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Thursday, October 23, 2014

MU Faculty Council discusses closing of NSEI

Concerns included harming MU's reputation and the university's ability to get grants.

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Faculty members met Thursday to discuss the planned closing of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute. Many faculty members say they were not included in the decision to close the institute.

Seung Ah Lee/Photographer

Feb. 15, 2013

Staff in attendance at Thursday’s faculty council meeting discussed the problems and possible solutions regarding the March 15, 2012 closing of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute.

No decision was reached, but the floor was open to opposing sides of the argument.

Curator’s Professor of Nuclear Engineering Sudarshan Loyalka opened the discussion with a presentation that outlined events involving the NSEI closing and raised questions to higher-ranking MU officials. The presentation, “NSEI & Shared Governance and CRR,” stated “faculty learned of closure same as the public” and had received no information prior.

In a slide named “Collected Rules and Regulations,” Loyalka said that rules were broken that apply to every school at MU. He cited six laws and bylaws, including 320.150 of the faculty handbook, which states that the president and chancellor will consult with appropriate faculty in the case of a closure.

“There had been no discussion with us,” Loyalka said.

The community at large expressed strong concerns about the decision process, Loyalka said. He described the NSEI as a “top 10” institution over the past 10 years and said it should not have been closed in the manner it was.

Provost Brian Foster acknowledged MU’s “amazing nuclear resources" but said the discussion is about more than that.

“The big question is: How do we take all of this and bring it together to form a very big, coherent, visible, high-impact presence in nuclear sciences?” Foster said. “Something that really matters across the country.”

Foster said the decision to close NSEI was discussed in detail. He said there was an external review of the issue in 2010 with prominent engineers, and the consensus was that there were amazing assets but it was ultimately a small and focused unit. The goal was to make it broader, Foster said.

Graduate School Dean George Justice attended the council and said emails released last year confirmed the large structural vision for the NSEI that was put forward in 2010. Part of the reason they wanted structural change was so tenure tracks wouldn’t be in graduate school, he said.

“I participated in national meetings as a graduate dean,” Justice said. “Graduate schools largely do not hold tenure lines – it doesn’t make sense for tenure lines to be in graduate school.”

English professor Karen Piper voiced concern that the closing of the NSEI would harm MU’s reputation and said there are top scientists in the world who are upset by what is happening at MU.

“Why is a top-ranking program in the country being dismantled?” Piper said.

There’s an issue of numbers, Justice said in response. He said that ranking 80 out of 140 might not be that different from 14 out of 28. Although he noted that nobody would dispute the NSEI teachers have sufficiently done their job, he said the decision was to harness what they have on campus.

Randy Curry, director of the Center for Physical and Power Electronics, said friends approached him about the NSEI closure and he found the closure was hurting the quality of research at MU. It’s going to be harder for MU to get grants from Washington, D.C., he said.

“If there’s anything that this university ought to be worrying about right now, it's bringing money in this environment,” Curry said. “It is one of the toughest environments.”

Curry expressed anger at the notion of separating researchers at the NSEI. 
“These guys are well recognized, don’t break them up,” Curry said. “Let’s go forward and let’s maintain the quality of the institution.”

After the council meeting closed, Loyalka said he hopes the issue can be resolved in the near future.

“I’m an optimistic person, I believe hope always springs,” Loyalka said. “I would like to see it resolved positively, but there have been some speed bumps.”

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