Discussions of MU Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute future have new timeline

Thursday, April 5, 2012 | 5:10 p.m. CDT; updated 5:46 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 5, 2012

COLUMBIA — Faculty and administrators are working together to determine what the structure of  the MU Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute will become.

The institute was dissolved on March 15, a move affecting about 70 faculty, staff and students. A week later at the Faculty Council meeting, Sudarshan Loyalka, curators' professor of nuclear science and engineering, pictured at left, announced that the dissolving was on hold

When the decision to dissolve the institute was announced, there was an uproar from a number of faculty and students affected by the change. The main concerns were that a decision was made without faculty input and that the change was occurring too quickly.

The original plan set out to:

  • move the tenure homes of the four professors who were part of the institute to various colleges.
  • move the research component of the institute to the MU Office of Research.
  • create a new academic program under the Graduate School that focused on nuclear science.

George Justice, dean of the Graduate School, said these goals remain the same, but the timing and process of the restructuring has changed. Originally the new academic program was set to have a concrete plan and a new director by July 1.

“I think we’ve determined that the July 1 date is probably too ambitious to have a program up and running,” Justice said.

Consulting faculty

Since the decision to slow down the restructuring process, faculty and administrators have had several meetings to discuss how the restructuring will be handled.

Loyalka said that the meetings have been productive, but that there are still several topics up for discussion. He said it was too early to discuss what decisions had been made because there was still a chance these could change.

Under the new plan, Justice said, the institute will continue under the current name for students who are already enrolled in the institute or have been admitted to the program for fall 2012.

Justice said, “Continuity is important." Therefore, if there is not a well-planned program ready by fall 2013, administrators will consider continuing the operation of the institute into the 2013 school year, he said.

What the players want to see

Justice said the faculty members involved have been proactive in their attempts to find new tenure homes and develop a plan for the new academic program.

Loyalka said he is optimistic that a solution can be reached. He hopes the restructuring process will be a “constructive exercise” that can use the strengths of the current professors and classes to help the current program expand rather than one that will get rid of it. 

"I really want us to build on all of those things, not do anything that hurts any of these efforts," Loyalka said.

Loyalka and Veera Rajesh Gutti, a post-doctoral student in nuclear engineering, both said they would like to see the program expand to collaborate with more universities.

Currently the institute has a medical physics program that collaborates with Washington University in St. Louis. Gutti said this collaboration has been successful and helped the institute’s medical physics program earn accreditation. The institute has other collaborative efforts as well, but Loyalka said the institute could still benefit from more. 

Loyalka also said he would like to see collaborative efforts not only with other universities, but also other professors at MU. At the same time, he would like to make sure the professors currently associated with the institute continue to play a large role in the academic program because they have helped the institute be successful in the past. 

"The NSEI, in fact, is very successful with an extramural competitive funding of about $2 million per year with just four regular faculty, and an enrollment of about 65 graduate students," Loyalka said. "We want to see that that expertise is well used and we build upon that expertise."

Justice agrees that building a strong academic program is important, but he said the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute will eventually be dissolved, leaving a new academic program housed in the Graduate School but organized and taught by various professors at MU.

"We want to enhance nuclear engineering while, at the same time, pursue a restructuring plan for the Graduate School that allows us to do what we do best," Justice said. 

For Justice, what the Graduate School does best is oversee academic programs, but not house faculty tenure.

What students think

Since the hold has been put in place, students, alumni and faculty are less worried about the future. 

MU and institute alum Ryan Meyer was among the students and alumni who wrote letters protesting the initial plan to dissolve the institute. He said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the institute's future.

He said the decision to change the plan for restructuring is good, but he worries past decisions may hinder the process to reach compromises about the future of the program.

“I do view that (the hold) as positive,” he said. "But I do think in some sense there’s already been some damage done.”

Gutti said he was happy that the students’ voices were heard and that the administrators have decided to slow down the process. He said he doesn’t mind discussions to improve the institute.

Gutti said the hold is the best solution to the original problems students had with the plan — that decisions were made too quickly and without faculty consent.

Although he wishes the administration would have consulted students and faculty in the first place, Gutti said the hold was what students hoped for when they protested the decision to dissolve the institute. 

“That’s (the hold) the best thing that would actually happen,” Gutti said.

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