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Saint Louis U. proposes cutting two programs, reorganizing others

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2011 - Saint Louis University has notified members of its faculty that it plans to shut down two departments -- public policy and counseling and family therapy -- because of low enrollment, poor productivity by faculty and changes needed to reach its goal of becoming one of the top 50 universities in the nation.

In a draft memo distributed to a faculty retreat last week, the university said the departments would be closed effective June 30, 2015. Before that, next July 1, the College of Education and Public Service would be renamed the College of Education and Social Work, with the School of Social Work becoming a department in the new school. (The memo surfaced earlier today on http://sethteel.com/)

Further, the university said it plans to admit no more students into more than a dozen programs including the doctoral program in public policy analysis; the master's programs in public administration, urban affairs and urban planning and real estate development; the bachelor's program in urban affairs; and several programs in family therapy.

In all, the memo said, 166 students, 13 full-time faculty members, including eight with tenure, and two full-time staff members would be affected by the moves.

The memo said that the academic affairs committee of the university's board of trustees "has expressed concerns regarding the University's addition of new degree programs over the past several years without a corresponding review and closure of underperforming programs ...

"As the national and global economic challenges become increasingly impactful on all the revenue streams of Saint Louis University - tuition, endowment income, research income, and SLUCare revenue - ongoing assessment of academic programs is a matter of leadership responsibility."

A three-month review, the memo said, found that the departments of public policy and counseling and family therapy were "underperforming" in areas such as enrollment, scholarship and the time it took students to earn their degrees.

update The recommendations in the memo are still preliminary. Faculty members have until Jan. 27 to give their opinions on the plan, which will then be presented to trustees at their February meeting.

University spokesman Clayton Berry said in an email Wednesday that the process "began more than three months ago, and has been as open, transparent and inclusive as possible. There have been many conversations with the college's faculty and administration, and the Faculty Senate has been involved as well. Finally, all of the research that was conducted was shared with and reviewed by the college's faculty." end new material

Asked about what the department might do to survive, Robert Cropf, who chairs the university's Department of Public Policy (and is a frequent contributor to the Beacon), said the situation is at such a sensitive stage, he could not discuss it at this time.

A Convergence of Factors

The 42-page report said the recommendations stemmed from a convergence of factors:

  • Concerns expressed by members of the board of trustees about evaluation of academic programs
  • Strategic planning efforts for the entire university
  • The recent failed search for a new dean of the College of Education and Public Service

The memo said that board members "have not been apprised of the results of evaluations of extant programs, nor have they had a consistent role in decisions regarding significant reorganization or closure of programs. ... The Trustees are also expecting to see evidence of judicious allocation and re-allocation of human and fiscal resources to programs demonstrably most effective in advancing the University's mission and goals."
During the failed search process for a new dean of the College of Education and Public Service, the memo said, issues that surfaced included the fact that "scholarly productivity throughout the College was uneven at best, and substandard in some units" ... "external funding was far below expectations" ... and "enrollments and time-to-degree completion rates were strikingly out of line with both internal expectations and national norms, particularly for highly-regarded programs."

In general, the memo said, the decision to shut down a program is difficult because "the performance criteria at the initiation of an academic program may not be valid or appropriate in subsequent years - therefore, the program could 'simply exist' without making any meaningful contributions to the stature of the University and/or bleed resources from other programs..."

On the decision to shut down the department of public policy, the memo noted that "the potential to increase new enrollments is significantly mitigated by the reputation, proximity and cost of the UMSL Public Policy Administration program," which is ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report.

"Overall," it added, "the Department would require a substantial strategic plan to differentiate itself from its competition and establish an untapped market as well as significant resources to bridge from its current state to a future state that could support the University's vision of Top 50."

A similar judgment was made in the case of the department of counseling and family therapy, where a large percentage of students are part-time who take two or three times longer to complete degrees than full-time students do.

The report used several detailed mathematical formulas to analyze various programs and to justify its conclusions.

"In order to achieve the University's vision for excellence," the report concluded, "all colleges/schools will have to engage in a rigorous and repetitive quality improvement regimen. Further, the undergraduate and graduate offerings will have to be balanced and strategically aligned so that faculty efforts are appropriately productive -- exclusively graduate departments are practically impossible to sustain because of negative operating margins.

"Finally, a disproportionately high enrollment of part-time students will negatively impact revenue, expenses, time and effort required, as well as scholarly productivity. Therefore, it is critical to monitor and manage time to degree to completion, continuous registration for course, and enforceable plan of study for part-time students."

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