TAM merger approved

Thomas Carlson, right, junior in Engineering, and fellow TAM students sit in on the Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting Monday afternoon at the Levis Faculty Center in Urbana. Patrick Traylor

Thomas Carlson, right, junior in Engineering, and fellow TAM students sit in on the Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting Monday afternoon at the Levis Faculty Center in Urbana. Patrick Traylor

By Dan Petrella

After months of heated, campus-wide debate, the Urbana-Champaign Senate voted 59-49 yesterday to merge the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. The new department will be called the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

The senate was set to vote at its meeting last Monday, but the vote was delayed when a call for quorum showed that not enough members of the body were present to hold the vote. All of the student senators present left after the call for quorum in order to intentionally stall the vote.

“I think delaying the vote by a week may have upset people because now they have to come down for an extra meeting,” said Kathleen Toohey, a graduate student in TAM, before the meeting Monday at 3:10 p.m. in the Levis Faculty Center.

Toohey and other students stood outside both last week’s and this week’s meetings with t-shirts, flags and signs saying “Save TAM.” There were fewer students outside Monday’s meeting than the previous week.

Senate Executive Committee Chairman Vernon Burton offered the senate the option of suspending the rules to allow discussion on the merger to be reopened but the motion was voted down.

“This is an issue that has been very, very thoroughly discussed for months now,” said Abbas Aminmansour in an interview after the meeting. Aminmansour is the chairman of the senate’s Educational Policy Committee and an associate professor in architecture, and he added that he feels there has been significant input from anyone who wanted to say anything at a public hearing and at a number of open and private meetings with current and former TAM faculty, among others.

TAM Faculty Senator Richard Weaver said that he will have as little to do with the new department as possible and that he will be looking for employment elsewhere.

“I’m certainly not moving to Mechanical Engineering,” he said.

The merger will create a new position called associate head of mechanics programs. The associate head will assist the department head in all TAM-related issues.

“This is strictly an administrative change,” Aminmansour said. “The degrees and curricula will remain intact.”

Weaver acknowledged that the supporters of the merger have said the current mechanics programs will continue to exist in the new department, but expressed his doubts about the future of TAM.

“I think the reality will come down to them eliminating (TAM) within a few years,” he said, adding that he does not believe the new department will be committed to doing the necessary amount of recruiting to maintain the current level of students.

Aminmansour said it is important to note that there have been similar mergers in the past that have resulted in the creation of very successful departments that are able to hire high-quality faculty and continue to offer the previous degrees and curricula.

“Sometimes a merger can reinvigorate a department,” Aminmansour said.

In 1989, the departments of Metallurgy and Mining Engineering and Ceramics Engineering were merged to create the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The department is now the top-ranked program in its field. More recently, the departments of Kinesiology and Community Health were merged.

“(The students in TAM) are going to have to do our best to make sure that we’re not screwed over in the merger process,” Toohey said before the meeting. “Because right now, things aren’t really well planned out.”

The major reasons for the merger are the diminishing size of the TAM faculty and the overlapping research interests between the two departments, according to the proposal passed by the senate.

“This has been a very long and difficult process for everyone involved, and now that the senate has made a decision, I think we should put our forces together to make sure that mechanics can flourish,” Aminmansour said.