MU tightens belt, releases more program evaluation data

State coordinating board extends deadline for information on low-performing programs
Monday, October 11, 2010 | 8:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:58 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 12, 2010

COLUMBIA — MU is taking immediate steps to alleviate its financial woes.

In a memo to deans last week, MU Provost Brian Foster announced several interventions and released a table containing a wide range of data measuring various facets of faculty and department productivity.

Despite funding concerns, Foster wrote on his website that MU has no plans to eliminate existing positions.

But he added that "business as usual is no longer an option at MU," and listed the following restrictions that have been implemented to mitigate "daunting" financial challenges:

  • A freeze on new hiring requests for positions that are not already approved. It will remain in place at least until budget hearings are completed in November.
  • A freeze on approval of new programs.
  • A freeze on creating new centers and institutes, unless they are entirely grant-funded.

Program reviews

The table of data that Foster released includes 32 assessment measures, such as the average annual number of credits taught by faculty in a program and the percentage of credits taught in a department to students outside that degree.

The data provide deeper insight than MU's original list of low-producing programs, which took into account only the number of students graduating from a program. However, many programs perform well in some categories and below average in others, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions.

The marketing department, for example, has been flagged for falling short of a provision requiring faculty members to be assigned at least 12 section credits or 180 student credit hours per academic year. However, the department also has low direct expenses per student credit hour and high teaching productivity.

The theater department has produced an average of 1.7 doctoral graduates per year from 2008 to 2010. But the doctoral program scores above average on a faculty scholarly productivity index and is ranked 8th among 30 programs nationally included in its discipline grouping.

MU Deputy Provost Ken Dean said it is difficult to measure individual programs on the same criteria and added that because the data measure only the activity of faculty on the tenure track, it might not accurately reflect a program’s productivity.

In his memo, Foster said the various factors "must be considered together, since they all interact in profoundly complicated ways."

To address MU’s resource challenges, he suggested deans consider the following measures:

  • Combine degree programs.
  • Combine organizational units such as departments, colleges and centers.
  • Adjust faculty teaching assignments.
  • Consider new marketing strategies to increase program enrollments.
  • Collaborate with other departments, universities and corporate partners.
  • Restructure management systems.

Deans must provide a preliminary, formal report regarding suggested action to Foster by Wednesday.

Dean said that MU will respond to the deans' reports the following week and that the process is intended to trigger discussion.

The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education extended its original Oct. 21 deadline for colleges and universities to submit recommended actions for low-producing programs, Dean said. He anticipates the new deadline will fall near the end of the month.

The deans' final input must be submitted to the provost's office on Nov. 1.

Thomas Payne, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, said it is premature to determine what to do with the data.

He said the College of Agriculture is weighing all the data included in the table, but he added that it contains errors and needs to be corrected. Several programs that are already being phased out were incorrectly incorporated, he said.

Payne said he felt the process had people more worried than necessary.

"This (evaluation process) is something that we as a college go through on a continuing basis," he said. "This is just another day in the life of our college."

Faculty Council Chairwoman Leona Rubin emphasized that faculty scholarship — such as research and published works — as well as service measures are important to consider when evaluating a program.

“Teaching is not the only thing we do, but it seems to be the only thing that gets measured,” she said.

Rubin, a biomedical sciences professor, said that if her department were to merge with another, it could potentially result in a better, larger program. Combining degrees, though, would be complicated, she added.

"The complaint that I’ve heard pretty consistently (from faculty) is that this is an unreasonable time frame to do something this complex," she said.

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Ellis Smith October 12, 2010 | 7:45 a.m.

Deans? MS&T used to have those folks. How did they reorganize? Maybe some enterprising reporter should come to Rolla and find out. Contrary to what you may have heard, we don't bite. (We are a little scary.)

At MS&T Metallurgical Engineering and Ceramic Engineering have been merged into a single department called Materials Science. However, the separate ABET-approved degree programs remain the same. The department chair is deliberately alternated between the two disciplines. This combined department is the most prolific producer of research on the campus, even though the number of students is modest.

I agree that the time frame for the evaluation exercise is too short, BUT THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE A LONG TIME AGO, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF FUNDING PROBLEMS.

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