The University of Akron might suspend 55 degree programs, including theater arts, to “correct institutional drift,” Provost Mike Sherman said Wednesday.
Sherman presented trustees with a report identifying 11 associate, 13 bachelor’s, 27 master’s and four doctoral degree programs that he said no longer are popular or relevant to UA’s mission.
“These are hard times, and everything cannot be sustained,” said Chand Midha, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who chaired the academic program review that led to the recommendations.
“There will be noise.”
About 600 students in these programs would be allowed to finish their degrees even if the programs were suspended. Another 115 prospective students who have shown an interest in these programs would be notified before May 1, which is national signing day for college students, if the programs are suspended.
Some faculty already have agreed to sunset some of the programs on the list, such as doctoral programs in elementary and secondary education, before trustees even take action, Sherman said.
The Faculty Senate will review the proposal at its meeting today and over the next few weeks will provide feedback to the trustees. The board will act on the recommendation April 23.
Longer term, Midha said, the changes would reduce by 65 to 70 the number of courses in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college at UA.
Susan Clark, interim dean of the College of Education, said she didn’t know what the changes could mean to coursework in her college.
Sherman said the recommendations were based on several criteria, including demand, student completion rates, placement rates of graduates, scholarships, research and relationship to UA’s core mission.
If the programs are eliminated, UA would be able to reallocate funds to programs that are deemed healthier, the provost said.
As for the academic review process, it has been a long time coming.
UA last conducted a formal, university-wide academic program review in 1993, Midha said.
Schools and departments examined their programs between 2005 and 2010, but the reviews didn’t get any further because of a change of provost, the university official who leads such efforts.
When Sherman joined UA in June 2010, he reviewed proposals from the previous five years, made assessments of his own based on updated information and considered the targeted programs from a university-wide perspective.
The result has been a collection of recommendations that already have stirred some protests.
When an Ohio State consultants’ report was released last year that recommended closing theater arts, for example, supporters formed a support group called Caucus for Theatre Alumni and Friends.
Jennifer “Zhenya” Lavy of Seattle, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at UA and was active in the theater program, said in an email that the theater arts program “offers a truly unique (I rarely use that word) training and learning experience unlike any other.”
She hopes her organization will be able to persuade the trustees to delay action on the theater program for two years.
Jim Slowiak, a professor of dance, theater and arts administration, acknowledged that the program needs some attention. With only 18 student majors and three full-time faculty, “the status quo is not sustainable,” he said. “The enrollment numbers are low. The program needs some new blood.”
He said, however, that he was disappointed that the UA administration paid attention to the consultant’s report and hasn’t considered the importance of the arts to Summit County residents, among other objections.
Meanwhile, the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, expressed unhappiness at the process of dissolving academic programs like theater arts and physics, even though some of their courses probably would continue.
“Area students are enrolling elsewhere because of the corrosive uncertainty of the future of many programs,” the faculty union said on its website Monday.
“The administration simply cannot persist in its failed attempts to cut our way to success.”
In other business, trustees ratified the first pact with the Communication Workers of America and UA clerical workers and support staff. The employees approved the contract late last month.
General counsel Ted Mallo said the contract hasn’t been signed and isn’t available in its entirety yet for public review.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.