Kansas University's computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments should not be merged unless the integrity and acacdemic quality of both programs can benefit from the merger, speakers said at a hearing Tuesday night.
Officials also should ensure that personal and professional problems that have plagued the computer science department for years not be carried over into the ECE department.
"The fact of the matter is we need help," said Allen Ambler, associate professor of computer science. "Leaving this program in the status quo will not resolve the problems. I'm not sure this proposed merger is the best way to go about it, but something has to be done."
Ambler made the comments before a committee that will accept or reject a recommendation to merge the computer science and ECE departments.
The recommendation was made as part of Program Review, KU's comprehensive assessment of all university programs.
MORE THAN 20 faculty, students and administrators from both departments spoke about the proposed merger during the 2 -hour hearing Tuesday night in the Burge Union. More than 40 people attended the hearing.
Most spoke against the proposal, saying they feared the integrity of one or more of the programs could be compromised if they were merged.
Other speakers said they did not want to see problems in the computer science department carried over into the ECE department.
The computer science department, currently housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been plagued for more than two decades by interpersonal feuds, speakers said.
Several students, faculty and administrators in the program have said the rift had manifested itself between William Bulgren, professor and chair of the department, and Zamir Bavel, computer science professor.
Faculty and students have been dragged into different camps because of the disputes, speakers said.
"IF IT WEREN'T for the cloud hanging over the computer science department, we wouldn't be here tonight," said Glenn Prescott, associate professor of ECE, who spoke against the proposed merger.
If it weren't for computer science's problems, he said, "I don't think anyone would care one way or the other about the merger."
Prescott also said, "The real bad guys in all of this are the upper people in the administration who have refused to do anything about this (computer science problems) for so many years."
Dennis Karpowitz, associate professor of psychology who has experience in conflict resolution, was appointed last year as acting chair of the computer science department.
Karpowitz said at the hearing that simply moving computer science from the College to the engineering school would not solve existing problems.
"THE MERGER will simply shift the scene of the problem," Prescott said.
Other speakers said the merger was logical and should be considered.
"This proposal makes sense because it combines how to build computers and studying how they work. Computing is important to the University of Kansas and to the United States," said Gary Minden, associate professor of ECE.
James Muyskens, dean of the College, said he did not favor the prospect of losing part of the College to the engineering school, but that the merger should be enacted.
"I think one of the biggest problems on this campus is we have different programs working on similar things and they pass each other like two ships in the night," he said.
Sam Shanmugan, Bell distinguished professor of ECE, said the ECE faculty in a written resolution voted 15-1 against the proposed merger in a meeting Monday.
"The liabilities of a partial or full merger far outweigh the potential benefits," the resolution says.
However, it says ECE and computer science could seek closer ties.
The committee will accept, reject or offer an alternative proposal to the Program Review recommendation in a report that will be sent to the Senate Executive Committee and to University Council later this semester.
The final report will be sent to KU Chancellor Gene Budig by May 4.