Featured photo: James Roberts (Jampp…, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
UPDATED (1/19, 5:30 p.m.): A university-wide message from Chancellor Gilliam that was released on Friday evening was added to this piece.
That’s how much time faculty members at UNCG have to analyze and respond to the administration’s list of 19 programs suggested to be cut.
The list, which was dreaded by faculty, staff and students alike, was released on Tuesday after a year-long process brought upon by university administration to cut certain academic programs to save money.
While Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam has reiterated the need to cut programs due to a changing outlook on higher education — like population decline and low birth rates — faculty have pointed to an increase in enrollment numbers for this past academic year. Over the past several months, faculty, staff and students have pushed back against the administration’s assertion that the academic program review was necessary, calling the process “flawed” and going against best practices. Now, faculty are tasked with combing through the list and coming back to administration with a collective response to the list. According to the university’s timeline, on Feb. 1, Provost Debbie Storrs will make recommendations to Chancellor Gilliam who will announce the final decision.
‘They made a mistake’
According to university administration, 19 programs — ranging from minors to bachelors to masters to PhD programs — were suggested to be cut. The list released by the university included current enrollment numbers, which faculty have stated were used as “justification” for the administration’s decisions.
But the numbers were flawed.
For example, one of the programs listed — the bachelor’s in religious studies — noted seven students currently enrolled. Faculty and students quickly pushed back on the data, citing that, in fact, 27 students were currently enrolled in the program.
“There’s no way to explain it,” said Dana Logan, an assistant professor in the department, now in her third year teaching at UNCG. “They made a mistake; it makes me concerned about what other mistakes there are.”
Soon after the error was pointed out, the university administration corrected the data and responded to TCB by stating that its “data pull defaulted to the count of students in the nonprofit management concentration, rather than the major as a whole.”
Still, Logan asserted that the only mistake was in the list that was released and that the rubric, which was used in part, to make the decisions on which programs to cut, was accurate.
But other faculty pointed out additional errors.
While all three minors included on the initial list — Chinese, Russian and Korean — were noted to have zero students each, follow-up conversations with faculty in the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department revealed that those numbers were inaccurate as well. Instead, faculty members Faye Stewart, an assistant professor, and Ignacio Lopez, the associate department head, told TCB that there are currently 36 minors in Chinese and seven minors in Russian. Also, the university has never had a minor in Korean, but it offers a four-semester language sequence, according to Lopez.
“The enrollment in these courses is so robust that even though the normal course load for an instructor is four courses per semester, our Korean instructor is teaching an overload to meet the growing demand,” Lopez told TCB. “The department added a fifth court in ‘Global Korean Studies’ that is almost up to capacity.”
Additionally, Lopez and Stewart both pointed out that South Korea is the most popular destination choice for study abroad, with 67 students having chosen the location since 2021. For context, the second most popular destination, according to Lopez, is the UK with 44, followed by France with 32.
Lopez said that just earlier this week, the president of the University of Seoul had visited UNCG to discuss further collaborations.
“Our Korean language classes are very popular with students, some of whom come to UNCG because we offer Korean here,” Stewart added.
On Friday evening, Chancellor Gilliam released a statement addressing the inaccurate numbers.
“Our goal was to report how many students are actively engaged in the academic programs that University deans recommended for discontinuation,” Gilliam wrote. “I’ve since learned that some of those enrollment data were incorrect. The mistake reflects a human error that was limited to my communication.”
In the statement Gilliam went on to clarify that “the overall rubric that the deans used to inform their recommendations relied on accurate data, including enrollment reports” and that “The “the inaccurate figures that you received on Tuesday were not part of their process.”
“There are no changes to the deans’ recommendations,” Gilliam wrote.
Despite Interim Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications Kimberly Osborne’s assertion that the rubric data was correct, Stewart also pointed out that their programs were never under threat when looking at the rubric data.
As TCB has reported, the rubric — which was published by TCB — was created by university administration after working with rpk Consulting group. Reporting has found that rpk has worked with a number of different universities in the last decade, a few of which have undergone severe academic program cuts not unlike the ones being proposed at UNCG.
As part of the review process, each program at UNCG was assigned a numerical value to determine whether or not the program meets the university’s expectations or not. The rubric looked at data from 2020-23 — which faculty called out as flawed because of the pandemic — and measured aspects of departments including, but not limited to: a count of full-time employees, department expenses, student enrollment, revenue, grants awarded and graduation rates.
In total, each program is scored with a number between 1 and 4, with lower scores being preferable, as seen in the “Program Review Summary New” tab of the rubric. According to the ratings, 1 “exceeds expectations,” 2 “meets expectations,” 3 is “approaching expectations” and 4 means the program “needs examination.”
According to a few of the faculty members associated with programs that were on the list revealed earlier this week, their programs weren’t in danger of being cut based on the rubric.
“The Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department performed well on the rpk GROUP study and all of the rubrics,” Stewart said. “Our BA programs were NOT ever flagged as in the ‘approaching expectations’ or ‘needs examination’ categories.”
A look at the rubric finds that two bachelor’s programs and two masters programs in the language department were graded as meeting expectations while one masters program was labeled as “approaching expectations.” Minors weren’t listed on the rubric at all.
Both Stewart and Lopez said that they were never told by administration that minors were being considered as part of the cuts at all. But the language department wasn’t the only one that was taken by surprise.
Susan Andreatta, a professor of anthropology at UNCG for the last 28 years, walked into her 2 p.m. class on Tuesday when students asked her about the email. That’s when she found out that her program was on a list of potential programs to be cut that university administration released after months of an ongoing academic review process.
“I was shocked and surprised,” Andreatta told TCB on Wednesday. “At a forum last week, we heard from representatives from the other schools where deans had let departments know in advance that they would be on the list. We were never contacted.…”
According to the list, the bachelor’s program in anthropology — which currently has 68 students enrolled — is a candidate to be cut. But that took Andreatta and many others in the UNCG community by surprise, not only because of the number of students enrolled, but because the program, like with languages, was never part of discussions about cuts.
“Given the metrics that were used and the data that we supplied, we were under the impression that we met expectations,” Andreatta said.
According to the rubric, the bachelor’s program in anthropology was graded as meeting expectations.
So when faculty from other departments that didn’t quite meet the standards were writing explanations about why they might be deficient in an area, Andreatta said that her department wrote a “celebration of all the good things we’ve been doing.”
According to Mark Elliott, a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Budget and Planning Committee, their group was never told to review anthropology or the master’s program in math, which is also on the list. Elliott also confirmed that their group didn’t review any minors.
Logan, in religious studies, told TCB that part of the confusion was that many of the programs were listed as “approaching expectations” in the rubric, which made it difficult to discern which programs were vulnerable.
But Andreatta, in anthropology, doesn’t understand why a successful program like hers, which has 68 students, would be considered in the first place.
“We have been here since the beginning of the university,” she said.
When reached out to on Wednesday, Osborne with university communications said that Arts and Sciences Dean John Kiss put the bachelor’s program in anthropology on the list “in light of its low student success performance, college investment priorities and upcoming faculty retirements.”
Osborne also noted that the rubric was “one piece of the academic portfolio review process” and that the major scored “needs examination” in terms of student success.
Andreatta pushed back by stating the courses “provide a number of general education classes” and that they give “students practice skills through anthropology that work beautifully in the workplace.”
“What’s not to enjoy about understanding cultures across time and space,” Andreata asked? “Especially in our increasingly global society, it becomes critical that all students have an awareness like this.”
Logan, in religious studies, agreed. With ongoing conflict in the Middle East, she said that it’s more important than ever to give students the space to learn about cultures different from their own.
“I think religious studies is one of the main places where students are learning about the relationship between religion and politics,” Logan said. “It’s where they’re learning about religious freedom in the US and its relationship with the first amendment. I think it’s absolutely essential that UNCG is providing classes that address these vital topics.”
Matthew Douglas, a junior in the religious studies program, said that the program “provides [students] with a really intimate way of understanding people as [they] learn how their subjective experience of the world is shaped.”
Alicia Aarnio, an assistant professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department, also noted that while the enrollment numbers for the bachelor’s in physics were correct, that “a lot of students, faculty, and the administration don’t realize astronomy is in the physics department.”
Editor’s note: According to Aarnio, the numbers for the physics department (44 students enrolled) initially presented by administration in the email that first published the list were correct, but the numbers noted in the Jan. 19 email from Chancellor Gilliam incorrectly cited that there were only 30 students enrolled.
“Our intro astro classes are hugely popular and bring the department a minimum of $505,000 per year alone,” Aarnio said.
Given that, Aarnio noted that she doesn’t believe “there exists any budget issue that justifies cutting [the program].”
She said that between herself and Professor AJ Covell, who teaches the algebra-based physics courses, they brought in over $1 million in tuition in 2022.
“I don’t think the administration appreciates that should the physics major go, it removes incentive for faculty to stay,” Aarnio said. “They want us to be teacher-scholars, but if I have no students to work with …. there isn’t much scholarship I can accomplish.”
Douglas also told TCB that the process of academic program review has been dually confusing for students as well.
“The students of UNCG have not been provided with any evidence of a problem that would be solved with these program cuts,” he said. “Even if we were provided evidence of long-term financial or enrollment issues, I fail to see how removing academic programs at a school is productive. The steadfastness of the administration towards making cuts in education and research makes their values clear.”
Faculty had questions about that, too.
On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of faculty members gathered at the Alumni House on UNCG’s campus for a Faculty Senate meeting. In attendance was Faculty Senate Chair Tami Draves, Chancellor Gilliam and Provost Storrs.
During the meeting, several faculty members expressed their concerns and frustrations with both the list and the process that led to the creation of the list.
At one point, communications professor Etsuko Kinefuchi asked the question that seemed to be on everyone’s minds.
“I still don’t know where we are heading towards as a university,” she said. “What is the vision?”
To that, Gilliam stated that they don’t have a vision to be an R1 or R2 institution — ones that focus heavily on research — or even a STEM-focused one like some faculty feared. Instead, he said that he was focused on keeping UNCG a “liberal arts university with fine professional schools” and that he had “no prior” expectations before the program review process started.
But faculty pushed back. A few times, professor Jen Mangrum with the Lloyd International Honors College asked the administrators in attendance if they could have more time to deliberate on the cuts.
“It’s clear that time is an issue,” she said.
But to that, Faculty Senate Chair Draves reiterated the administration’s stance: “That request has been denied.”
Now, faculty must meet over the course of the next 10 days to deliberate on their next steps.
During both the faculty senate meeting on Wednesday and an AAUP member meeting on Thursday, faculty members reiterated their lack of trust in the process. They pointed towards the faculty’s lack of involvement in the academic program review and lamented the administration’s decision to move forward with program cuts.
That led to a few faculty members at the senate meeting suggesting that rather than deliberating on the programs on the list, that the faculty senate should vote to decline the process and not engage. To that, Draves — who some faculty members have said acts as a mouthpiece for administration rather than a supporter of faculty — said she had “grave concern” about that approach.
“I don’t want to see us vote ourselves into irrelevancy in this process or in the future.”
But during the AAUP meeting on Wednesday, a few faculty members said that rejecting the process as a whole is their best bet.
“My conclusion is that they have no interest in dialogue with faculty anymore,” said Richard Barton, a history professor. “My suggestion is to send a strong email to the senate to reject the process…. I have seen no indication that the administration has any interest in what we have to say.”
Student representatives agreed, with plans to protest on campus next Wednesday, Jan. 24.
More cuts on the horizon?
During the faculty senate meeting, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Bob Shea told the group that the university was looking at a budget shortfall of anywhere between $6-14.1 million depending on the factors included in the equation. This could include tuition deficit, financial aid and deferred maintenance for campus infrastructure. The cuts, according to administration, are to help curb some of that deficit. But some fear that it’s not going to be enough.
“What are we accomplishing with these cuts?” asked Logan at the meeting.
Jason Reddick, a chemistry professor, echoed Logan’s frustrations.
“I find it hard to believe that this is going to solve our financial problems,” Reddick said. “I’m worried that the target is going to be moved later on.”
To that, Provost Storrs admitted that the cuts won’t solve the university’s budget deficit.
“You’re right,” she responded.
Because the list hasn’t been finalized, depending on what happens over the next 11 days, there could be additional or different program cuts revealed by administration.
Additionally, a statewide return-on-investment study that was kicked off by the UNC school system last year, graded each university’s academic programs based on the lifetime earnings.
That study looked at how likely a student is to get a job in the field aligned with their degree after graduating or whether a student is better off working after high school.
A report released by the UNC system notes that the study, which was conducted by rpk GROUP and the Burning Glass Institute, analyzed more than 700 undergraduate and 575 graduate programs across the 16-campus system.
While the report found that 94 percent of the system’s undergraduate programs and 91 percent of graduate programs resulted in a positive return on student investment, the highest returns were seen for students in STEM fields. The findings from the study are available to view via an online dashboard.
According to Osborne with university communications, those findings have been shared with the deans of each college and the university is “working in accordance with the system’s April date.”
Multiple follow-up questions to Osborne about a more detailed timeline with regards to the findings from the UNC system study went unanswered. Instead, Osborne replied by stating, “If you have questions about the System’s ROI study, please contact the System Office as it is their study.”
In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Wade Maki, the program head of the liberal and professional studies department and the chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly, said that some faculty were concerned that state lawmakers may use the study’s findings to target certain programs. However, he also stated that he believes that the study is a “truth in lending” exercise that offers students and their families more data about the earning potential associated with various degrees.
When asked if the findings from the ROI study could trigger additional academic program cuts, Osborne did not reply.
Now, as faculty reflect on the list of recommended cuts, they say they’ll do what they can to continue to push back.
“We are going to Faculty Senate meetings and forums in order to demand that there is clarification on what exactly was used for these cuts,” Logan said. “And we’re going to argue for the necessity of these programs like physics, anthropology and religious studies in a liberal arts university.”
And yet, many are left wondering if anything can be done to curb what some see as inevitable.
“What I’m personally thinking is that getting a job in the humanities in academia is nearly impossible,” Logan said. “And what I’d like people to know is that this isn’t the end of a job for someone like me; it’s the end of a career.”
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