Members of UNCG’s College of Arts and Sciences are pushing back against the university administration’s academic program review, otherwise known as APR.

The process, which began in December 2022, has worried students and faculty after administration announced that it would partake in a yearlong process of reviewing and cutting various academic programs because of budget issues, a new state funding model and an anticipated drop in enrollment. But the process has been flawed according to many faculty members who say that the process is unnecessary and unprecedented.

Now, faculty with CAS have passed a resolution calling for administration to alter their timeline for their ongoing academic program review while the college’s Budget and Planning Committee, which was tasked with letting administrators know which programs to cut, have pushed back against the review process in their report.

Faculty push back against timeline

On Dec. 5, dozens of faculty members from UNCG’s College of Arts and Sciences shuffled down the steps in the Elliott University Center and into the Alexander Conference Room filled with rows of chairs. By 1:10 p.m., the space was standing-room only.

After months of ongoing conflict with administration at the university, close to 150 faculty members of the university’s largest college met that afternoon to pass a resolution that noted that the process “does not provide sufficient information, adequate rationale, or due process for determining permanent closure of academic programs and departments.”

Read the resolution here.

Additionally, the resolution requests “an extension in the APR timeline to enable the substantive faculty review and consultation specified in UNCG’s shared governance policies before final decisions are made regarding the discontinuation of academic programs.”

As TCB has reported, for the last year or so, UNCG’s administration has partnered with rpk Group, a consulting firm, to review and cut various academic programs at the university. In response, 138 members of the College of Arts and Sciences voted to pass the resolution and circulate it throughout the school. Five members of the college opposed while one member abstained.

The current timeline, as determined by administration, is for deans of each college to make final recommendations to the provost by Jan. 14, 2024. Then, throughout January, recommended programs to be cut will be shared with the university community, according to the schedule. By Feb. 1, the chancellor will make final decisions; after that, students will no longer be accepted into cut programs.

Reached by email, Kimberly Osborne, interim vice chancellor for strategic communications at UNCG, told TCB that “no resolution has been submitted to the Chancellor nor Provost Offices. There have been other inquiries regarding the timeline and those have been reviewed and considered by the Provost and Chancellor.”

Despite the resolution Osborne replied that “the Provost and Chancellor support the current timeline, which will continue.”

She continued, “[A]ll University processes and policies have been, and continue to be, followed throughout the Academic Portfolio Review Process.”

Pushing back against ‘unreliable or problematic’ data

Around the same time that CAS faculty members met to pass the resolution, the college’s Budget and Planning Committee filed its report to its dean, John Z. Kiss. The committee was tasked with using data from a rubric which scored each of the university’s programs — a rubric that many faculty members have said is flawed to begin with.

As reported by TCB, the rubric graded each program at UNCG with a numerical value to determine whether or not the program meets the university’s expectations or not. The rubric took data from 2020-23 to measure aspects of programs 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 the committee’s report, six members of the committee had to take rubric numbers and a 1,000-word context statement that was written by heads of programs that scored “meets expectations” to recommend programs to be cut. Instead, the committee pushed back on the rubric and the review process as a whole.

“Rather than offer recommendations for discontinuation and reinvestment, the committee chose to offer evaluations for programs being considered for elimination,” the report reads.

“For programs being considered for elimination (i.e., programs receiving an overall rubric score of ‘meets expectations’), we carefully reviewed the available information, including context statements provided by programs, and found no compelling evidence to support recommendations for specific program discontinuation,” the report continues.

Instead, the report called out the rubric data as “unreliable or problematic.”

Specifically, the committee stated that the data “overly prioritizes size over efficiency, thus categorically penalizing smaller programs” and “bases 14.3 percent of the overall rubric score on a metric with no conceivable value (4-year completion rate for a single cohort of students entering in Fall 2018).”

The report also notes that the committee “observed numerous errors or misleading data” which were noted in the committee’s comments on particular programs.

Read the full report here.

Osborne responded to the assertions made in the CAS report in an email to TCB.

“Academic portfolio review recommendations for program investment, change, or discontinuation will come from the deans in early January,” Osborne wrote. “The deans have been working with a variety of faculty committees to assist in this process. The College of Arts and Sciences dean and his staff are carefully reviewing all of the data and other inputs before making recommendations.  Again, the recommendations will come from the deans. As shared prior, when rubric data has been questioned, the University has been responsive and made changes when warranted. No data set is perfect, however the University has worked with faculty and staff to make sure the rubric quantitative data is as accurate as possible.”

Which programs are under review?

As part of its report, the committee evaluated 25 different programs housed under the College of Arts and Sciences. One of the lowest scoring programs, based on the rubric alone, is the Bachelor’s in African American and African Diaspora Studies.

For this program, the committee members noted that “AADS offers instruction and programming that supports a critical area of UNCG’s profile as a minority-serving institution.” The report also pointed out that there was an increase in student credit hours from the 2021-22 school year to the most recent 2022-23 school year. Additionally, the committee noted that revenue and grants were undercounted in the program’s rubric score because funding that faculty secured was credited back to the home departments rather than directly to AADS.

Other programs under review like those in computer science, which scored low on the rubric, should be reconsidered, according to the committee because of enrollment growth driven by a strong demand in the field.

Still, other programs like the Geography, Environment and Sustainability scored low because they are new programs that were started during the pandemic. Thus, the committee noted that the “program unjustifiably received a score of 0 for four-year graduation rate resulting in an artificially low overall score for category 4.”

Much of the details in the committee’s report echoes sentiments from faculty: that the rubric, created by UNCG administration using the university’s data with consultation from rpk Consulting, is flawed. 

“They’ve only collected info for three years,” said Mark Elliott, an associate head of the History Department and president of UNCG’s Association of University Professors chapter. “And something happened in 2020. There was a pandemic that caused all of our classes to go online; UNCG had a big enrollment decline. We’re leveling off now, but it seems like a chaotic and anomalous three years to look at. We would rather look at 10 years of data.”

What else is in the resolution?

The resolution passed by the CAS faculty outlines a number of grievances with the process, despite Osborne’s assertion that university processes have been followed.

“[T]he APR timeline and procedures have not allowed substantive faculty evaluation of program quality for the purposes of making informed recommendations regarding program closures that have the potential to significantly impact the mission of the College of Arts & Sciences and the University,” the resolution states.

Additionally, the resolution makes the argument that the timeline is “not in compliance with UNCG’s Promotion, Tenure, Academic Freedom, and Due Process Regulations regarding consultation with faculty of departments, programs, units, and Faculty Senate when programs are proposed for elimination.”

As TCB has reported, UNCG’s guidelines for the dissolution and creation of academic departments notes the following: “The Colleges and Schools are organized under instruments of governance adopted by the faculty of the unit under the leadership of deans and approved by the Chancellor after consultation with the Faculty Senate. Any modifications to such an instrument must be approved by the unit faculty and the Chancellor after consultation with the Faculty Senate.”

In an interview with TCB, Mike DeCesare, senior program officer in the national American Association of University Professors’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, said that if an academic program review is initiated by a university because of “financial exigency,” then “under AAUP standards, faculty should be intimately involved with the budget. Especially when it comes to declaring financial exigency. Right from the very start, faculty should be involved meaningfully in that process under our standards.”

But even then, faculty at UNCG say that the current “budget crisis” touted by administrators doesn’t meet the expectations for financial exigency.

During an Oct. 5 presentation by Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University who was hired by UNCG’s American Association of University Professors branch, said that the school is in “solid financial condition.”

Instead, Bunsis pointed to salaries for administrators like Chancellor Gilliam, who makes $434,544 in yearly salary, compared to the average $83,447 per year for faculty.

“If you’re going to cut anything, it has to be administration,” Bunsis said.

That’s led hundreds of students and faculty to oppose the administration’s moves to cut academic programs en masse.

In mid November, dozens of students were joined by faculty members as they protested outside of the Alumni House on UNCG’s campus. They called on members of the UNC Board of Governors, who were meeting in the building, to put a stop to UNCG’s administrators’ decision.

“I would like for this academic program review process to be halted, if anything so we could come to a better consensus of what they’re even looking for,” said fourth-year PhD student Emilee Robbins said.

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