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The University of Akron Chapter |
American Association of University Professors

From The Akron-AAUP Newsletter: February 17, 2014

On Tuesday, February 4th, the University of Akron administration issued a memo to the Deans, the Faculty Senate, Chairs and Faculty, and the Akron-AAUP detailing its plans to close 55 programs. In the memo, it was asserted that the list of program closures came as a result of the 9 year long Academic Program Review process.

In stark contrast to the length of time taken to complete the Academic Program Review process, the administration has requested that Faculty Senate review the recommendations and provide a response by April 3rd. Students are already being advised that these programs may no longer exist, and in fact, they have been removed as options on the application for new, incoming students. This action was taken without a vote by Faculty Senate or the Board of Trustees.

We find this to be a violation of the principles of real shared governance.
Many faculty have expressed frustration with the way the APR itself has been conducted. Urgent requests for data and rationale came from the administration, faculty scrambled to compile information and make it fit spreadsheets and short-forms that did not allow the full story of a program’s value to the  university and community to be told. Long periods of waiting ensued. The faculty role in this has been limited from the start, and the lack of detail provided in the administration’s Sharepoint site only makes this painfully apparent.

Adding to the confusion, there have been two additional program review processes to the APR; an analysis and recommendation from the Graduate School (an analysis that included faculty age as one of its criteria), and another independent analysis with recommendations from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. It is not at all clear that the results of the three analyses are consistent with each other.

The administration has provided no documentation; we’re required to suspend disbelief and take a lot on trust.
A puzzling element is that some of the programs on the administration’s list for elimination made it through the APR process with positive recommendations and are, by many criteria, successful and relevant to the university’s mission. New programs have been slated for closure without having a chance to develop and thrive. Programs that were recently made fully online were recommended for suspension in spite of the fact that the administration has repeatedly called on faculty to create new online programs or convert existing programs to an online format.

Other programs that received a negative recommendation by the APR committee were not recommended for suspension. We are certainly not arguing that these be added to the list of possible closures, but they do render the recommendations of the administration all the more confusing.

When asked by Faculty Senate for a rationale, the administration provided a document that provided their “criteria” for the proposed closures. The rationales given were limited to “APR,” “Grad School” or both, raising more questions than were answered. Are there criteria that no one has been made aware of up till now? Are there priorities that have nothing at all to do with APR? Are there details that can be provided aside from “APR” that can shed light on this process? Is this an effort to advance the goals of Vision 2020, and if so, why don’t these program closures appear to align with any of those goals? Clearly, many questions remain, and the faculty deserve answers to such questions before a Faculty Senate vote.

Are there alternatives to closure?
Some of the identified programs may indeed be struggling, but as noted in our previous newsletter, the key to their success could be the investment on strategically placed full-time faculty positions, not automatic closure. At the very least, faculty should have the opportunity to improve their program’s performance by working with related disciplines to identify solutions to their problems. The loss of these programs will create ripple effects that will continue to impact the enrollment and success of other programs. There is no evidence in the document that these tangential effects have been considered. With falling enrollment, do we want to risk damaging healthy departments by closing the programs they rely upon?

Weren’t some of these closures recommended by the faculty themselves?
There may be programs identified in the APR that simply aren’t needed anymore. Indeed, some programs on the list have notations to signify that the faculty themselves have recommended the program be phased out. However, faculty in at least one of these programs did NOT recommend the program be closed, and they are surprised and disturbed to see the program on the list.

The administration has provided no data for consideration.
Details of potential cost savings of the closure of 55 programs have not been provided. Plans for redistribution and investment of possible savings to other programs have not been provided. A master plan of what our university will look like after these programs are closed has not been provided. We’ve seen no studies examining the potential impact on student enrollment. These data surely exist. Faculty have a need and a right to examine such plans in order to present the administration with a reasoned and fact-based response to what seems, in many instances, to be a list of arbitrary, ill-informed and inconsistent administrative decisions.

Faculty Senate needs time and information to perform its role.
Given what’s at stake here – the university’s falling enrollment and related budget problems, an upcoming HLC accreditation visit specifically examining shared governance and academic assessment, the upheaval caused by reassigning faculty into new departments and the impact this will have upon their merit and RTP performance, and the fact that the university is attempting to attract a new President and Provost–we ask that the Faculty Senate be given adequate time to complete their own, considered review of the administration’s proposal. It is also fundamental that they be given all relevant data and rubrics, including a rationale for why programs reviewed positively by the APR committee are now slated for closure.

Communication and Collaboration is the Key to Real Shared Governance.
The current debate is over the administration’s list of recommended closings of 55 programs. We’ll remind you that there are any number of other realignment /  reorganization moves being considered at the college level that may yet result in loss of program identity or departmental independence.
The faculty have a vested interest in the continuing success and growth of our university. We are confident that the administration is capable of working with faculty to ensure the success of our programs and the University as a whole. We are hopeful that they will consider our recommendations seriously, as they deserve to be, and that they will welcome a real dialogue between Faculty Senate, Akron-AAUP, and the administration to ensure the well being of the University of Akron.

What can you do?

Faculty have been invited to submit evidence in support of their program to the Academic Policies Committee of the Faculty Senate.
Rex Ramsier, chair of the APC, stated in a memo dated February 12th that “…the APC requests short written responses from the faculty in the departments/schools that offer the programs proposed for suspension. These responses should take one of two forms:  agree with the proposed suspension with a rationale, or disagree with the proposed suspension with a rationale.

If you are preparing a rationale, you should note that the administration has stated that the criteria used in deciding which programs to suspend included, but were not limited to, the following:

1. Demand for the program.

2. Completion rate.

3. Placement rate.

4. Level of research and scholarship.

5. Established or potential partnerships and collaborations.

6. Service unit for the campus.

7. Centrality to core mission of the University.

8. Alignment with institutional goals and objectives.

9. Contribution to the growth and viability of the department/school and the college.

Written submissions that address how these criteria, and any others the faculty think relevant apply to the program in question should be submitted to the APC. For example, how high is the demand for the program; if it is currently low, is there a reason to expect that it will increase soon?  How high is the completion rate?  If it is currently low, what steps have been or will be or could be taken to increase it, and what evidence is there that these steps will be effective?
In addition:

1. What would be the effect of suspension on other, continuing academic programs?

2. To what extent would suspension free up faculty time and other resources, which could be put to other uses?

These written submissions should be factual, specific, and well reasoned.

Rex Ramsier has also requested “input from faculty in any department/school that may be affected by the proposed suspensions, with an explanation of the potential impact.”

And: “APC requests proposals from faculty in any department/school concerning whether there should be programs – that they themselves offer – added to the list of suspensions that do not appear on the list presented to Faculty Senate.  A rationale should also be included.”
If your program will be affected by the closure of one of the 55 programs, please take this opportunity to speak up.

Further Reading

For a timeline of the 9 year long APR process, click HERE.

 For a verbatim transcript of the first Faculty Senate meeting to discuss the 55 program closures, click HERE.

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