Guidelines for the Use of Faculties and Senate in Considering Recommendations for the Establishment of New Departments

The Senate received the following report for information on March 3, 1965.

Members of the Committee:

  • Dean W. H. Gage
  • Dean S. W. Leung
  • Dean Kaspar D. Naegele
  • Dr. J. R. McIntosh
  • Dr. G. M. Wolkoff

On the Establishment, Division and Dissolution of Departments

A Report

We are persuaded that:

  1. There are not sufficiently specific criteria to allow a simple decision about whether a field or discipline should become a department. When a department is contemplated there must always be a thorough review of the matter.
  2. The multiplication of departments should be resisted, for departments create a variety of barriers.

The following general considerations should guide the decision to establish a department:

  1. The character of the academic, artistic or professional mandate of the department.

One needs a new department when a portion of the intellectual, artistic or professional world has become sufficiently distinct in the eyes of the scholarly community to have an identity of its own. Generally this means among other things that one can take advanced degrees in the discipline or field concerned and that there is a complement of journals for publication of scholarly papers or clinical investigations. The separate visibility of an academic field or discipline always also means its further internal division. One is not only a mathematician or a historian, a biochemist or a geologist, one is a specialist within a field. Departments become necessary when the cultivation of a discipline or field requires a complement of specialists. Such a complement, in turn, is necessary when the scope and depth of a field exceed the capacities of any small group of educated and trained individuals. It follows that specialties within fields should as a rule not become separate departments. To have for instance separate departments of medical sociology or public finance, renaissance history or medieval English would greatly multiply departments and hence the spheres of autonomous decision. Then the curriculum and the structure of the university would only be subject to centrifugal forces. It belongs to the mandate of a department not only to cultivate a certain portion of knowledge, professional practice or artistic achievement, but also to provide a coherence among the several specialists which are jointly necessary for such cultivation. This belief helps limit the proliferation of departments.

  1. The necessity of autonomy.

The existence of a department represents a judgment that its mandate needs the autonomy implied by departmental organization. Autonomy implies responsibilities, but it also creates boundaries. Departments are necessary when the lack of such autonomy – concerning curriculum, appointment, long range plans and facilities – prevents a discipline, or a field from achieving its promise and when the gains of independence are greater than the costs of separation. This should, in the first instance, be an academic judgment involving an assessment of the best social conditions necessary for a field or discipline to flourish.

  1. Scope of offering.

The mandate of a department should include the instruction of undergraduates as well as the pursuit of research and the education of graduates. When intellectual enterprises have a different scope other forms of organization, for instance interdepartmental programs, should first be contemplated. In any case we would advise against the duplication of departments. No discipline or field in other words should have parallel departments for undergraduates and for graduates. By undergraduate in this report we mean not only the undergraduates in the Faculties of Arts and Science, but in fact all students proceeding to a first professional degree. We would assume that all departments eventually will include graduate as well as undergraduate work and that fields only open to graduate students would not so much lead to the establishment of departments as to other forms, such as institutes, centres and the like.

  1. Continuity of support.

Departments until dissolved must claim special budgetary provisions. In turn an academic enterprise when embodied as a department requires continued financial support. But there are other ways of ensuring such support. In certain circumstances institutes or interdepartmental programs for instance provide alternatives. A department ensures support by providing definite opportunities of both appointment and promotion. A department is necessary when, in addition, a discipline, field or several such in combination need continued access to various resources (such as laboratories, equipment, etc.) and require a reasonably assured future for the sake of planning. The sheer availability of outside funds should of course also not constitute a direct and simple pressure for the establishment of a department.

  1. Uniqueness and profundity.

A department is needed when in addition to the previous consideration one can clearly envision a relatively distinct line of inquiry which springs fairly directly from one class or another of fundamental questions. At their best departments cultivate one or more scholarly disciplines or fields of application sufficiently broad in scope and deep in inquiry so as to allow for new formulations (including new styles of expression) which would radically transform both the work of the department and of the Faculty as a whole. This means that a department should not be formed when its mandate is so specialized as to preclude this possibility.

  1. The encouragement of growth.

Ideally old fields of inquiry such as classical studies or philosophy should not continue as departments simply out of inertia nor should new fields of inquiry be blocked simply because they are not old. The establishment of a new department is more than the addition of a new academic group with its claims on the budget. It separates past colleagues and adds new ones. It raises questions about the mandate of other departments with which it now becomes linked and together with which it constitutes a Faculty. It raises questions about the shape of the Faculty itself and about the desirable size of Faculties. Within this context departments in providing new fields of instruction can also provide new obstacles for courses of study. Only if departments are clearly rooted in disciplines does their multiplication not add to the divisiveness of specialization.

The desirability of a program of studies or a field of inquiry should not be equated with the establishment of a new department. Institutes, interdepartmental programs or centres may be better alternatives. Equally it may well be the case that some departments, historically once necessary, are now no longer the best way of sustaining a field of intellectual endeavour.

General Assumptions

This university is constituted by the semi-independent realms known as faculties and faculties are constituted by departments. Faculties also contain schools, institutes and inter-departmental programs. The nature of the relations among these component groupings of a university is not simple. Faculties and departments must each claim their measure of autonomy but presidents and deans are responsible to and for universities or Faculties as wholes. Besides, the university cannot be an island into itself: it always lives in relation to other universities, sometimes guiding these, sometimes following or opposing them.

Within this balance of autonomy and wider responsibility, departments are traditionally the major units within a Faculty. Faculties are the homes of degrees. As such, they represent fairly distinct ranges of scholarly enterprise or professional effort. Faculties differ one from another by cultivating a definite range of knowledge and thought either in their primary intellectual forms or for the sake of application. Thus, the Faculty of Law differs from the Faculty of Science in exploring distinctly different orders of regularity. Equally they differ in exhibiting very different concerns with the education of professional practitioners. Faculties also differ in their internal complexity. Law has no departments; Science does. Departments arise when a discipline of inquiry within a given Faculty develops sufficient momentum and distinctiveness to demand relative administrative autonomy. But when is this the case? When should a university separate Statistics into a distinct department of its own? When should Genetics or Political Science, Creative Writing or Microbiology, Ophthalmology or Dermatology be given separate departmental status?

In this university, departments are either organized about fields of study (such as the area departments in the Faculty of Arts), fields of practice (for instance, ophthalmology) or disciplines. Moreover, the particular history of any one department involves at least the following:

  1. The general academic status and accommodation of a field or discipline in other and especially in esteemed universities.
  2. The nature and history of this university including organized pressures for new departments, sometimes facilitated by (contingent) outside grants.

The establishment of departments can, we should be frank, be a convenience for the apparent solution of familiar dilemmas. At one famous North American university, those in a series of departments who were both eminent as scholars and difficult as individuals were once collected into a new group of their own. There is no reason why administration should not take into account the logic of sentiments, as well as of impersonal justice. In this report, however, we must stay with impersonal matters.

We recognize that for our purposes Faculties, in general, fall into two main categories, academic and professional. This distinction is analytic, not invidious. Nor is this the place to discuss the distinction or to stem the tide of confusion about it. While we have sought for some of the common elements among Faculties in these respects, we recognize the necessity for variation.

The general nature of a department
  1. Departments are groups of colleagues, formally organized within a university, and sustaining between them efforts of inquiry, creativity and instruction which contribute to similar efforts anywhere else in the world. Chemistry and International Law, Electrical Engineering and Romance Studies, Anthropology and Pathology are ultimately not so much the concern of any single university but of the several worldwide communities of scholars, artists or professional individuals who have chosen to cultivate a distinct field of intellectual enterprise. Departments are at once responsible to an international community and one major constituent part of a Faculty.
  2. The range of a department's efforts normally includes:
    1. the teaching of undergraduates and graduates;
    2. Scholarship or clinical investigations and research or artistic achievements.
    3. In contrast an institute either does no teaching or is confined to graduate instruction. It is concerned with a special field of research – such as oceanography or industrial relations. An institute's field of research overlaps the boundaries and concerns of two or more departments. A school is generally concerned with the education of a profession – such as librarianship, social work or home economics. It is guided by a director rather than a head or chairman, who in turn is advised by a special council. The latter includes individuals from various parts of the university and from the community. The curricula of schools are generally subject to review by the council of the school as well as by the curriculum committee of the Faculty concerned. Schools slightly exceed departments in autonomy, though large academic departments often command resources (and influence) greater than those of schools. Interdepartmental programs are precisely what the name implies – arrangements of courses provided by different departments intended to constitute a special field of study. Such programs may have a director or secretary and budgetary allocations. They do not generally involve appointments in their own right. Departments on the other hand are precisely the places in which, as a rule, appointments (and promotions) begin: they are the immediate university homes of faculty, graduate and honours students and – as the single major gains ascendancy – of upper year undergraduates as well. As places of attachment departments vary widely in size, resources, vigour, attainment and atmosphere. In addition, they have their ups and downs – the causes of which might repay better understanding.

  3. The present departmental structure is to a large extent based on intellectual distinctions which derive from the past. Chemistry and physics, economics and political science – to take random examples – stand for distinctions which may or may not remain valid in the future. The knowledge that departments create can become, on intellectual grounds, a reason for their radical rearrangement. But departments, as receivers of money, as groupings of individuals and as places of attachment become cherished in their own rights – and coveted by those who wish for a better place in the sun or on the budget. In this way matters of the intellect, of professional excellence and of artistic attainment are not alone in ruling the university. Whatever one's views about the permanence of the fields of scholarship – such as English or Mathematics, Electrical Engineering or Anatomy, Psychology or Fine Arts – the boundaries of all departments are generally problematic. How much history must a department of literature teach? Where does political science 'end' and sociology 'begin'? Where does genetics belong? Joint appointments and interdepartmental programs are one answer to this question – so, in another sense, are 'area departments'. Duplication is not wholly avoidable – and need not be undesirable. Any one department, then, has a university-wide mandate for the discipline (or field) which gives the department its name, but complete monopoly is very difficult to achieve.
  4. Departments are budgetary units and have a governmental form. At the present departments are in the hands of heads. In practice they exhibit all manner of political patterns, from kingdoms to committees. Our concern is with the academic desirability of the establishment of new departments or the continuance of old ones. We gladly remain silent in the debate on the best government for departments. But we recognize that the establishment of a department necessarily costs money. Beyond that, departments once established wish to expand. Growth in stature need not be expansion beyond a certain point. It is surely possible to have a department which is both good and small. It should also be possible to ensure political equality among departments of very different size.