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A review of the UA American Indian Studies program may be business as usual, but the resulting report raises issues

While a recent academic program review of the UA American Indian Studies program highlights internal issues that have troubled the department the past few years, according to one administrator the report is part of a review process occurring with many departments on campus that occurs every seven years.

The report, issued to Andrew Comrie, UA senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, on Monday, Jan. 13 was put together by a group of academics affiliated with the UA and other universities, as part of a routine review process conducted by the provost office.

Besides the AIS program, 19 other departments that received reviews include Atmospheric Sciences, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Communication, Dance, Disability and Psychoeducational Studies, Educational Policy Studies and Practices, Gender and Women's Studies, Geography and Development, Geosciences, German Studies, Landscape Architecture and Planning, Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Nutritional Sciences, Physiology, Planetary Science/LPL, Russian and Slavic Studies, Systems and Industrial Engineering, and Theatre, Film and Television.

According to Andrew Carnie, interim dean of the UA Graduate College, each year a different group of departments get an academic review. Thirty to 40 reviews are done a year with the goal being to improve departments and increase academic excellence. Past issues the Tucson Weekly heard regarding the AIS program are purely coincidence, Carnie said.

What follows is a written response from the department, a meeting with the department representatives and the provost, and then another report to the Arizona Board of Regents. However, the review and other correspondence are considered confidential, Carnie said, which is why he was unable to elaborate on the AIS review.

The source who provided a copy of the review to the Weekly mentioned issues that were first raised in 2011 when we wrote about the AIS program severing its relationship with Red Ink magazine, considered the only student-run Native American magazine in the country (See "The Break Up," August 11, 2011).

Back then there were complaints from some Native American students that a graduate-assistantship position was always going to non-Native students when equally qualified Native students were passed up. Complaints and concerns, students said, weren't addressed well and they felt dismissed.

The report on the AIS program, prepared by a seven-member committee of academic representatives from the UA, other universities, the community and alumni, discussed some of these concerns and other issues in a seven page report. The committee met with stakeholders on campus for two full days, concluding that "the important work of AIS should continue, but that it must do so with full recognition of changes in the field, the university, and the circumstances of American Indians and other indigenous communities."

The department, according to the report is at a "crossroads," and in need of internal restructuring and that internal professional disagreements may be hampering efforts to address issues within the program. One of the challenges that need to be addressed is a perception that the program is in a state of crisis. Discussion needs to begin on faculty attrition and cultivating new leadership. Curriculum also needs to be restructured, streamlined and better integrated.

"Students also observe that, despite the wide range of AIS courses on the books, they frequently need to go to other units for course offerings, and that courses that should be keystones of their study in the program, such as theory and research methods courses, often vary widely in their content from year to year," the report states. "Concerted effort towards defining a consistent core curriculum with attention to these areas appears to be necessary."

However, there are five specific issues outlined in the report:

The program has a crisis in its culture and governance. Divisions exist between faculty members and there is a lack of confidence on the part of the faculty. This is not attributable to current leadership, but a history of divisions and challenges.

There is little evidence the AIS program is being responsive to changes in the directions and processes of the UA. "AIS instead appears to be ignoring the implications of fiscal and administrative restructurings that it cannot escape, in ways that can only be detrimental to its own interests."

The report states that there is no evidence AIS is exploring possibilities for interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations.

There are significant staffing challenges due to the lack of key faculty retention, the retirement of senior scholars and the impending retirement of core faculty. Competitive, national searches need to take place.

There is a need for comprehensive revision of course offerings.

The review committee also recommended that a new AIS department be created and located within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. To retain masters and PhD programs as graduate interdisciplinary program similar to others at the UA need to be created, which would allow for a wide interdisciplinary reach.

The report addresses relationship building. "Tribal national, American Indian communities and organizations serving them all expressed dissatisfaction in their relations with both the AIS program and with the UA."

"This is a clear sign that substantial changes need to occur if AIS at Arizona is to rebuild effectively."

Further in the report, on resources and personnel, the review committee recommends an orderly transition to new leadership in the years ahead, the need for mentoring junior faculty, the need to address equity—distribution of salaries between male and female faculty, and an increase in support of students, particularly increasing research and teaching assistant opportunities for graduate students.

The report closed reiterating the importance and long history of the program at the UA as a "flagship program for the field."

"AIS should continue to carry that status forward, even as the specific arrangements of its structure and placement change in response to changing circumstances in the discipline, the university and the larger social context."

More by Mari Herreras

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