Senate holds forum to discuss ME/TAM merger

Rye Waldman, junior in Engineering, waves a flag at the Save TAM rally Wednesday outside of the Engineering Sciences Building at 1101 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. The rally was held to protest the Interim Dean of Engineering´s proposed merger betwe Regina Martinez

Rye Waldman, junior in Engineering, waves a flag at the Save TAM rally Wednesday outside of the Engineering Sciences Building at 1101 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. The rally was held to protest the Interim Dean of Engineering´s proposed merger betwe Regina Martinez

By Dan Shah

The Educational Policy Committee called a meeting Wednesday at the Engineering Sciences Building to discuss the merger of two departments in the College of Engineering – Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and Theoretical and Applied Mechanics – into the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear the dean of Engineering and the heads of both departments speak about the matter as well as to hear the public opinion regarding the matter.

The general student consensus was, however, made evident prior to the meeting when more than a hundred students gathered outside the Engineering Sciences Building, 1101 W. Springfield Ave., to protest the merger.

“We’re rallying in an effort to save the TAM department,” said John Kolinski, junior in TAM who held a sign, which read, “What a Sham. Let’s save TAM.” “We are worried that severe damage will occur to TAM degrees.”

Students rallied in a circle in front of the building with megaphones, signs and handouts. One of the signs asked the Educational Policy Committee to “stop this transformation from a college into a corporation,” while another sign resembled a Wal-Mart low prices sign.

“Fundamental theory will be de-emphasized with this type of merger, and when one looks through the type of research that will be done (post-merger) it is more corporation-based instead of academic-based,” Kolinski said.

Kolinski argued the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has said it cannot handle the load.

Another student, Blake Johnson, graduate student and teaching assistant in the TAM department, felt the proposal is short and hurried.

“We feel that the merger doesn’t specify details, especially for two strong departments within a major university,” said Johnson. “It reads more like an agenda than a plan.”

Student protesters were concerned about the effect the merger proposal is having on the TAM institution.

“The merger has pushed away instructors,” said Charles Kiyanda, graduate student in TAM.

The forum, hosted by the Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee of Educational Policy, was introduced by Abbas Aminmansour, chair of the committee.

“There needs to be public hearings on matters like this, and this is why we are here,” Aminmansour said. “We want to learn about what (the audience) has to say about this proposal.”

Ilesanmi Adesida, interim dean of Engineering, opened up the forum and discussed why he proposed the merger, stating the lack of faculty as a main reason for his decision.

“For me, that’s what’s on the table. Eight faculty,” Adesida said. “There is also intellectual alliance and cohesion between ME and TAM. I do not see any downside at all to the merger. It will give TAM students (better opportunities) and more faculty.”

Adesida said he has thought long and carefully about the matter.

“This is not a lighthearted decision,” Adesida said. “I have spoken with the heads of departments on the issue.”

The interim department head of TAM, Nancy Sottos, followed Adesida by discussing the detrimental effects that the merger would have and is currently having.

“We believe that the College of Engineering and its students are best served by an independent mechanics department,” Sottos said. “There will be negative impact on mechanics education and (the department of mechanical and industrial engineering) has stated that they cannot handle the service teaching load. A merger is already having and will continue to have a negative impact on mechanics related research across the college of engineering … the merger is not the only option. The resources needed to rebuild TAM are small.”

Sottos also pointed to other colleges, such as Stanford University, regarding the faults of a merger.

“You cannot point to a single merger in the U.S. that has left a mechanics program intact,” Sottos said.

Compared to the silence following Adesida’s speech, Sottos conclusion was met with a large ovation, illustrating the sentiments of the audience.

The Educational Policy committee then brought up the head of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Huseyin Sehitoglu, who immediately countered Sottos comments.

“(The situation here) is very different from Stanford,” Sehitoglu said.

The department head then showed graphs of faculty numbers at other schools such as MIT and Michigan.

“If you look at MIT and (University of California at) Berkeley, we are competing against schools that have a (higher presence of faculty), and they are programs with (unified) mechanics programs,” Sehitoglu said.

Sehitoglu said the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering is preparing for the merger thoroughly.

“We are looking for (faculty) who have strong backgrounds in mechanics,” Sehitoglu said.

Aminmansour then opened up the forum to audience members.

One member in the audience jokingly, in an attempt to mock the poorly planned proposal, inquired as to why the College of Engineering isn’t merging all of its departments.

Several of the students in the audience asked about the future of their education.

“I wanted to point out in all the talk about the merger, there is little talk about the students,” said William Morgan, an undergraduate in TAM. “I chose this school specifically for the offerings (in TAM), and I would hate to see it change.”

Morgan said many of the students he knows came to this school for the TAM program.

Aminmansour, however, clarified that the proposal submitted to the Urbana-Champaign Senate said there would be no changes to degrees and that once submitted they couldn’t simply change the proposal.

If passed by the Urbana-Champaign Senate, the proposal must still undergo more discussion. The merger is currently slated to take effect in August 2006.