An announcement from a February 2010 Umass Lowell chair meeting on the dismantling of the Regional and Social Economic Development (RESD) department came as a shock to students and faculty, and now professors and students say they feel they are losing a sense of community despite administration claims of bettering the program.
The interdisciplinary department, now in it’s thirteenth year, focuses on economics, sociology, labor, environmentalism, and other fields. It’s flagship program, the Master of Arts in Economic and Social Development of Regions, will continue under a new model starting in July by re-integrating RESD department faculty into disciplinary departments.
“After the University Provost suggested the idea of having a better model, we offered to work with him,” said Philip Moss, RESD professor and co-chair.
The announcement came soon after.
“I was shocked and appalled this was happening,” said Dr. John Wooding, a RESD co-chair.
Moss says a department base is crucial and the student community relies on this structure.
Wooding and Moss, along with concerned students, have been holding meetings and keeping correspondence with university administration to raise issues and reiterate negative reactions to the decision.
“This change was extremely unexpected and there is a lack of transparency with whats being done” said Graduate Student Lianna Kushi.
Umass Lowell Provost Ahmed Abdelal said it was always clear that the degree program would continue.
"I feel the alarm may have been provoked by misunderstanding," says Abdelal.
Graduate Student Matt Hopkins said meetings were bizarre, marked with emotion from students and a lack of listening from administrators.
“[RESD] has evolved as a department, not a framework,” said Hopkins.
Administrators say the current deployment of RESD resources and departmental boundaries have hampered interdisciplinary collaboration and cost the university money in an economic climate when they need to be prudent and cost effective.
“Sometimes there is confusion with change but we feel the sense of community will still be there,” said Nina Coppens, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
RESD's 5th floor space located Umass Lowell's O'Leary Library will be used as a research center rather than a department base.
“Integrating RESD into different departments will bring expertise of the department to the whole campus,” said Coppens.
Coppens said that RESD expertise can not only better student education, but make their Master’s program more visible to the UML community.
Changes in RESD, like in other interdisciplinary frameworks, will include faculty councils, from different departments, and student representatives to provide input.
“RESD was an experiment to decide what would be a sustainable model for interdisciplinary programs,” said Associate Dean of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Melissa Pennell.
Pennell said creating new departments for new programs is unwieldy and by creating faculty councils with professors from multiple departments increases flexibility as professors are being utilized in a number of different teaching activities.
Co-chair Philip Moss said the departmental structure has always lent itself to good quality instruction and research.


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