The University of Rhode Island’s Faculty Senate will vote next Thursday to approve a massive restructuring of the university’s health programs with the establishment of the Academic Health Collaborative.
The plan would organize the College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing and a new College of Health Sciences into a collaborative charged with fostering greater integration and partnership between the fields. A branch of the collaborative, the Institute for Integrated Health and Innovation will be tasked with “creating, supporting and promoting cross-disciplinary initiatives and innovations in education, research, service provision and entrepreneurial ventures,” according to the proposal.
The plan would move the nutrition department from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the psychology department from the College of Arts and Sciences and the communicative disorders, health studies, human development, kinesiology and physical therapy departments from the College of Human Science and Services into the new College of Health Sciences.
The plan would leave only the education and textiles, fashion merchandising and design programs remaining in the College of Human Science and Services, but according to vice provost and co-chair of the committee that developed the proposal, Laura Beauvais, these departments are engaged in talks to enter other colleges assuming the plan is approved.
“When you put them together, they talk more,” said Beauvais of the mentality behind the plan. “We’re trying to respond to changes that are happening not only in the healthcare industry, but also health prevention.” According to her, the separated model for the fields has become antiquated and out of date, in favor of a more cross-field and cooperative mentality.
The collaborative will also allow greater research, educational and certificate programs and more community services between colleges and departments.
Beauvais drew comparisons to a similarly focused program in the university’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, which also brings a selection of departments together to foster collaboration and interdisciplinary studies. “The Harrington School is a great model,” she said, while noting the significant differences between the two. The Harrington School is a collection of departments within a single college, while the Academic Health Collaborative is a collection of colleges and will obviously be much larger.
The deans of the three colleges, along with directing them, will also be charged with fostering and leading collaboration across all three colleges. They will comprise an Executive Committee with the purpose of planning for the collaborative.
The idea for the collaborative originated in discussion with all the university’s deans around 2012. As the idea made its way through various committees, administrators allowed community input and recommendations. The most recent committee, which was co-chaired by Beauvais and Deb Riebe of the Kinesiology Department and formed in February 2014, released their plan one year later. “We think we have a model that people will be happy with,” Beauvais said.
Plans in earlier committees suggested making the three colleges into less independent schools under a single dean. According to Beauvais, because of accreditation issues and community members’ concerns, the decision was made to stay with three separate colleges. “Some faculty were concerned whether that means a demotion,” Beauvais said. “We listened to what the faculty wanted.”
In March, the faculty in the departments involved in the collaborative voted and approved the plan. The College of Arts and Sciences also voted to approve their loss of the psychology department. CELS is voting currently to approve the loss of nutrition.
Beauvais said the Faculty Senate vote could go either way, but she is hopeful the remainder of the faculty will follow the lead of the faculty members involved in the reorganization. “After that it will go to the President and Council on Postsecondary Education,” she said.
If the proposal makes it through all those stages, Beauvais said it will not be for another year afterward that we begin to see it take shape. “Optimistically, fall of 2016 we’ll start to see this structure being put into place,” she said.