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UMW weighing program changes

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The University of Mary Washington is considering cutting the budgets of some academic programs and putting more emphasis and money into other programs under a reallocation of resources.

A report, in the making since 2012, was sent out to faculty and staff at the University of Mary Washington last week detailing those recommendations.

The American studies major, certain foreign languages, concentrations within the classics and philosophy departments and physics, among other programs, are drafted for reduction.

The reallocation is an examination by which resources, meaning people, money, space, technology or equipment, are prioritized between departments at the university.

To do so, internal task forces surveyed the campus and ranked programs into quintiles: enhance, maintain, modify, transform and reassess.

Those needing reassessment are subject to further review and are candidates for budget reductions or complete phaseout from the university.

The American studies major, minors in business, French, German and Spanish, classical archaeology, certain MBA concentrations, certain education concentrations, library science, the pre-law philosophy concentration and the physics major are all labeled under “reassess.”

Those slated to be enhanced are considered for larger investment to improve the program.

Those include biology, certain environmental science tracks, economics, international affairs, linguistics, Middle Eastern studies, mathematics, Spanish, sociology and the museum studies minor.

Under that category is also the creation of a journalism major.

The report said some need minor change and others need substantial change.

French, Italian and German are needing substantial change, as do dance, music, the physics minor, musical theatre minor, summer school and other programs.

Those that are functioning well as is include chemistry, anthropology, art, art history, business administration, English and geography.

Provost Jonathan Levin called the report “insightful, it has a lot of wisdom in it.”

He said he feels that UMW will be able to strengthen its academic offerings through the self-study.

UMW is not taking any steps to close departments until the campus has the opportunity to discuss the report in the fall.

However, Levin said in the meantime, it will help guide the budget process, which remained incomplete because of the state budget standoff.

An internal task force recommended UMW take advantage of it’s location, increase academic marketing, consider offering dual degrees between colleges, invest in facilities and re-prioritize hiring.

During the time the report was being assembled, the number of non-faculty employees increased 15 percent, while the number of faculty remained the the same.

The task force recommends a closer look at hiring practices so that more full-time faculty are hired to support academics.

Craig Vasey, chair of the department of philosophy, said the pre-law concentration in the philosophy major would be an odd choice to cut, since “philosophy is arguably the central discipline of a liberal arts education, and a pre-law concentration in it is as practical an application as can be found.”

Vasey went on to say, “My hope is that the administration comes away from this report confirmed in their knowledge that what’s distinctive about UMW is that it is a high-quality liberal arts institution … a trait that is increasingly hard to find at state-supported schools in this country.”

Leonard Koos, chairman of the department of modern foreign languages, said that like other programs slated for reassessment, they are “concerned that decisions might be made to reduce or even eliminate programs that are central to the liberal arts tradition upon which UMW is supposed to be based. It is difficult to imagine a serious academic institution in the U.S. without a strong French or German program.”

However, his biggest issue with the process was that it seemed to help increase already large programs and reduce many others to a mere presence on campus.

“After all, when there are cutbacks in programs, it is difficult to maintain enrollments since those programs have fewer resources accompanied by an administrative message that they are less ‘important,’” he said.

The school didn’t just take up academic programs though; a separate task force was created to study support functions, or the rest of the university.

That group found that multiple departments have similar functions and could be combined.

It also found that there was very little internal study of these departments before and suggested some sort of analysis be institutionalized on a regular basis.

The divided departments into the same quintiles.

Low priority programs included the college of arts and sciences department management, center for economic development, research grants, the Eagle Pipe Band, financial aid and the Stafford campus writing center.

However, the Fredericksburg campus writing center was listed as a priority, and it was recommended that it absorb the Stafford center.

Most programs were considered candidates for streamlining.

Even the Board of Visitors was studied and the task force noted, “Cost seems to be very high for this function. The … recommendation is to reassess function costs, particularly regarding meeting costs.”

Programs to be enhanced included recruitment, alumni relations, athletics, the center for historic preservation, debate, disability resources, grounds maintenance, judicial affairs, library services and the psychological services center, among others.

Rick Pearce, chief financial officer and vice president for administration, called the report a “best practice” and said many colleges are embarking on similar assessments.

“I think it makes people think critically about their departments and talk,” he said.

UMW will hold town hall-style meetings in the fall to hear from departments about their opinions on the report and why their costs might be high.

Pearce said he was surprised how few programs were listed in the “reassess” column.

“It shows how lean we are here,” he said. “We have been through budget cuts in the past few years and have already had to make hard decisions.”

The reallocation has been controversial on campus, prompting students to protest the move in 2012 when it was announced.

President Rick Hurley said in a letter to the campus at the release of the report that the recommendations in the reports remain just that: recommendations.

He underscored points relayed in 2013 when the task forces were created.

“If we want to innovate and improve as an institution, we cannot simply go on doing everything we’re doing, in exactly the same way, in perpetuity.”

In another letter he stated that UMW “is not facing any financial exigency,” but that in order to achieve its goals the campus must allocate resources in a strategic way.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976