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Nov. 18, 2010 Volume 32, No. 13

With website and forums, MU seeks consensus on review of degree programs


List of cuts, consolidations are due to state Dec. 31

Administrators and faculty at the University of Missouri are stepping up their efforts to reach a consensus on how to meet a state mandate to review under-producing degree programs.

This week, MU officials launched an online discussion board and announced a series of forums they hope will lead to agreement about which programs could be cut or realigned and how some smaller programs might be combined with others.

The university has until Dec. 31 to submit an updated report to the Missouri Department of Higher Education, or MDHE, which has ordered the state’s public colleges and universities to review degree programs that graduate, on average, fewer than 10 undergraduates, five masters and three doctoral students per year. The department has identified 75 programs that fit the criteria. In an October report to MDHE, the university recommended no action on 35 of those programs, including a handful of degrees that use resources from other departments and are considered low-cost.

Five programs, including two specialist degrees in the College of Education that have no students, have been identified for possible elimination. Administrators have promised to update that list by the end of the year to reduce the total number of degrees offered by 12.

In an interview Tuesday, MU Provost Brian Foster acknowledged widespread anxiety about the program review, which many faculty members fear will lead to job cuts and reductions in department budgets. But he said that while MDHE’s goal is to save money, any future realignment of degree programs is not going to produce “a red cent in new savings” for MU.

Foster noted that the university has already saved millions of dollars in the past few years by freezing salaries, keeping open positions unfilled and consolidating administrative offices, he said. The review is an opportunity for MU to “address the negative impact of the savings we’ve already achieved,” he said, while increasing the university’s competitiveness at a time when higher education is struggling to reconcile growing enrollments with declining resources.

“I hate to talk about cutting programs, and we’re not thinking of it that way,” he said.

Foster said the program review is not about cutting “content areas,” nor is it about degree productivity at MU. “That’s the term MDHE has used,” Foster said, “but I don’t think of it that way. We’re not going to cut content areas in geological sciences, for example. That would make no sense. It serves a big part of the university, and it’s a critical discipline.”

He added, “We need to be creative in thinking about how we’re going to reconfigure our programs, how we’re going to structure them and how we’re going to adapt when our resource base and other concerns make it impossible to do business as usual.”

Foster said he understands faculty concerns that the Dec. 31 deadline imposed by MDHE might not allow for adequate discussion before the university commits to eliminating programs. But he said failure to meet that deadline is not an option, and he urged faculty to apply their knowledge toward helping formulate a strategy.

“Any realignment of the academic structure has to come from the faculty, because they are the only ones who understand the disciplines,” he said.

The online discussion forum, which was made available to faculty yesterday, was first proposed at a meeting last week attended by Foster, MU Chancellor Brady J. Deaton and about 100 faculty members. The site has been set up to allow participants to define “threads” for discussion, such as a specific program alignment, as well as to take part in a broader discussion of the review process.

The site, at, is restricted to the MU community and can only be accessed from the MU network or via VPN services.

MU Faculty Council Chair Leona Rubin said the six scheduled forums, which begin today, will be led by faculty members who have experience with degree consolidation efforts in several academic areas, including journalism and natural resources. Calling the state’s deadline “incredible,” Rubin said the forums are aimed at engaging faculty so administrators do not ultimately determine which programs are cut or consolidated.

“Administration might have an idea about who can be combined with whom, but at the same time you can’t have them be heavy-handed and say, ‘This is what we think should happen,’” she said.

Rubin said the issue is complicated by the fact that, while MU has added and cut programs before, those reviews were of a much smaller scale and not part of a comprehensive effort ordered by the state. “You need to teach people how to do this stuff, and we don’t have much time to teach people how to do it,” she said.

Indeed, many faculty and department chairs are still trying to understand the scope of the MDHE mandate and how the consolidation of programs will be carried out, said Michael Urban, associate professor of geography and chair of the Graduate Faculty Senate. Academic departments are always looking for ways to improve the degree programs they offer, he said. But there is a “general lack of agreement” across campus about how to tackle a process that could have serious implications for the graduate curriculum.

“There are a great number of questions about the ways in which graduate programs across campus will be affected that are simply unanswerable at this time,” he said. “Chairs and deans have been actively discussing different options for their programs, but it is a tall order for faculty invested in the formulation and success of degree programs to transition from improving the quality of their programs to questioning their viability in a matter of weeks.”

Foster said he understands that concern. But, he said, MU should be continually striving to improve the visibility and competitive position of its degree programs. He cited the successful realignment of the Division of Biological Sciences, which used to consist of three separate degree programs — biology, botany and microbiology. Now it’s single degree program. Likewise, the Division of Plant Sciences once consisted of 10 degree programs; now it has three.

“You have to do that all the time,” he said. “I’d like to see our faculty be creative and come up with ideas that we haven’t talked about before.”