MSU preaches a doctrine of transparency in a variety of its organizations, including the Alumni Foundation and the library. However, the state of the Cell Biology and Neuroscience (CBN) Department is murkier than ever.
The CBN department at MSU has been undergoing intense upheaval after the recent firing of department head Roger Bradley. Bradley was dismissed in a controversial affair with Provost Robert Mokwa in late January after a long period of strife between the CBN department and MSU administration. Today, the CBN department struggles with professors afraid of losing their jobs, students anxious about the future of their major, and a campus reeling with confusion.
Here’s the breakdown: In early November, the MSU administration presented Bradley with a plan to reorganize the CBN department into a School of Human Health and Biology. This plan, which would have eliminated the department’s graduate program and scientific research, was met with shock by Bradley. Bradley recognized that the proposed changes would eliminate all neuroscience (and by extension, much of the department’s raison d'être). As Bradley put it, “our research would go away, and that would be the death knell of our department.”
Bradley formed a counter-proposal to create a College of Biomedical Sciences, which would have preserved the CBN department and brought other biomedical departments under the same educational umbrella. Assistant to the Provost Julie Heard told Bradley not to discuss the plan with other department heads until the provost approved. However, Mokwa never informed Bradley about the status of his plan.
Instead, Mokwa sent out a campus-wide email that pinned the blame for the department’s restructure on Bradley and claimed that the new goal of the administration was to alter the doctoral program. In response, Bradley wrote a column in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle arguing for the need to preserve the CBN doctoral program and neuroscience research at MSU. He also submitted multiple plans to the administration to protect and improve the doctoral program.
When Bradley returned to campus after winter break, he was brought into a meeting with Mokwa and summarily removed from his position as department head. This move sparked outrage among the CBN faculty, who supported Bradley’s efforts. In a faculty press release, CBN professor Steve Stowers said, “Our voices have been silenced.”
Currently, the CBN department is in a state of limbo. While the undergraduate program will now be preserved, the doctoral program has been placed on moratorium. Mokwa cited the reason for this moratorium as the need for the department to “develop and present a plan for strengthening their doctoral program within its existing resources.”
If the doctoral program goes under, neuroscience research remains in danger. This could result in the loss of vital opportunities for undergraduate students to study upper-division electives and work in cutting-edge research labs, as well as drive faculty members and graduate students away from campus.
The CBN controversy blatantly flouts MSU’s professed desire for shared governance, in which students and faculty have a hand in managing departments. The proposed School of Human Health and Biology was a purely administrative concept forced upon the department from the top-down. It was never discussed with CBN faculty or students prior to being announced by Mokwa in December. Although faculty members repeatedly tried to meet with Mokwa to discuss the plan throughout December and early January, they were rebuffed each time.
While Mokwa has reopened communications with the department to work toward a stronger doctoral plan, these initial delays could sound more trouble on the horizon. Development of the doctoral program is intensely time-sensitive. Students who want to apply to the program are being prevented from doing so until the department and administration can agree on a new plan. If they are not allowed to enter the program, the CBN department will be unable to show growth, and the doctoral program will be scrapped.
Just like the CBN faculty, students were never fully informed on the department’s plans. Throughout November and December, students were left to navigate the murky waters of administrative changes on their own. While emails were released to MSU students, these communications often contained contradictory information that worsened the situation. Freshman Emma Sihler voiced her concerns as follows: “It is frustrating to receive vague and conflicting information from all sides. I feel that I at least would like to understand what is happening, because it is very pertinent to my own future.”
Unfortunately, the CBN controversy also reveals a depressing reversion from the inspiring motto of “Mountains and Minds” alongside a vibrant and dynamic campus, to the old “Education for Efficiency” beside a dreary, factory-style education focused on pumping out employees rather than well-rounded citizens. MSU’s administration has a responsibility to include students in their education to make the campus truly vigorous. If decisions are made simply from the top-down, students and faculty lose the opportunity to participate in their own educations and livelihoods. It’s a good old-fashioned throwback to the slogan of the American Revolution with a new twist: “No administration without representation.”