NCSU to restructure two colleges in the sciences

jprice@newsobserver.com April 19, 2012 

— N.C. State University will retool two colleges, shifting degree programs, faculty, and students from one to the other to create a new College of Sciences.

The change is one of the largest announced so far in a campus-wide reorganization started last year by Chancellor Randy Woodson aimed at protecting the university’s core teaching and research missions while absorbing state budget cuts.

Woodson announced the latest change today during a meeting of the university board of trustees. It is expected to take effect in July 2013 after a host of details are worked out, including the internal structure of each college and the degree programs and professors to be moved.

The restructuring is an attempt to adapt to the fast-changing world of science, where traditional disciplines are collaborating, merging and remaking themselves and where the ability to manipulate vast amounts of data has become pivotal, Provost Warwick Arden said in an interview.

The basic change is moving biological sciences from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to the new college, which will replace the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. That will put the biological sciences under the same roof as chemistry, math and statistics, physics and marine, Earth and atmospheric sciences.

“As a leading science and technology university, we need a very strong comprehensive College of Sciences to underpin pretty much everything we do in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas throughout the university,” Arden said. “Having biological sciences in the same administrative unit as math and statistics and chemistry and so forth makes a lot of sense, and it will also give us the opportunity to really explore to an even greater degree the interface between the quantitative sciences and the biological sciences, such as quantitative genomics.”

The university remains committed to the agriculture school, Arden said. The changes are likely to pull away only about 30 to 40 faculty members from that college, some of whom may be replaced by new hires as part of an initiative to increase the number of tenured and tenure-track professors.

A steering team will help work out the details of how the newly-named college will be structured, which may include redesigning entire departments, and figuring out which faculty would move. University officials said that departments such as math and statistics would remain, but that others might be changed.

One program certain to move, said Arden, is undergraduate biology, among the university’s largest with more than 2,000 students.

It’s likely that some smaller graduate and undergraduate programs also will move, but it will take some time to determine which moves make sense, he said.

The dean of the newly-named college will be Daniel Solomon, now dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

“The sciences have converged to address really important problems we face, like energy, health sustainability and so on, and that takes an interdisciplinary effort,” Solomon said in an interview.

Pulling the pertinent disciplines together can allow them to avoid duplicating equipment and facilities, he said, but more importantly it will make it easier to create and maintain needed collaboration.

The plan is based on nine months of work by a faculty task force Arden created last year. It parallels changes that universities around the country have made to keep pace with the shifts in science, many of them created by the rapid rise in importance of work with massive amounts of data, a basic part of fields such as genetic research.

“This whole issue of big data science, big data analysis, is huge,” Arden said. “It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, but if you’re in the biological sciences, geneticists are producing massive quantities of data that need to be analyzed. So quantitative genomics is a huge area where we already have a strong position, but we would like to become even stronger.”

Price: 919-829-4526

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