Akron-AAUP and Faculty Senate Joint Response to Program Cuts Without Adequate Faculty Input

On August 15th, The University of Akron Board of Trustees announced that intends to cut 80 academic programs or program tracks. At the recommendation of Interim President Green and Vice President of Administrative Affairs Rex Ramsier, the Board voted unanimously to suspend and eventually close 10 PhD programs, 33 master’s programs, 20 bachelor’s programs and 17 associate’s programs. In his remarks to the Board of Trustees, President Green stated that these cuts were in keeping with Northeastern Ohio Regional Compact agreement, which aims to increase cooperation and efficiency among the region’s colleges and universities.

In order for the faculty to understand these recommendations in light of the Academic Program Review (APR) process, The University of Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors (Akron-AAUP) and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee believe it’s important for the entire faculty to realize what transpired last academic year, what the Academic Policies Committee (APC) recommended, and what the Faculty Senate ultimately approved at its May meeting.

The APR process included deans, department chairs/school directors, and bargaining unit faculty, including one Akron-AAUP representative. The full list of committee members can be found here. The majority of the faculty who served on this committee were appointed by their respective deans. You can find the full timeline here.

The Academic Policies Committee (APC) reviewed the APR documents and issued a report at the May 2018 Faculty Senate meeting. The APC did not recommend any program suspensions or any other program changes at the May meeting. The Senate did not vote to approve changes to any program as a result of APR.  

The Committee described several limitations of the APR process, including the ambitious timeline in which APR committee members were required to evaluate, discuss, and rate every active degree-granting program. What resulted was ranking of programs that APC described as a “point-in-time snapshot” that reflects years of under-investment in the academic mission, which in itself no doubt affected programmatic outcomes on metrics which primarily had to do with current and potential financial performance.

The Committee questioned whether this effort represents adequate shared governance, as it was a “considerable departure from the standard program-review process that is expected by the Higher Learning Commission.”

“Quality program reviews are not intended to be competitions for scarce resources that pit programs within a college against one another; rather, they are designed to be routine, robust examinations of the curriculum by faculty and administrators to ensure that the university’s academic mission is met.”

The APC report called for investments in tenure-track faculty.

“…Even though this report should not be used as the basis for making strategic decisions about the University’s curriculum, there are several themes that can and should be acted upon immediately. In a great majority of programs, the loss of full-time tenure-track faculty has become a serious problem… Focusing on programs singularly without investment in the larger academic enterprise will leave even our best-known degrees vulnerable.”

The Committee’s report also called for a renewed investment in graduate assistantships.

“Graduate assistants are valuable to both the undergraduate and graduate missions of the University…A long-term reduction in assistantships will only harm the University.”

The Committee concluded, “APC recognizes the economic challenges that the University is facing. Yet, cutting programs or allowing them to wither without careful consideration of the resulting academic impact will create far more significant challenges in the future.”

The APC recommended that APR be viewed as the beginning of a process, not the end and that curricular decisions should result from an open strategic planning process that actively involves faculty.

“When given the time to gather accurate data, assess student learning, and reflect upon the findings, program reviews can provide meaningful information for strategic planning and potential investment opportunities. APC recommends that this report be used as a starting point for a far more regularized, faculty-driven, thorough, and less hasty program review process.”

The Akron-AAUP  joins Faculty Senate in calling for a “standard,” faculty-driven review process that meets the Higher Learning Commission’s requirements for shared governance. A more thoughtful and detailed review process should inform institutional strategic planning, which in turn will help us to make critical curricular decisions in a way that will lead the University in a positive direction. Faculty Senate must play a significant role in this process. Strategic planning is long overdue, and the process should begin immediately. In fact, the Faculty Senate Ad-hoc Strategic Planning Committee has already begun its work, and we encourage the Administration to work cooperatively with this committee and other constituencies on this process in the spirit of transparency and real shared governance.

The Akron-AAUP and Faculty Senate share the Administration’s concern about the University’s financial well-being, and we believe that the path to academic excellence and financial sustainability can best be achieved cooperatively, with active faculty input and involvement.

For those of our colleagues who lost their programs, please know that we stand with you today, as always. This is a challenging time for our campus, and we know morale is low. Please know that your representatives on Faculty Senate and Akron-AAUP will continue to work on your behalf.

Sincerely,

Pamela A. Schulze

President, Akron-AAUP

Linda Marie Saliga

Acting Chair, Faculty Senate