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Considerations for Department, Academic Program, and Subject Listing Name Changes

Summarizes the considerations around changing the name of a department, academic program, and/or curricular subject listing.

Though relatively rare, there are times that a name change is desired for a department, an academic program, and/or a course subject listing. Such changes can impact students, faculty, and staff, and are also not resource-neutral. As such, before proposing a name change, the school/college/department should carefully consider the appropriateness and need, as well as examine the long-term implications. Per standard academic program approval processes, changes must be approved by the appropriate unit, department, school/college, Graduate School governance procedures (if applicable), and the University Academic Planning Council. Program changes are also reported to the UW System. 

Following are important notes and considerations when thinking about a name change:

Department Name Changes

  • Changes to department names are relatively rare.
  • Such changes are proposed via a Lumen Structures proposal.
  • The University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) ultimately approves the name change, but the proposal also gets a reading at the Faculty Senate.
  • While faculty must be surveyed and approve a department name change, there is not a requirement that students are surveyed and/or approve.
  • Changes to a department name often come with associated changes to the curricular subject listing(s) and/or academic program name(s).
    • It is most efficient and thus advised that proposals for associated department, subject, and program name changes come through governance together as a set.
  • Department name changes take effect with a Summer term.
  • Notes regarding the "merger" of departments:
    • If individual departments wish to come together as one, a "merger" is not possible.
    • The new department must be established and the existing departments must be discontinued.
    • The first step is a Lumen Structures proposal to establish the new department.
      • Faculty tenure home is an important consideration here, and programs should consult with the Secretary of the Faculty to understand that process and requirements.
    • Lumen Structures proposal(s) are also needed to move any related curricular subject listings.
    • Lumen Program proposal(s) are needed to move any academic programs into the new department.
    • Additional Lumen Structures proposals are needed to eliminate the existing departments once all pieces of the academic structure owned by the existing departments and the faculty have been moved.
  • For reference, following are some sample Lumen proposals for department name changes:

Academic Program Name Changes

  • Changes to academic program names are proposed via a Lumen Program change proposal.
  • The Lumen Program form will present questions relative to the name change, including such points as the justification for the name change; the impact on students, staff, and faculty; any reorganization of personnel and implications on the budget; any approvals from department and school/college committees; and any additional input from students currently enrolled in the degree, staff and faculty, and/or other constituents.
  • All enrolled students must be notified of and given the opportunity to object to the name change. They were admitted into the named academic program and must be given the opportunity to earn that credential.
    • All currently enrolled students must be notified of the proposed name change and be given the opportunity to raise an objection.
    • Details on that notification process and the student responses must be included in the Lumen Program proposal.
      • It is ideal to survey/contact students in early fall (i.e., September). This is when the fewest students are declared in the program given recent graduations and fewer students declaring into the program at the start of the term.  
      • Notification to students can be via email.
      • Notification should include rationale, timeline, impacts on transcript/diploma, etc.
      • Ideally a response will be collected from each individual student; this is most often done with an online survey or poll.
        • As an alternative, programs can use a speak-now-or-hold-your-peace approach, meaning the program provides the notification and gives students the means (e.g., an email address) and timeline to raise questions or concerns.
      • If all students consent to the change or an opposition is not raised, the change can be proposed as "turn-key," meaning it will happen all at once (i.e., the former name will become the new name essentially simultaneously).
        • Note: Even prior to governance approval of the name change, if the program is actively proposing a name change, incoming students should be notified of the proposed new name so they have that information prior to declaration. 
      • If one or more students oppose the change, then the program must either:
        • Delay the implementation of the name change (i.e., future-date the effective date) until all enrolled opposing students have graduated, then the change can take effect, or
        • If the delay is not acceptable, the program must teach-out the current program name until all students have graduated and the program can be discontinued, and also propose a new academic program with the new name.
          • The new program will need the full authorization, right up to the UW System Board of Regents.
        • Note on Individual Major: Utilization of the Individual Major is generally not an acceptable alternative for undergraduate students who oppose a program name change. With the Individual Major, there is no specific information about an area of study noted on the transcript, no transcript text, etc. Since the Individual Major offers no detail on the program of study, it is not deemed to be an appropriate solution for a student who opposes a name change, unless the impacted student agrees to the Individual Major.
        • Note on Special Graduate Committee Degree: For Special Graduate Committee degrees, the title designated on the approved special committee proposal serves as the subplan/option label on the transcript. Because of this level of detail on the transcript, some graduate students who oppose a program name change do find the Special Graduate Committee an agreeable solution.
  • Program name changes take effect with a Fall term.
  • Notes on timing for name change proposal:
    • If the proposal is approved by the University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) at/by the November meeting and will be effective for the following fall term (e.g., November 2025 UAPC meeting, Fall 2026 effective date), the January mid-cycle Guide update can include a notice on the pending name change. The subsequent June Guide edition will publish with the new name.
    • If the proposal is approved by UAPC at/by the April meeting and will be effective for the following fall term (e.g., April 2024 UAPC meeting, Fall 2024 effective date), the new name will be reflected in Guide in the subsequent June edition.
    • Relative to the undergraduate application for admission, if the proposal is approved by UAPC at/by the April meeting and will be effective for the following fall term, the new name will be reflected on the next application for admission that publishes on August 1 for students who will matriculate the next fall. For example, if the name change proposal is approved by UAPC in April 2024, the new name will be on the next application for undergraduate admissions that will publish on 1 August 2024 for students who are applying to enter the university in Fall 2025.
  • For reference, following are some sample Lumen proposals for program name changes:

Course Subject Listing Name Changes

  • There are three key components of a subject listing: the code, the short description, and the description.
  • If a subject name change is desired, the description can be changed, but not the code or the short description.
  • If the program wants the code or the short description changed, then a new subject listing must be proposed and the old subject must be discontinued once the individual courses have been moved.
    • Individual Lumen Courses change proposals must be created to move each course into the new subject listing.
  • There is a lot of lead time needed for a subject listing change.
    • The change can only be effective for a Summer term.
    • That desired effective term cannot have had its Schedule of Classes created (not published, created) as of yet.
  • For reference, following are some sample Lumen proposals for subject listing name changes:

General Notes on Name Changes

  • Changes can take a long time, even years, as they can only be made at certain times of the academic year.
  • Department, program, and subject name changes also change the associated Guide URLs.
  • There are impacts on data and reporting systems (on campus, within UW System, and federally), and depending on the change, it may sever the data relationship between the old and the new.
  • Changes can affect the ability to readily identify something that has been in existence for a long time.
  • Name changes are not resource-neutral, for the department/program or for the university.