Column: Death of TAM

Last November, the College of Engineering proposed plans to merge the department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics with Mechanical and Industrial Engineering to create the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

To the untrained liberal arts eye, this is merely a confusing name change. But for the approximately 145 engineering students who belong to the TAM department, it is a move that could effect their careers for years into the future.

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There may be some benefits to the merger. Proponents see the two programs as possessing similar goals, and look to the merger as a way of cutting down on administration costs. The Illinois Board of HIgher Education, under recommendation from the governor’s office, asked public universities to reduce administrative costs by 25 percent beginning in the 2003 fiscal year – something that the University cannot ignore. But this fact was never offered as a rationale for the merger though it may have created a much stronger argument in favor of the move.

This board stands by the editorial published last November, which stated that the proposed merger would be an “attempt to patch up something that does not need to be fixed.” Theoretical and Applied Mechanics is a unique program with 115 years of history that the University should be proud of. It remains our opinion that the merger will likely cause the TAM program to slowly die out.

Regardless, UC Senate voted to approve the merger Monday, leaving disgruntled and disappointed students to wonder exactly what happened. And sadly, a large portion of the blame sits with the Illinois Student Senate’s ineffective strategy in protecting the interests of the TAM students.

The senate started off on the right foot in the beginning, holding a forum in December to discuss both sides of the merger and choosing to advocate saving the department. But last week following the closure of formal debates on the UC Senate floor, student senators present called for a quorum for the first time in recent history and staged a walk out to protest the merger.

As dramatic a public statement the walk out may have been, the tactic was employed poorly. Had the student senators called quorum before the end of the debate and then walked out, they would have been able to buy more time to lobby other UC Senators and garner more support from the campus community. Instead, the student senators only managed to delay the inevitability for a week.

And by resorting to the walk out, the student senate evoked the stall tactics of the U.S. Senate, where senators in the minority call filibusters in a futile effort to delay a certain loss. The student senate resorted to a kneejerk reaction when what was necessary was forethought and meticulous planning from the very beginning to ensure the future of TAM. Endless motions, resolutions and belabored clarifications of bylaws and procedures, as seen in Monday’s meeting, doesn’t bode well for the student government’s ability to represent the students. ISS has made some beneficial changes to the campus, encouraging students to know their rights and to take an active role in creating scholarship programs. But failure in the TAM debate may be an indication that the student senate has stretched themselves too far, fighting too many fronts at once.

What is outright appalling about TAM’s demise is that only about 50 percent of the UC Senate managed to show up to decide the fate of a department that many faculty and students dedicated their efforts, passion and time. This kind of apathy is unacceptable under any circumstances for a body that is supposed to protect and promote the interests and goals of this institution.

It took the demise of an entire department to expose the shortcomings of our governing bodies, a steep price to pay for apathy and pride. But at least we can end on one happy note: Congratulations to Cornell University for possessing the last remaining Theoretical and Applied Mechanics program in the country. We hope you treat it well.