MU faculty criticize state mandate to reconfigure programs

Friday, November 19, 2010 | 5:55 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — An MU administrator told faculty and students at a small forum Thursday afternoon that the ongoing review of its degree programs is "political" and leaves university administrators with a difficult balancing act.

MU needs to respond effectively to the state’s mandate to reconfigure "low-producing" degree programs while minimizing damage, Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies, told the group.

“What we’ve got to do is try and position ourselves where we can reach the best compromise,” he said.

That requires university administrators to balance their responsibilities to faculty, the University of Missouri System and the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education, Spain said.

The university must submit a report with suggestions for eliminating or realigning programs to the state by Dec. 31.

The state’s criteria identifies a program as low-producing if it fails to graduate at least 10 students per year at the bachelor's level, five at the master's level and three at the doctoral level, averaged over a three-year period.

Twenty-eight from an original list of 75 low-producing programs at MU are being scrutinized, according to a report released by Chancellor Brady Deaton on Nov. 1.

Both faculty and the MU administration have criticized the state’s criteria as simplistic. Several faculty members said Thursday that the value of a program doesn't carry weight in the current process.

“We need to get our programs up above those thresholds because it doesn’t matter how we count or what we define as productive,” said nutrition and exercise physiology professor Tom Thomas. “We’re going to be back in this room again (in the future) if you’re not above 10, five and three.”

He suggested that perhaps MU should “play (the state’s) game a little bit.”

Geography professor Matt Foulkes said the political objective of reducing the number of programs and the educational goal of evaluating programs to strengthen them were “mutually incompatible.”

“It’s hard to rally around (this process) when everyone knows the goal is to reduce a number,” he added.

Foulkes said he felt a lack of transparency from administrators had frustrated faculty during the process. He said he understood that administrators couldn’t discuss some matters in the public sphere, but he said administrators hadn’t clearly communicated who was driving the agenda and calling the shots.

Several faculty members wanted to push back against the mandate.

“I don’t understand why every now and then you just don’t dig your heels in,”  Thomas said.

“Can we not ever do the right thing?” he asked. “Does it always have to be the political thing?”

Although they were upset about the looming deadline, faculty said the process of evaluating programs to identify areas for improvement is a good practice. However, they said rushing the process to meet a political mandate could hurt the quality of education offered by MU.

While various possibilities for realigning programs were discussed during the forum, faculty struggled to come up with viable solutions. Both administrators and faculty have said the small programs placed on the list shouldn’t have to face the reconfiguration process in isolation and larger programs should be brought into the discussion.

But Foulkes said it would be “stupid” for larger programs to commit to anything in such a short time frame without being forced.

“Everybody likes their program. No one’s going to want to change their program unless they’re forced to,” he said. “You can’t get away from the list.”

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Ellis Smith November 20, 2010 | 6:10 a.m.

It appears that while many of us - including alumni who are not System faculty - are less than enamoured with this mandate, THOSE WHO ARE MOST VOCAL APPEAR TO BE THOSE WHO WERE CAUGHT "FLATFOOTED" WHEN THE MANDATE APPEARED.

Why were they caught "flatfooted"? Mein Gott in Himmel, did everyone think this "expansionistic" phase was going to go on forever? Apparently so.

As a taxpayer I am disgusted (I feel "used"). Have our state institutions of higher learning NO sense of restraint? Apparently not, although it's beginning to look as if there may have been varying degrees of restraint.

It's one of those facts of life: If you can't manage your affairs then sooner or later someone is going to manage them for you!

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