Moving UND department draws oppositionA historical move at the University of North Dakota is drawing opposition from professors. UND wants to move its history department from Merrifield Hall, its home for nearly 80 years, across the campus mall to O’Kelly Hall, the former home of communications faculty members.
GRAND FORKS (AP) — A historical move at the University of North Dakota is drawing opposition from professors.
UND wants to move its history department from Merrifield Hall, its home for nearly 80 years, across the campus mall to O’Kelly Hall, the former home of communications faculty members.
It is part of a restructuring that will dismantle the UND communications school if the Board of Higher Education approves. Some of its faculty members would be moved to Merrifield, closer to the English Department. Administrators hope to make the move this winter.
The history department has been in Merrifield Hall since it was built in 1929.
“People love Merrifield Hall,” said John La Duke, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “But when you move someone into a building, you have to move someone out.”
The College of Arts and Sciences has offered history and other displaced faculty such incentives as new paint, more shelf space and carpet for the offices in O’Kelly.
Gordon Iseminger, a longtime member of the history faculty and a Chester Fritz distinguished professor, said the move feels like punishment.
“I can’t believe, on a campus this size and with all the planners, there isn’t another way of doing this without moving the history department,” he said.
“I’ve been very distraught over this. Now, I’m angry.”
Kimberly Porter, who chairs the history department, said she is not particularly happy about the idea of moving.
“There’s something sentimental and iconic about Merrifield and history,” she said.
“But we’re part of a large institution, and in a large institution, fingers sometimes get pinched,” Porter said. “I much would prefer to remain in Merrifield, but I think the prospects for that are becoming dimmer.”
Iseminger has had an office in Merrifield Hall for 45 years.
“The key words (from administrators) have been ‘synergy’ and ‘adjacency,’” Iseminger said.
“But there is already a ‘synergy and adjacency’ here, in what history has with English, languages, religion and philosophy,” he said. “We are going to be poorer if we and our students no longer have that easy contact with faculty and students in the other humanities.”
Greg Weisenstein, a UND provost and vice president for academics, said that he understands Iseminger’s objections but said the move has been carefully thought out.
“We need to take into consideration how that faculty might be inconvenienced,” he said. “They’ve been in their offices for quite some time. But we had a history department before we had Merrifield Hall, so they moved at some time.
“And we have very good communications systems on campus — telephone, e-mail and fax,” he said, so it’s not as though history would lose all ties with colleagues in philosophy, languages and the other fields.”
La Duke, who also is a professor in the biology department, said history faculty members and students may “develop new synergies with geography” and other disciplines that will be history’s new neighbors in O’Kelly Hall.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said Friday he did not know how much the move would cost.
“It’s not a done deal. The board’s going to have to sign off on it,” he said.
At Merrifield Hall, one classroom holds maps and framed portraits of former history department leaders, including Elwyn Robinson, author of the 1966 “History of North Dakota,” and Orin G. Libby, often called “the father of North Dakota history.”
“It was in this building that Robinson and Libby made their careers,” Iseminger said.
“History is one of the university’s most productive and stable departments,” he said, “and it has only brought credit to the university while there has been turmoil and dissension in many other departments.
“But they needed 10 offices, and we have 10 offices.”