Featured photo: On Jan. 23, a campus-wide community forum was held at UNCG in which members of the faculty, staff and student populations posed questions to administrators.

In an emotionally tense community forum at UNCG today, dozens of faculty, staff, students and community members spoke to a panel of administrators, including Chancellor Franklin Gilliam and Provost Debbie Storrs, to provide their feedback on the ongoing academic portfolio review.

During the two and a half hours on Tuesday afternoon, attendees posed questions about the popularity of some of the recommended courses to be cut, administrative pay, the issue of flawed data and what’s next for UNCG after the proposed cuts.

According to the university’s official timeline, the chancellor is scheduled to make his final determinations for program cuts on Feb. 1. Learn more at the university’s website here.

On the popularity of courses recommended to be cut

During the community feedback portion of the forum, which took up most of the time, many speakers implored Chancellor Gilliam and Dean John Kiss of the College of Arts and Sciences to reconsider their recommendation to cut Korean studies.

Because the Korean courses were not initially part of the academic review process because it is neither a major or minor, it surprised many, including Professor Daniel Kim, the sole faculty member who teaches the language.

During their comments, many students spoke about how they applied to UNCG because the university offers Korean courses. One student said that cuttingthe courses doesn’t feel like change, but erasure.

Last week, the administration also included the Chinese and Russian minors on their initial list for program cuts but did so with flawed data. As of the publication of this piece, both programs have 34 and 7 students enrolled, respectively. Although a total number of students enrolled in Korean courses has not been released by the university, several students who spoke at the forum on Tuesday noted that most of the Korean courses fill up quickly every semester, so much so that there is usually a waiting list. Additionally, multiple faculty members brought up the fact that South Korea is the No. 1 destination for students to study abroad at UNCG.

Kim, who was the last to speak at the forum, echoed his students by imploring the administration to keep his program.

“I hope to let us continue, to let Korean classes continue to contribute to real growth of UNCG,” he said.

When asked why they recommended the program to be cut, when the courses are so popular and the university wouldn’t be saving much money by eliminating the program because Kim is the only professor, Dean Kiss responded that the university “can’t sustain all the things we do and that was unfortunately one of them.”

However, given all of the feedback, Chancellor Gilliam appeared to be swayed by some of the comments made by students. Towards the end of the forum, he noted that he would talk with Dean Kiss about the Korean studies program to possibly reconsider his decision.

Other programs on the list may not be as lucky, however.

Faculty members with anthropology (68 students in the major), religious studies (27 students in major), mathematics (7 students in master’s program) and physics (44 students in bachelor’s programs) also spoke up in support of their programs at the forum.

On physics, Dean Kiss said that the program scored “near the bottom of the university” by many parameters. When asked about the importance of anthropology, religious studies and the languages in terms of fostering diversity, Kiss pushed back and stated that “any department will support diversity.”

To the surprise of many in the math department, Provost Storrs made the additional recommendation on Monday to discontinue the PhD program in Computational Mathematics, in addition to the masters in Mathematics which was already on the list.

In a response posted online, the mathematics department stated that UNCG’s PhD program in computational mathematics is “the only such program within the UNC system” and that “faculty and students in the program generate outstanding scholarship, and were responsible for over $1.3 million in external funding last year alone.”

In her comments at the beginning of the forum, Provost Storrs argued that she made the recommendation because the university needs to “prioritize [its] efforts on [its] undergraduate math performance.”

But Steve Tate, a professor of computer science, pushed back on that notion during the forum by stating that “the solution is not going to be helpful.”

“You have taken aim at exactly the wrong thing and it is not too late before you pull the trigger,” Tate said.

What about administrative pay?

In one particularly pointed remark, a Women and Gender Studies student asked why the administration and other highly paid individuals at the university wouldn’t take a pay cut to help curb some of the proposed cuts.

“You say we don’t have enough for majors like anthropology, but I have this public salary information that shows that Chancellor Gilliam you have made over $450,000, Provost Storrs over $350,000,” the student said. “This is all public information; the numbers do not lie.”

Indeed, a quick search in the UNC System’s Salary Information Database reveals that as of Dec. 31, 2023, Gilliam was making an annual salary of $451,926. Storrs was making $353,059, while Dean Kiss was making $263,338.

In October, when Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, presented his independent report to UNCG’s AAUP chapter, he noted the high salaries.

“The only item that should be considered for cuts are administrative costs, which have increased much faster than instructional costs and much more than other non-instructional costs over time,” the report noted.

After the student made their remarks on Tuesday, none of the panelists responded to the assertion that administrators should take a pay cut.

An email by TCB to Kimberly Osborne, the interim vice chancellor for strategic communications, posing the same question went unanswered.

According to the Bunsis report, the average salary for UNCG faculty came in at $83,447, which ranked UNCG in seventh place when compared to 10 peer institutions. Daniel Kim, the Korean professor who is the sole lecturer teaching four Korean courses makes $41,600.

Administration’s response to the flawed data and overall APR process

While much of the comments made during Tuesday’s forum were in favor of keeping certain programs, the remainder of the comments expressed a continued frustration with what many faculty and students consider to be a fundamentally flawed academic review process.

During one particularly heated exchange, a student noted that if the university’s process had been a paper that was to be submitted to an academic journal, it would not have passed the first peer review. 

To that, Chancellor Gilliam quipped back that he’s “published a lot in peer reviewed articles” and that the President of Harvard, who was recently ousted, had plagiarized some of his paper.

“So I think maybe I know a little bit about data, alright?” Gilliam responded. “When you do that, let me know.”

One faculty member, who did not name themselves for fear of retaliation, spoke during the forum, likening the process to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

“What’s really shocked me in the past week is that after you paid rpk Group so much money for this supposedly objective data and you’ve spent so much of our time engaging in this process the last year, that you didn’t even bother to follow that data or the process that you outlined,” the faculty member said. “You told us that the programs in the ‘needs examination’ or ‘approaching expectations’ categories were up for elimination. Those programs were able to submit context statements to defend themselves, but now you’ve said that you plan to cut programs from the ‘meets expectations’ category.”

As TCB has reported, the university used data to create a rubric which scored each department in varying categories, ultimately giving each a number that reflected whether they exceeded expectations, met expectations, were approaching expectations or needed examination.

Last week, when the administration released the recommended programs to be cut, programs like the bachelors in anthropology and masters in mathematics were on the list. Yesterday, Provost Storrs added the PhD in computational mathematics to the recommendations as well, even though it scored as meeting expectations.

This has left faculty and students confused and frustrated with a process that many already feel has been rushed and opaque rather than transparent.

“By not following your process…it seems that you’ve finally revealed your hand and in doing so, stripped yourselves and this process of any pretense to legitimacy,” the faculty members said on Tuesday. 

What’s next?

Attendees also asked what would happen to certain general education requirements if whole programs, like anthropology or physics, were to be cut.

To that, Dean Kiss responded that while he couldn’t be sure, that the university still has “a lot of capacity in [its] general education competencies” and that he’s not concerned about it being an issue.

One faculty member also brought up the point that despite programs being recommended to be cut, that there are a number of positions that are actively being hired for right now.

A look on the university’s website shows that 52 faculty positions are open in departments ranging from the School of Art to Theater to Social Work to Information Systems and Supply Chain Management.

When asked if the university would engage in a hiring freeze, Provost Storrs gave a clear response.

“There is no hiring freeze,” she said. “We are prioritizing hiring in areas that absolutely need staffing, faculty, etc.”

Still, many who attended the meeting remained concerned. The faculty member who spoke without giving their name gave voice to a concern that many faculty members and students have echoed in the last few months.

“We don’t know what the post-APR vision for the university will look like,” they said. “There’s nothing inspiring to hold onto.”

When it comes to the overall outlook and mission of the university moving forward, Gilliam said that despite some people’s concerns, that he wants UNCG to remain a liberal arts institution/

“We are deeply committed to the liberal arts,” he said.

In at least one comment, a student said that they had initially planned to attend graduate school at UNCG. Now, they’re asking for recommendations from their professors for transfer.

Kimberly Mozingo, the administrator for the anthropology department, expressed her frustrations at the beginning of the comment period.

“I was hired four years ago,” she said. “The moment I stepped on campus I felt like I was home. I have said since that moment that I wanted to retire here. I did not want to work anywhere else; that feeling has been robbed over the past several months.”

While students who are currently enrolled in programs that are recommended for elimination will get to finish their degrees, the future for employees is less clear.

Mozingo asked administrators directly what would happen to staff and faculty members whose programs get cut.

“We will follow a policy in terms of notification and it will take years, as we’ve noted, to have those teachout plans,” Storrs responded. “The same is true for staff. We will follow our policy notification.

“Ideally, there are opportunities here and elsewhere that staff can find further employment,” Storrs added.

On Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m. a virtual meeting for UNCG alumni will be held. Attend the meeting here. The chancellor is scheduled to announce his final decisions for academic cuts on Feb. 1.

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