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Academic Council hears 2 proposals

Proposals for a new department and program greeted the Academic Council's new members for the 2002-2003 academic year at the group's meeting Thursday.

Faculty members presented proposals for the creation of a department of molecular genetics and microbiology and a doctoral program in bioinformatics and computational biology.

The plan for the merger of the departments of microbiology and genetics has been in the works for three years, said earth and ocean sciences professor Bruce Corliss. He said one of the main catalysts for the move was a 1999 external review that documented an absence in microbial pathogenesis research, as well as a small faculty, difficulty recruiting graduate students and internal division. The review also expressed concerns about the viability of a doctoral program without significant faculty recruitment.

"It's been three years since the report, and no action was taken during that three-year period, and we've lost some faculty," said Dr. Joseph Nevins, who will chair the new department. "With [new Dean of the School of Medicine Dr.] Sandy Williams, however, it has now become a priority."

Nevins, current chair of genetics, said the new department hopes to add nine faculty members and create four research centers in microbial pathogenesis, RNA biology, virology and molecular genetics.

Council members also heard a proposal by Vice Provost for Research James Siedow that called for the creation of a doctoral program in bioinformatics. Last year the University began a bioinformatics graduate certificate program, which currently enrolls 44 students.

The bioinformatics program is run by faculty from several different fields, mostly within biology, computer science and statistics.

The council will vote on both proposals at its May 9 meeting, and the Board of Trustees is expected to consider both at its May 12 meeting.

IN OTHER BUSINESS: The Council postponed a vote to change procedures in hearing harassment claims. Under the proposal, the number of members of the Harassment Grievance Board, which hears formal complaints, would decrease from 30 to 18, as the number of faculty members, non-faculty staff and students would each drop from 10 to six.

"We have only had two formal complaint hearings in the past six or seven years, and we met challenges in bringing so many faculty members together," said Cynthia Clinton, director of harassment prevention and special projects for the Office of Institutional Equity. The proposal, which will be considered at the May 9 meeting, would also lower the number of faculty members on harassment hearing panels from five to three.

The Council elected four new members to its executive committee. Ann Marie Pendergast, an associate professor in pharmacology and cancer biology, will serve a one-year term. Professor of Law Paul Haagen, Professor of Literature Kenneth Surin and Professor of Biomedical Engineering Barry Myers will all serve two-year terms.