’t really specify how it’s taking care of the TAM students, or ‘mechanic students.’ It’s more politics.”

Donald E. Carlson, professor and chief advisor of the Engineering Mechanics program, and James W. Phillips, professor and associate head of the TAM department, both believe that once merged, there will be a decline in the number of students in the field of theoretical and applied mechanics.

Kathleen Toohey, graduate student in TAM, believes the proposal is not well thought out.

“The Interim Dean (of Engineering) did not really say how to merge the students,” Toohey said. “(The proposal) said there will be ‘no immediate changes.’ They don’t have a plan.”

Huseyin Sehitoglu, head of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, believes that most of the details of the planning will be worked out when the proposal is agreed upon.

“The planning has to be done now to make sure that the transition goes smoothly,” Sehitoglu said. “I think we are prepared to make this plan work. I think the planning depends on our ability to work together.”

Toohey also believes this merger will hurt the TAM department, which has strengthened in the recent years.

“TAM has 80 undergraduate students and it is up from 20 undergraduate students in about five years,” Toohey said. “The number of undergraduates that take TAM classes ranges from about 2,500 to 3,000 students. One thing that has us worried is that, right now, industrial engineering is sheltered by mechanical engineering and it hasn’t done too well. We are scared that the department will get smaller. They think they can help us. I don’t think they can.”

Sehitoglu disagrees with this assessment.

“I don’t think (the number of TAM students) will decrease,” Sehitoglu said. “I think it is possible in a larger department that mechanical engineering students might see TAM and switch over.”

While the proposal reads, “All faculty members in the TAM and MIE departments will be invited to join the new department on equal terms,” Phillips believes that many of the faculty will not transfer.

“I don’t think it is any secret that less than half of the current TAM faculty will join the proposed merged department,” Phillips said.

Ilesanmi Adesida, Interim Dean of the College of Engineering, has heard response from the TAM students and faculty.

“I know there is strong emotion,” Adesida said. “If we do a good job, it will be a thriving program. The intellectual coherence is there. There will be more faculty. We pay homage to the history of TAM on campus. Nobody will kill TAM. It will just have a new home. All the students will be taken care of. The new department will have an associate head specifically for TAM programs … ten years down the road, we will be happy about the decision.”

Carlson cannot recall another merger similar to this, which has done well.

“There have been mergers like this across the country and not one of them has been successful,” said Carlson.