Chancellor hears concerns of 'low-producing' programs

Faculty and administration would prefer to define programs as "small" rather than "low-producing".
Assistant professor of German Kristin Kopp speaks at the faculty forum Friday at Waters Hall. Kopp voiced her concerns about the loss of quality if "low producing programs" were to combine.

A faculty forum was held Friday, giving concerned faculty members an opportunity to discuss “low-producing” programs with Chancellor Brady Deaton and Provost Brian Foster.

Much faculty concern stemmed from a lack of communication between the Missouri Department of Higher Education, MU administration and the low producing departments.

“What you’re looking at is a bunch of disempowered small programs,” said Nicole Monnier, German & Russian Studies department professor.

Other departments echoed the feeling of disempowerment she spoke of as well.

“When you label a program as low-producing, in a society that values productivity, there is a stigma attached to that program,” Religious Studies Department chairman Robert Baum said. “We have to defend our right to exist.”

Foster said, from day one, he’s wanted to remove the term, “low productivity” from MU’s vocabulary.

Faculty and administration would prefer to define programs as “small” rather than “low-producing”, a definition created by the MDHE, along with the guidelines for placing programs in this category.

Faculty members were unclear on exactly what these requirements meant, and did not think they were an accurate representation of the quality of the program.

Another concern stemmed from the confusion about whether the changes are financially motivated. At previous Faculty Council meetings, discussion had stated the changes were based on increasing productivity, but messages from university administration and MDHE talk about fiscal benefits.

“One thing is clear: This is not a budget cutting exercise,” Deaton said. “We’re here trying to say what we can do in a creative way to adjust the nature of undergraduate and graduate education.”

Foster said the discussion wasn’t about savings.

“We’ve been doing savings like crazy in the last decade,” Foster said. “We’ve got all kinds of staffing and other kinds of fiscal issues that we’ve been confronting. In a sense, what we’re doing is trying to find ways to deal with the negative outcomes of the savings we’ve already achieved.”

Savings such as this include the current hiring freeze for new faculty members, and a moratorium that will be placed on creating new programs. The confusion about this topic comes from language in documents produced by the Provost’s office using language describing the “daunting fiscal and other issues,” the university is facing.

Another major portion of the conversation was focused on the concern that proposing changes on a strict deadline can compromise the quality of programs.

“This is a short term political issue that is bolstered by a huge looming budget crisis,” Monnier said. “If we engage in this process in a hasty manner, we’re being set up for greater vulnerability.”

It is unclear whether the concerns of MDHE are financial or of quality, and concerns were raised that the state legislature might not comprehend how the needs of a major research university differ from other higher education institutions.

“I think what we’re trying to do is promote an understanding with MDHE and our legislature on the ongoing dynamics within a university,” Deaton said. “That list is only there because MDHE generated is based on a set on numbers that has almost nothing to do with productivity.”

The fear from small programs is realignment will compromise the quality of education and possibilities for their students.

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