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University Of Akron Faculty Push Back On Program Cuts

Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:30 AM

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Last week's proposal by the University of Akron to eliminate as many as 55 academic programs caught many faculty members by surprise. From Public Radio Station WKSU, Jeff St. Clair reports that some instructors are hoping to convince the administration to rethink phasing out 'their' programs.

The list of programs that could get the ax ranges from theater to physics, and includes two-year degrees all the way to PhD’s.

Kevin Feldt teaches marketing and sales in the university’s two year technical college. He says news that four of his degree programs would be cut came almost without warning.

“I saw it on the news this afternoon, but I got an email yesterday.”

Part of his shock stems from how his department is organized.

“To have a department of business technology and not have a marketing program is absurd to me.  It’s a core business program.”

Perhaps hardest hit by the proposed cuts is the education department. Fourteen of its degree programs are on the list, including masters and PhD programs in elementary and secondary education, foreign language, and education theory.

Tim Lillie teaches curriculum studies in the college of education.  He says the list the administration put out falsely implies the faculty had voted to end some programs

“When in fact they had wanted to do was to suspend admissions to fix the program. That’s what surprised me because I didn’t expect that kind of misunderstanding.”

Now, he says, the only thing to do is rally the troops in his department to defend some of the programs in danger of closing.

“What we have to do is to say, ‘look guys we need to get together and we need to figure out how to address this,’ and to do it quickly.”

Another area facing suspension is the bachelor’s and master’s in theater.  Jim Slowiak represents one third of that department’s faculty.  And he acknowledges fewer students are completing the program.

“I can see that things can’t go on as they are.  I understand numbers and our numbers are small.”

But Slowiak says theater, and some of the other programs on the list to be cut, serve Akron’s large population of part-time students who are balancing school and work, and who may be the first in their family to go to college.

“And I think that’s something we can’t lose sight of, that that is the kind of student that we need to embrace.”

But University of Akron Provost Mike Sherman says many of the 55 academic programs on the list to be phased out don’t support the university’s goal of employment upon graduation.

“Many of these programs do not have that connectivity to jobs and that’s one of the major considerations for making such decisions.”

And Sherman says trimming some of the school’s offerings allows the university to focus on programs it sees as ripe for investment.

“And really academic program review is about reallocation and moving dollars across the institution so that one can put dollars where more dollars are needed.”

The list of programs for suspension – the stick - is half of a review process that will eventually include enhancements, the carrot, but Sherman says those priorities won’t be revealed until next year.

Right now the faculty senate has eight weeks to come up with arguments for which programs it feels should be saved, and which ones might be better off fading away.

The University Board of Trustees will make its decision in April.

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Education, StateImpact Ohio

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