University of Kansas plans to cut 42 college programs

University of Kansas faculty members are pushing back against a plan that would eliminate 42 university programs, arguing that a number of the proposed cuts are not in the best interests of the university and would harm its educational mission to serve students .

The KU University Senate agrees with 28 of the 42 proposed cuts, mostly programs that are largely dormant and will not affect students and faculty if eliminated. But faculty members deemed 14 others too important to cut, leading to a standoff with the administration.

The University Senate – which is made up of staff, faculty and students – and the Faculty Senate have raised objections with KU leaders about the magnitude of the proposed cuts.

The 14 programs faculty members want to save include bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, Latin American and Caribbean studies, visual arts education, and a variety of minors, master’s and doctoral degrees. programs covering a wide range of disciplines.

What’s at stake

According to online statements from faculty members, some programs, such as the humanities, were being considered for discontinuation as early as 2020. Plans to phase out the programs became clearer last year when Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer discussed of the elimination of certain programs at a meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents in February 2021. The minutes of the meeting note that KU sought to discontinue or consolidate programs with low enrollment rates while the university was struggling with a budget deficit of $75 million. Bichelmeyer then presented the recommendations to professors last fall.

Faculty members sent Bichelmeyer a letter in December urging her to save 14 of the exploited programs for reduction, but now say she has decided to drop 12 of those they asked her to save, with decisions still to be made on the other two.

Bichelmeyer’s recommendations will go to KU Chancellor for final approval.

“Of course, we have to be efficient, and at the end of the day, you have to pay your bills,” said Rémy Lequesne, president of the Senate of the Faculty. Lawrence Journal-World this week. “The faculty understands this, but there are reasons to teach certain subjects that go beyond economics. There are reasons to teach art and music and other things that may not make sense, but they enrich us and are worth investing in.

Lequesne, who declined a request for an interview, added, “Reasonable people may disagree, but in that case, to so systematically cancel the University Senate is very disturbing to many of us.”

Neither Bichelmeyer nor any other university representative responded to a request for comment.

Hossein Saiedian, president of the University Senate, also declined a request for an interview. A number of faculty members, however, voiced their objections to these program interruptions in dozens of statements posted on the University’s Senate website.

“The past few months have highlighted the enormous value of the arts and humanities as they inform and inspire people across the United States and around the world,” wrote Margot Versteed, KU professor and program director. of the human sciences, in a press release published on the website of the University Senate. “The pandemic has shown that humanistic thinking is absolutely essential because it provides us with wisdom, perspective and context. In these challenging times, we must formulate collaborative responses that transcend disciplinary boundaries and offer new approaches to troubling issues. KU’s Humanities program offers precisely these answers.

More eliminations in the future?

Although administrators remain tight-lipped about the proposed program cuts and faculty members are reluctant to discuss the issue publicly, some information about system-wide planning can be gleaned from the last meeting of the Board of Regents, where state officials approved a contract with education consulting firm rpk Groupe to conduct an extensive academic portfolio review.

According to a presentation by the rpk group, the review aims to understand how programs align with student interest and lead to positive outcomes, identify areas of duplication within the six bachelor’s degree-granting universities supervised by the Kansas Board of Regents and to recommend ways to optimize the academic portfolio to reduce duplication, determine whether current academic offerings meet state and national workforce needs, and provide recommendations on program investment and reallocation.

Katie Hagan, a senior partner at rpk group, told the Kansas Board of Regents that the firm will “spot areas of duplication across institutions and make optimization recommendations to reduce that duplication, or have different system campuses lean each other”. to ensure that the investment the state makes and the students make is made with the greatest degree of stewardship.

According to the presentation, work on the academic portfolio review is expected to start next month, with data collection expected to begin in April, followed by a final report and presentations in August and September.

Rick Staisloff, founder of the rpk group, noted that there is often unease about these program reviews and suggested that the end goal is to enable the University of Kansas system to best identify areas to invest in, in order to grow, rather than focusing on cost savings. by eliminating the program.

While some crucial programs must be subsidized, Staisloff said, it’s important to have accountability and an approach to program review with a focus beyond the bottom line.

“We are often afraid that it is a question of cutting, of doing less, isn’t it? And really, it’s about focusing on where we could invest so that we can grow, create more sustainable models, and deliver learning in the way that best supports our students. [and] better support our employers,” said Staisloff.

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