Professor Stuart Rugg, the chair of the kinesiology department, is retiring — probably at the end of the next school year, he said. According to Rugg, three other faculty also left the department last year, putting the future of the kinesiology major into question.
According to Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Wendy Sternberg, assessing the future of the kinesiology program is not a crisis, and no current students will have to find a new major.
“I think the most important thing for the students to know is that any student that’s here now that wants to major in kinesiology absolutely can, and we will continue to teach the kinesiology curriculum as long as there are any students here that started at Occidental while we had a kinesiology curriculum,” Sternberg said. “Even if the faculty decides [in] 2023, ‘Yes, let’s discontinue the kinesiology program,’ that won’t actually happen for at least three years.”
Rugg said students have told him they were interested in the kinesiology major but expressed concern the department was going to close.
“So I guess what you’ve all heard, and rightfully so is, is it going to be dismantled? Is it going to be decommissioned? Is it going to be closed? It depends on who you speak to,” Rugg said. “I’m not going to embrace that it’s going to be dismantled yet.”
Rugg said although the future of the department has yet to be determined, the school still has a guarantee for current kinesiology majors.
“Anybody who’s declared kinesiology right now is guaranteed to be able to graduate with a kinesiology degree whether I’m here or not,” Rugg said. “But then the question becomes, do we remain as, quote, kinesiology? Or does it become an integral part of maybe a specialty under the umbrella of a public health major, something like that.”
Rugg said after he leaves, all the three tenure track faculty will have left the department.
“The goal of the college, and it’s not just unique to Occidental, is to try to get as many tenure track faculty to form a department,” Rugg said. “With my going, all T-3, or tenure track positions will be gone. That’s what opens the door for, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to decommission the major.’”
Rugg said he is hopeful about the kinesiology major continuing long-term.
“We do have Dr. Chris Berger who is a brand new hire this year. He’s a physiologist very enthused about continuing the tradition of kinesiology. And Dr. Kirk Bentzen who is a physical therapist who does quite a few of our classes; he would love to see it continue,” Rugg said. “And I really do think that it has promise.”
Rugg said after he leaves, Occidental would need to hire at least one more faculty member to sustain the department. According to Rugg, the future of the kinesiology department has to do with the broader task of hiring new faculty on campus.
“When we leave and our T-3 position is going with us, so to speak, they don’t automatically rehire someone in a T-3 position to fill that. It’s as though those T-3 potential slots go into a big pool, and then they look across the entire campus,” Rugg said. “Is there another department that may also need more growth? Or is there more interest from students based on where we are now?”
According to Sternberg, evaluating the future of the major is natural. Sternberg said the Occidental faculty as a whole determine what programs the school offers, and these conversations about the kinesiology department are just beginning.
“This is now the moment where we have to decide, ‘Well, what’s next?’” Sternberg said. “It’s always tricky to get started on these conversations, and none of it’s a secret, but this is just part of long-term academic planning.”
Rugg said having a kinesiology department sets Occidental apart from other schools.
“I still think all of us would prefer that the name kinesiology survives,” Rugg said.
According to kinesiology major Olivia Haga (senior), everything she has heard about the changes in the kinesiology department has come from classmates.
“I think it might have been the beginning of last semester when there were some rumors about Professor Raney leaving, because then there were kind of starting to be a ton of classes that aren’t going to be able to be taught anymore,” Haga said. “The opinion of students seems to be like, ‘Oh, the kines department is falling apart.’”
Haga said her senior comprehensives have not been affected because there are still enough professors to make up for who has left. However, according to Haga, the exodus of professors within the department has impacted the classes that are offered to students.
“Motor Learning [and Control] last semester had to be taught by a professor who kind of got it thrown upon him, because the professor who was previously teaching it decided to leave,” Haga said. “To be honest, I think the quality of that class was lessened because, and it wasn’t any fault of that professor who was teaching it, because he kind of had to throw things together in order to teach it.”
According to Haga, students seem to be confused about the future of the kinesiology department.
“I don’t know what the plan is right now for continuing the kines department,” Haga said. “I have a teammate, because I’m on the soccer team, who was asking me about like, ‘Is the kines department going to continue being a thing, would I be able to major in it?,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not sure.’”
Contact Olivia Correia at firstname.lastname@example.org.