Health Care Program Fuels Debate : Dominguez Hills Plan for Consolidation Raises Questions

Times Staff Writer

When Robert Detweiler assumes his post as the president of Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson next month, he will find a piece of unfinished business on his desk.

Detweiler, vice president for academic affairs at Cal State San Bernardino, will inherit a lingering debate over the future shape of Dominguez Hills’ professional health care programs. An advisory committee last year recommended that the programs be consolidated into one school.

But that idea is opposed by many in the university’s nursing program, which moved to the campus in 1987. They fear that their program could lose its autonomy.

Ira Schoenwald, who oversees the school’s well-regarded prosthetics and orthotics program and favors consolidation, thinks that the outcome of the debate is important.


‘New Directions’

“I think the fundamental question is whether Cal State Dominguez Hills is going to create new directions. . . . What we want to do is provide more opportunity,” Schoenwald said, “and I think we have a greater chance of doing it” by combining the programs.

The debate began in 1987, when the chancellor’s office decided to locate the administrative headquarters for the statewide nursing program at the school.

The highly successful--and unorthodox--program, which previously was not attached to any campus, has about 3,500 students scattered across California. They study at their own pace in classes at various hospitals and colleges.


According to Ralph Mills, an assistant vice chancellor for the Cal State system, the idea was to give Dominguez Hills, which has about 8,100 students and is the smallest Cal State campus in the Los Angeles area, a shot in the arm.

However, the chancellor’s office placed the program at the school with the caveat that Dominguez Hills would integrate the program into the university’s structure, thus ensuring that the program did not remain without a dean and not subject to the same academic procedures of other on-campus programs.

“There was always a fear that because it is such a different program . . . it would be isolated,” said Lee Kerschner, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Cal State system.

But just how the nursing program should become a part of the university is a matter of some dispute.


Force of Numbers

Judith Lewis, the program’s director, thinks that the vast number of students enrolled in the program justifies formation of a separate School of Nursing. No other Cal State campus has such a school.

Lewis also contends that the nursing program, which has 12 full-time and 200 part-time faculty members throughout the state, would forfeit some of its autonomy in determining curriculum if forced to become part of a larger school with competing departments.

But some faculty and administrators in professional health programs in the school’s clinical and health departments argue that more benefit would derive from combining the nursing program and their programs.


One reason, they say, is that the creation of various programs through the years has confused students and faculty about what program is housed in what department. They say separating nursing from the two existing departments would only add to the problem.

Array of Studies

For instance, the health sciences department prepares students to become physician assistants or to work in community health and health care management. The prosthetics and orthotics program, one of only 10 accredited ones in the nation, also is housed in the health sciences department. Another program in radiology technology is being developed.

In the clinical sciences department, students are offered programs in cyto, or cell, technology, nuclear and human genetic technology. The physician technologist program also falls within the department’s jurisdiction.


James Welch, head of clinical sciences, said that although he wants to discuss formation of a school with Detweiler before making a decision, he earlier supported a campus committee’s recommendation that a School of Health Care Professions be founded.

Joint Work

One reason he favored the idea was that an academic environment would be created where faculty members from the various programs could work jointly to attract new teachers and to secure research grants.

“It would also give the university a sort of niche in the marketplace,” he said.


Erna Wells, who chairs the Department of Health Sciences, said the department’s faculty, at the request of the university’s interim president, John Brownell, studied the issue and decided that it was best to house all the programs, including nursing, in one separate school.

Faculty members concluded that if such a school were formed, new programs could be developed “in a spirit of cooperation instead of competing with each other,” Wells said.

That is a view shared by Schoenwald, who believes that a new school would create a “center of excellence on campus” that would also bring the school prestige. “I think the real issue here is what the long-term future of the campus is about,” he said.

Brownell, who is retiring at the end of this month, also favors formation of a new school. Brownell’s recommendation to the chancellor’s office to create the school was put on hold until a new president could study the matter.


Brownell said he thinks that combining the school’s various professional health programs would create more interaction among students specializing in different fields.