Issues with Program Review and the Role of Faculty in Shared Governance at the University of Akron

I present the article that follows this introduction, which is taken from the newsletter of the AAUP chapter at the University of Akron, because what is occurring there now is certainly occurring elsewhere and would seem to be of considerable broader interest. The political endorsements of increasing enrollments in STEM programs and the resulting allocation of funding to reward such increases has had the not entirely coincidental effect of causing a sizable number of institutions to view this as an opportune time to cull “under-enrolled” programs, especially in the humanities, the social sciences, and education and human services.

What has been lost in the discussion of which disciplines lead to the most in-demand  and most highly paid positions is that most jobs in today’s economy, which is more than ever a service-based economy, require degrees in the humanities, the social sciences, and education and human services, and not in the STEM disciplines. Employment in these areas may not be as financially rewarding as employment in the STEM fields, but those degrees are, in terms of annual income, still worth two to three times what a high school diploma is worth, and the differences in income become even more pronounced at the back end of those working lives of those in both categories.

Indeed, it is worth noting that in July of 2012, Daniel Luzer contributed an article to the Washington Monthly titled “Even the Science Ph.D.s Are in Trouble.” Luzer cited several employment surveys showing that the constriction of employment opportunities in higher education had led to a glut of science doctorates in the private sector. I am not suggesting that the recipients of baccalaureate degrees in the STEM disciplines may necessarily face similar problems in finding suitable employment, but historically, enrollments in the STEM disciplines have been very low in comparison to enrollments in the humanities, the social sciences, and education and human services. The usual explanation/defense offered by the faculty in the STEM disciplines has been that their programs are more specialized and rigorous—that any effort to boost enrollments would almost inevitably lead to a dilution of standards. One wonders, then, how any increase in enrollments stimulated largely by a sudden political interest in expanding the number of graduates in those disciplines might impact those standards.

Finally, the common justification for escalating administrative salaries—especially the salaries of upper administrators—has been that there is a need to attract people with very flexible and innovative perspectives into such positions, people who can think outside the proverbial box. But when faced with any conflicting priorities, our administrators typically view everything in terms of either-or choices. Where are the innovative efforts to find unconventional ways to save some of these programs? For instance, instead of just suggesting, as a contributor to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s editorial page did in a recent op-ed, that the University of Akron’s theater program be killed and that the students interested in the program simply enroll at Cleveland State, why isn’t the University of Akron administration exploring some sort of cooperative program with Cleveland State or with Kent State and its large system of regional campuses? We keep hearing about the need for institutions to find innovative ways to work together and to share resources. But when bottom-line decisions are being made, those assertions seem always to ring hollowly—to be exposed as completely empty rhetoric. It is simply more expedient just to draw a line at some arbitrary number of majors and to cut any program that falls below that line.

Granted, I don’t know what firsthand and in detail what has been occurring at the University of Akron, but this article from the chapter newsletter makes it clear that whatever processes the university administration has employed to do its prolonged and repeatedly stalled program review, it has not sufficiently involved faculty—especially at the point when decisions were suddenly about to be made. If the administration had sufficiently engaged faculty, there would not be such an extended series of substantive complaints that are at least as much about the process as about the results of that process.


From The Akron-AAUP Newsletter: February 17, 2014

On Tuesday, February 4th, the University of Akron administration issued a memo to the Deans, the Faculty Senate, Chairs and Faculty, and the Akron-AAUP detailing its plans to close 55 programs. In the memo, it was asserted that the list of program closures came as a result of the 9 year long Academic Program Review process.

In stark contrast to the length of time taken to complete the Academic Program Review process, the administration has requested that Faculty Senate review the recommendations and provide a response by April 3rd. Students are already being advised that these programs may no longer exist, and in fact, they have been removed as options on the application for new, incoming students. This action was taken without a vote by Faculty Senate or the Board of Trustees.

We find this to be a violation of the principles of real shared governance. 

Many faculty have expressed frustration with the way the APR itself has been conducted. Urgent requests for data and rationale came from the administration, faculty scrambled to compile information and make it fit spreadsheets and short-forms that did not allow the full story of a program’s value to the  university and community to be told. Long periods of waiting ensued. The faculty role in this has been limited from the start, and the lack of detail provided in the administration’s Sharepoint site only makes this painfully apparent.

Adding to the confusion, there have been two additional program review processes to the APR; an analysis and recommendation from the Graduate School (an analysis that included faculty age as one of its criteria), and another independent analysis with recommendations from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. It is not at all clear that the results of the three analyses are consistent with each other.

The administration has provided no documentation; we’re required to suspend disbelief and take a lot on trust.

A puzzling element is that some of the programs on the administration’s list for elimination made it through the APR process with positive recommendations and are, by many criteria, successful and relevant to the university’s mission. New programs have been slated for closure without having a chance to develop and thrive. Programs that were recently made fully online were recommended for suspension in spite of the fact that the administration has repeatedly called on faculty to create new online programs or convert existing programs to an online format.

Other programs that received a negative recommendation by the APR committee were not recommended for suspension. We are certainly not arguing that these be added to the list of possible closures, but they do render the recommendations of the administration all the more confusing.

When asked by Faculty Senate for a rationale, the administration provided a document that provided their “criteria” for the proposed closures. The rationales given were limited to “APR,” “Grad School” or both, raising more questions than were answered. Are there criteria that no one has been made aware of up till now? Are there priorities that have nothing at all to do with APR? Are there details that can be provided aside from “APR” that can shed light on this process? Is this an effort to advance the goals of Vision 2020, and if so, why don’t these program closures appear to align with any of those goals? Clearly, many questions remain, and the faculty deserve answers to such questions before a Faculty Senate vote.

Are there alternatives to closure? 

Some of the identified programs may indeed be struggling, but as noted in our previous newsletter, the key to their success could be the investment on strategically placed full-time faculty positions, not automatic closure. At the very least, faculty should have the opportunity to improve their program’s performance by working with related disciplines to identify solutions to their problems. The loss of these programs will create ripple effects that will continue to impact the enrollment and success of other programs. There is no evidence in the document that these tangential effects have been considered. With falling enrollment, do we want to risk damaging healthy departments by closing the programs they rely upon?

Weren’t some of these closures recommended by the faculty themselves?

There may be programs identified in the APR that simply aren’t needed anymore. Indeed, some programs on the list have notations to signify that the faculty themselves have recommended the program be phased out. However, faculty in at least one of these programs did NOT recommend the program be closed, and they are surprised and disturbed to see the program on the list.

The administration has provided no data for consideration.

Details of potential cost savings of the closure of 55 programs have not been provided. Plans for redistribution and investment of possible savings to other programs have not been provided. A master plan of what our university will look like after these programs are closed has not been provided. We’ve seen no studies examining the potential impact on student enrollment. These data surely exist. Faculty have a need and a right to examine such plans in order to present the administration with a reasoned and fact-based response to what seems, in many instances, to be a list of arbitrary, ill-informed and inconsistent administrative decisions.

Faculty Senate needs time and information to perform its role.

Given what’s at stake here–the university’s falling enrollment and related budget problems, an upcoming HLC accreditation visit specifically examining shared governance and academic assessment, the upheaval caused by reassigning faculty into new departments and the impact this will have upon their merit and RTP performance, and the fact that the university is attempting to attract a new President and Provost–we ask that the Faculty Senate be given adequate time to complete their own, considered review of the administration’s proposal. It is also fundamental that they be given all relevant data and rubrics, including a rationale for why programs reviewed positively by the APR committee are now slated for closure.

Communication and collaboration is the key to real shared governance.

The current debate is over the administration’s list of recommended closings of 55 programs. We’ll remind you that there are any number of other realignment / reorganization moves being considered at the college level that may yet result in loss of program identity or departmental independence.

The faculty have a vested interest in the continuing success and growth of our university. We are confident that the administration is capable of working with faculty to ensure the success of our programs and the University as a whole. We are hopeful that they will consider our recommendations seriously, as they deserve to be, and that they will welcome a real dialogue between Faculty Senate, Akron-AAUP, and the administration to ensure the well being of the University of Akron.

What can you do?

Faculty have been invited to submit evidence in support of their program to the Academic Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate.

Rex Ramsier, chair of the APC, stated in a memo dated February 12th that “…the APC requests short written responses from the faculty in the departments/schools that offer the programs proposed for suspension. These responses should take one of two forms:  agree with the proposed suspension with a rationale, or disagree with the proposed suspension with a rationale.

If you are preparing a rationale, you should note that the administration has stated that the criteria used in deciding which programs to suspend included, but were not limited to, the following:

1. Demand for the program.

2. Completion rate.

3. Placement rate.

4. Level of research and scholarship.

5. Established or potential partnerships and collaborations.

6. Service unit for the campus.

7. Centrality to core mission of the University.

8. Alignment with institutional goals and objectives.

9. Contribution to the growth and viability of the department/school and the college.

Written submissions that address how these criteria, and any others the faculty think relevant apply to the program in question should be submitted to the APC. For example, how high is the demand for the program; if it is currently low, is there a reason to expect that it will increase soon?  How high is the completion rate?  If it is currently low, what steps have been or will be or could be taken to increase it, and what evidence is there that these steps will be effective?

In addition:

1. What would be the effect of suspension on other, continuing academic programs?

2. To what extent would suspension free up faculty time and other resources, which could be put to other uses?

These written submissions should be factual, specific, and well reasoned.

Rex Ramsier has also requested “input from faculty in any department/school that may be affected by the proposed suspensions, with an explanation of the potential impact.”

And: “APC requests proposals from faculty in any department/school concerning whether there should be programs – that they themselves offer – added to the list of suspensions that do not appear on the list presented to Faculty Senate.  A rationale should also be included.”

If your program will be affected by the closure of one of the 55 programs, please take this opportunity to speak up.

Further Reading

For a timeline of the 9 year long APR process, click HERE.

For a verbatim transcript of the first Faculty Senate meeting to discuss the 55 program closures, click HERE.

3 thoughts on “Issues with Program Review and the Role of Faculty in Shared Governance at the University of Akron

  1. Indeed, when one observes colleges and universities contemplating program closures of this magnitude in numbers, one understands that this we are in the death throes of the dominance of the credit-hour seat-time model of education. Rather than have faculty reinvent the university in a more personal and student-teacher centered manner, taking advantage of the many ways that learning opportunities can be delivered and assessed in the information age, instead the old model prevails, program “tubs” are expected to be on their own “bottoms,” and the administrative “solution” to financial and enrollment crises is to have fewer programs and fewer faculty.

    For shame. With the adoption of flexible performance models of learning, portfolio-based, rather than seat-time models of learning, universities might reinvent themselves in ways that address and overcome the age-old problems of varying learner speeds and styles in the same classroom — faculty could indeed become “guides on the side” rather than confined to the role of “sage on the stage.” And research and teaching learning experiences might become more integrated, more central to the advancement of knowledge as well.

    With apologies to Jean Anouilh and his “Becket”: this would require that the “honor” of the administration and the “honor” of the faculty become one in the service of students and the quest for truth. Becket’s response in Anouilh’s play: “That may take long.”

  2. Pingback: UA’s Program Review Gets National Attention | The Blog of The Akron-AAUP

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