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News >  Idaho

UI officials propose cutting some degree programs

The University of Idaho is proposing the elimination of little-used degree programs and the combination of departments, as part of the school’s long-term effort to get back in the black.

The proposals, which are preliminary pending a two-week public comment period, include phasing out the doctoral program in geophysics, master’s programs in English literature and educational technology, and bachelor’s programs in office administration, school and community health, and entomology.

“All this is just a starting point for discussion,” said Linda Morris, interim provost at UI, who announced the proposals in a letter to campus and at various meetings Thursday. “We are trying to get good input.”

The university has struggled with rising debt and cuts in state funding for years, a situation compounded by the collapse of the $136 million University Place project, a satellite campus proposed in Boise.

About a month ago, President Timothy White announced budget cuts of about $4.75 million, including the loss of 67 positions. Most of those cuts came from job openings left unfilled.

Those cuts balanced the university budget for fiscal year 2006, and Thursday’s announcement was part of the process for deciding how to live within that budget and focus the university’s mission, Morris said.

No tenured faculty members would lose their jobs under the proposal, and most changes would result in resources being shifted within departments, not eliminated, Morris said.

Thursday’s recommendations emerged from a monthlong analysis of 176 academic degree programs. The complicated analysis ranked programs on a wide range of factors, focusing on “quality and economic value,” Morris wrote in her letter to the campus Thursday.

In her letter, Morris emphasized that the assessment is “imperfect at best” because of the range of standards and conventions that go into analyzing university programs.

The proposals must clear a variety of faculty and university committees before they are finalized. White will make the ultimate recommendations and present them to the state Board of Education, which will make a decision at its June 16 meeting.

Don Crowley, head of the department of political science, criticized the method of scoring programs in the analysis. He said the assessment sometimes showed huge differences in “points” where it wasn’t merited. For example, he said, one program received 32 points for retaining 84 percent of its students over four years, while a program with an 81 percent retention rate got 4 points.

“It was a totally inefficient way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the university,” he said.

Under the preliminary recommendations, Crowley’s political science department would be merged with the departments of history and foreign languages.

The merger would reduce the number of department heads – though none would lose a faculty job – and save on secretarial tasks, Crowley said, but he questioned how much savings the proposal would truly realize.

“History and foreign languages is not a perfect marriage (with political science),” he said.

Morris acknowledged that the calculations used in assessing programs had some flaws, but she said the public comment period is intended to allow faculty, students and others to raise questions about the figures before proposals are completed.

She also noted that the assessment process had been under way for months and grew out of a report last year by the “faculty-driven” University Vision and Resources Task Force.

Before White took office last fall, UI had cut its budget by 5 percent to 15 percent and eliminated 200 positions. Among the other cutbacks has been a scaled-back approach to the Lionel Hampton Performance and Education Center.

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