Under the knife

Systemwide audit forces review of MU departments; elimination or consolidation could be in the near future
Thursday, October 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:07 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Tom Thomas of MU’s exercise physiology program said it needs help — not elimination or consolidation.

Exercise physiology is one of six degree programs and two departments at MU targeted for a viability audit. The audit is looking for ways to merge, close or leave alone programs that cost more than similar programs do at other universities, generate a low number of credit hours or graduated fewer than 10 students last year.

“It’s always a blow to be singled out when you think you’re being very productive,” said Thomas, a nutritional sciences professor. “But there are some good things that can come out of this.”

Justifing their merits

The audit was initiated at the UM system level for its four campuses to make the most of its resources. The state has cut $158 million from the system’s general operating budget in the past three years. Systemwide, 48 programs and departments will be audited. Each campus is conducting its own review.

The overall reaction of MU’s audited programs and departments is one of surprise, followed by a determination to justify their merits. Thomas, for example, pointed to state health trends to explain Missouri’s need for a graduate program in exercise physiology, which studies the relationship between exercise and overall health.

“Missourians are the seventh most inactive in the country, fifth in cardiovascular disease and in the top quartile for Type II diabetes,” he said. “Our state is leading the country in the disease-related effects of inactivity. That’s where exercise physiology fits in — we’re training students to go out and try and reverse that trend.”

Henry White, a professor in the physics and astronomy department, said his department has graduated students who have gone on to become prominent physicists. The program under review is the bachelor’s degree in physics.

“James Ferguson graduated from our department,” White said. “He is now in the Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the liquid crystal display.”

Flat-screen televisions, watch faces and computer screens all have LCD components.

White also emphasized the essential role of physics in other sciences.

“If you take away physics, you take away progress in other sciences,” he said. “Physics made a major contribution to biology by outlining the protein structure of DNA.”

Planning presentations for spring

Department and program leaders such as Thomas and White have been asked to develop committees that will prepare formal responses and assemble documentation to present to the Program Viability Audit Committee.

“We know they really want to get started,” said Lori Franz, vice provost for undergraduate studies who is overseeing the audit for MU.

The affected programs and departments are: master’s and doctoral degrees in art history and archaeology; bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy; doctoral degrees in theater; master’s and doctoral degrees in exercise physiology; the department of entomology and the department of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

The official criteria and outline for the audit will be given to the programs and departments on Dec. 15, but they have been provided a list of criteria with which to begin their work. Department responses are due in the form of presentations to be made in the spring. Then, the audit committee will make recommendations to Chancellor Richard Wallace, and Wallace will make final calls about changes.

Telling the whole story

Thomas said he already spends 20 percent of his time gathering information for the audit.

“Our goal is to be enhanced,” he said.

The exercise physiology program, part of the nutritional sciences department, has graduated 25 students since 1996. However, Thomas maintains that numbers don’t tell the whole story and that the program is a viable part of MU.

“It’s not a huge number — but they’re very productive. They’re going out into fitness communities to try and change lifestyles so that we’re healthier,” he said. “Missouri needs us. We are the only graduate human exercise physiology program in the state.”

In addition, Thomas said, the graduate exercise physiology program supports 150 nutrition and fitness undergraduates. He advises 40 students within the nutrition and fitness program (also part of the nutritional sciences department) and teaches two undergraduate classes.

“I maintain that the graduate exercise physiology program costs the university nothing because they have to have us anyway for the undergraduate nutrition and fitness program,” he said.

White said he thinks that the physics department was selected for the low number of students in its bachelor’s program.

“We currently have about 10 students, but we would like more,” he said. “We hope to triple that number.”

White said that although his department does not mind being reviewed — it frequently reviews itself — he does fear the effects the audit will have on current and potential students.

“This is self-inflicted harm by the university,” he said. “It scares away students, and it destroys something we’ve worked very hard to build.”

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