Editorial: Strength in numbers

Much criticism has been levied against the educational system in the U.S. in recent years, chiefly over the tendency to squander valuable funds through needless bureaucracy, inefficient allocation and unnecessary expenditures. This University, of course, is no exception – especially in the face of reduced funding from the state.

The College of Engineering, the crown jewel of the University, has to make do with the shrinking budget as does everybody else on campus. In times of such financial crunch, it is easy to look at the smaller programs with little pull and find ways to eliminate them for the sake of cutting costs. But it is difficult to see what merging the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering would accomplish other than destroying a unique program with a long history – an asset the University should be using as a selling point to increase its prestige.

About 105 of more than 10,000 engineering college staff and students have been waging a lonely but vocal and aggressive fight to protect their beleaguered theoretical mechanics department, and rightfully so.

The merger proposal, sponsored by Interim Dean Ilesanmi Adesida, is surprisingly crude and lacks the sophistication necessary to accommodate the current members of the theoretical mechanics department. It provides no immediate roadmap on how theoretical mechanics courses will be integrated with the mechanical and industrial engineering department.

Two of the justifications for the merger are the small size of the theoretical department and the rarity of such departments in other colleges, neither of which are sensible. Diversity in the available topics of specialization is important for any university. Any attempts to wipe out an entire program, regardless of the number of students that belong to it, should be scrutinized carefully.

It is also difficult to understand how the scarcity of similar programs could serve as a reason for the dissolution of the theoretical mechanics department. Simple study of modern economic principles shows a trend toward specialization. For a college that is part of a University within a country that has evolved to a post-industrial economy, in which innovation and ingenuity are the driving forces, it seems to be surprisingly cavalier about the possible effects of simplification on its students and its quality of education. If anything, it should look for ways to generate more areas of specialty for students.

Of course, part of the reason why students and faculty of the theoretical engineering department are fighting so hard against the proposal is because it is a matter of pride. The program, 115 years old, is certainly one worthy of respect. To simply allow the college to die without a fight would be unthinkable.

It must be remembered that it is inherently unjust to simply demand sacrifices from students who have made a commitment by choosing a curriculum of study. The fact that 66 percent of the 279 tenured or tenured-track faculty voted in favor of the merger seems to show a rift between the theoretical mechanics department and the rest of the college. It seems rather na‹ve of the college to expect the merger to benefit the college when the corrosiveness of the current conflict – some of which was reflected on this very page – is considered.

But most importantly, the merger is an attempt to patch up something that does not need to be fixed. Faculty members have left the department, and the program remains a small fraction of the college. But there are no signs of poor management or decline in quality of the education being provided. This type of overmanagement, which can also be seen in the conflict over the control of Assembly Hall, is not only unnecessary but also dangerous. Students’ education is not something that should be imperiled over egos.