L&S APC Policy on Creating, Restructuring, or Discontinuing Departments, Programs, and Department-like Units

This policy reflects the L&S procedures enacting Faculty Policies and Procedures 5.02, which hold that "Broad guidelines for the substantial restructuring, creation or discontinuance of a department shall be developed by the University Academic Planning Council. Following these guidelines, each school/college shall develop its own criteria for the substantial restructuring of departments..." Consideration of substantial changes to departments, programs, and department-like units should always involve the Academic Associate Dean and the Associate Dean for Academic Planning. All changes flow through a governance process that begins with the faculty in the unit, and moves to the Academic Planning Council before it is forwarded to the University APC and University Committee/Faculty Senate. The L&S process is a two-stage process, involving an initial request for permission to plan to restructure, which is followed by development of a detailed restructuring plan, prepared in consultation with offices in L&S Administration, as well as other units affected by the change.

Approved by L&S Academic Planning Council, September 15, 2015

“A department shall consist of a group of faculty members recognized by the faculty and chancellor, and the Board of Regents, as dealing with a common field of knowledge or as having common or closely related scholarly interests”  --  FP&P 5.01(A).

“Broad guidelines for the substantial restructuring, creation or discontinuance of a department shall be developed by the University Academic Planning Council. Following these guidelines, each school/college shall develop its own criteria for the substantial restructuring of departments. The special needs of affected untenured faculty shall be considered. The procedures shall provide opportunities for the affected executive committees and faculties to consult with the school/college academic planning councils and the deans during all stages of restructuring consideration and implementation. If two or more affected school/college academic planning councils cannot reach consensus, the chancellor shall seek to negotiate an agreement in consultation with the University Committee.”  (FP&P 5.02)

As scholarly interests and trends in higher education change over time, circumstances  arise that require the faculty to reexamine the existing or incipient organization of the departments, programs, or other academic units with which they are affiliated.  This introspection may lead to a request to substantially reorganize these entities to better reflect faculty interests.  Faculty policy defines “substantial” change as that which warrants deep consultation: “Substantial restructuring includes, but is not limited to the merger of departments, the transfer of groups of faculty in or out of departments, and the establishment of department-like bodies” FP&P 5.01(A).  When such reorganization is desired, FP&P dictates that it must proceed in a formal process that includes a period of study, the development of clear recommendations, and approvals granted by the affected departmental/unit executive committees, College and University Academic Planning Councils, Chancellor, and Senate.  Throughout the process, the unit is expected to consult extensively with the Deans’ offices, the APCs, and others who may be affected by the change.
This L&S policy on the Creation, Restructuring, or Discontinuation of Departments and Programs has been developed to ensure that all relevant Faculty Policies and Procedures are followed and that individuals affected by restructuring are afforded opportunities to engage in these discussions. As departments, programs, and “department-like” units discuss restructuring, four broad questions are usually considered:

  1. Centrality: To what extent is the mission and purpose of the unit fulfilling a need that is central to the overall mission of the college and/or university? If the mission and purpose is not fulfilling a need, what change would be required to better align the unit with broader institutional needs?
  2. Quality: What is the current and potential quality of the department or program?
  3. Service: In what ways, and how well, does the department/program meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students? How, and how well, are the needs of other stakeholders met? \
  4. Cost effectiveness: To what extent is the department/program cost effective? If it is not cost effective, does the centrality of its role and quality of its performance (as conveyed in items 1, 2 and 3 above) outweigh the need to be cost effective? Would reorganization or restructuring help the unit perform more effectively within available resources?

Initiating a request to restructure: If the outcome of these and other discussions lead to a decision that restructuring should be initiated, the department/program/unit chair should send a formal memo to the Dean and L&S Academic Planning Council.  The memo should convey the following information:

  • A candid evaluation of the current state of the unit;
  • The rationale for change and broad overview of the vision for change;
  • The process and timeline for discussions about restructuring that led to this decision; and 
  • The record of the unit’s vote to initiate restructuring, per unit governance policy (e.g., vote of the faculty and/or executive committee, advisory votes solicited from staff, etc.)

The dean and associate dean will present the request to the L&S APC. As required by Faculty Policies & Procedures, the unit chair/director/faculty leader is invited to meet to discuss the request with the council.

Developing the restructuring plan.  After the APC endorses the request, the faculty develops a detailed plan that addresses all practical matters related to the desired change.  Although each situation that precipitates change presents a unique set of “practical matters”, L&S has developed a template that enumerates the issues that usually need to be addressed. As the restructuring plan is prepared, units should expect to consult extensively with their Associate Dean and other staff in L&S Administration to address a wide range of topics, including:

  • Governance and process (decision-making processes that allow all affected parties to participate in discussions about restructuring;  adequate communication and consultation with stakeholders; careful attention to relevant campus policy);
  • People (personnel, including untenured faculty, classified, and academic staff; students, current and former; other stakeholders, such as boards of visitors);
  • Resources (financial and physical);
  • Ongoing responsibilities (management of or revisions to academic programs, ensuring students’ ability to complete academic programs; continued administration of grants and contracts); and 
  • Time (stages of implementation and deadlines for accomplishing them). 

Where necessary, the Dean, Associate Dean and other staff will facilitate discussions across colleges and units, as well as with other interested bodies (e.g., Provost’s Office, University Committee).

Please refer to the “Template for Plan to Implement Departmental Restructuring / Continuation of Department(s)” for the detailed list of issues to address in the implementation plan.

Timing.  University Academic Planning Council Guidelines hold that the elapsed time between the beginning of the restructuring process and forwarding an L&S APC-approved plan to the UAPC should be no less than six months. Given the need to allow time for planning and approval, it is unlikely that plans that are not approved by the L&S APC in October can be implemented in the following fiscal year.

Implementation of the restructuring plan.  After the plan is approved, staff in L&S Administration will meet with the restructured unit to discuss tasks and details related to implementation.

Process overview.  Requests for change generally proceed through the following steps:

  1. In most cases, conversations about department/program creation, restructuring or discontinuation will be initiated by the faculty; however, the dean may, after consultation with the Academic Planning Council or in response to a recommendation arising from program or other review, present a request that the faculty initiate these conversations. 
  2. In the event that conversations lead to a decision that restructuring should be initiated, faculty leader(s) inform the Dean and APC of the decision in a memorandum seeking to to initiate a process to create, restructure, or discontinue the department/program organization.
  3. Consistent with FP&P 3.08 B.3 (b), the APC invites the department chair or program director (or an appropriate member of the faculty in a leadership position) to present and discuss the request.
  4. If the APC approves the request, the planning process begins.  Planning is led by program faculty, and should be pursued in a manner consistent with principles of inclusion and consultation arising from existing (or planned) program governance procedures.  The faculty may designate leaders to consult with the Associate Dean and others as the plan is prepared.
  5. During planning, faculty representatives, the relevant Associate Dean, and the Assistant Dean for Academic Planning will confer with other units across the university (departments, APCs) as needed.
  6. When it is complete, the unit approves the plan and submits it to the Dean and the APC. Faculty representatives are again invited to present the request and answer APC questions about the plan.
  7. If the APC approves the plan, it is presented with the Dean’s and APC endorsement, and a description of procedures followed to the UAPC.  (If more than one APC is involved, all APCs should approve the same plan.  If necessary, impasses between the APCs and/or deans will be adjudicated by the chancellor before the plan is sent to the UAPC for consideration.)
  8. The UAPC will either approve the plan or return it for revisions.
  9. When approved by the UAPC, the plan is presented to the Chancellor and to the Faculty Senate.

Given the gravity of a substantial reorganization of a department or department-like unit (including changes that create new, merge existing, eliminate, or transfer units to other schools/colleges), it is highly desired that a preponderance of the faculty and staff who are affected by the change approve of (or at least, accept) the proposed change.  While a simple majority vote may suffice for many important decisions, a simple majority may not be sufficiently compelling to justify such a substantial change.  Units considering changes of this magnitude should seek the greatest degree of consensus possible under the circumstances.  Where consensus cannot be achieved or where opinions are deeply divided, units should communicate with their Associate Dean to determine how best to proceed.

Questions about this policy and process should be addressed to the Dean, the Associate Dean, or to the Assistant Dean for Academic Planning.

Original Policy approved May 26, 2010
Revised November 2012, August 2015

Initial author:  Elaine M. Klein (Assistant Dean, L&S Academic Planning) (608) 265-8484, elaine.klein@wisc.edu

Note: The September 15, 2015 revision of this policy adjusts the way in which a department/program notifies the Dean and APC that the faculty wish to engage in restructuring, chiefly by better articulating the APC expectations concerning the content of the memo they submit in their request.

Departments currently engaged in restructuring may opt into the new policy (above), or continue to follow the old policy.

KeywordsGovernance Department Creating Restructuring Discontinuing APC Policy FP&P   Doc ID20152
OwnerElaine K.GroupL&S KB
Created2011-09-07 15:10:29Updated2023-07-06 13:19:09
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