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Newly Inaugurated Chancellor Discusses Program Cuts, State Of Higher Ed And Why She’s Hopeful About UMSL’s Future

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August Jennewein
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University of Missouri-St. Louis
According to UMSL, nearly half of its students are Pell Grant eligible, and many are first-generation college students, parents and/or veterans.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis last week inaugurated Kristin Sobolik as its eighth chancellor, formally commemorating her ascension to a role she was first appointed to about a year ago.

“My goal is to establish UMSL as the top urban, metropolitan research university in the nation,” Sobolik said during the April 30 virtual event. “While doing so, we will further strengthen and deepen the university’s roots and impact here in St. Louis.”

Sobolik’s vision for UMSL in the months and years ahead includes her newly unveiled Rise Up for St. Louis initiative, which she touted during her inaugural address. Her plans also involve an ongoing effort toward “academic program prioritization,” which she discussed Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air.

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August Jennewein
Kristin Sobolik, whose academic background is in anthropology, served as UMSL’s provost before becoming its chancellor.

“In a sense you’re analyzing and assessing your programs to make sure that they are educationally relevant for your current and future population, as well as the community in which you serve,” Sobolik told host Sarah Fenske. “So we’ve done that consistently at UMSL, and this most recent round we focused on some key programs that we wanted to identify to suspend so that we could maybe reallocate those resources into areas of growth, strength and excellence.”

The plans include suspension of several degree programs across disciplines, including the bachelor of arts degree in anthropology, graduate programs in physics, and the Ph.D. in political science.

Sobolik, herself an anthropologist, said that she still considers anthropology “very relevant” but that different institutions sometimes require “different focus points.”

“Here at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, we are really aligned with workforce development in the St. Louis region, so we need to move into the programs that our students want the most,” Sobolik said.

She noted that UMSL will still offer courses in anthropology as well as a minor, and students currently majoring in anthropology will be able to complete their degree. And as that department and other programs shift, Sobolik said, tenured faculty will be retained.

UMSL Chancellor On Leading The University Through A Pandemic And Staying Educationally 'Relevant'
Listen as Kristin Sobolik talks with host Sarah Fenske on the heels of her formal inauguration as the university's eighth chancellor.

“They are the baseline, the foundation of any institution,” Sobolik added, “and UMSL is no exception. So we are retaining all of our tenure-track faculty, and we know that they are going to continue to be workforce and research drivers of the future.”

She pointed to 12 academic programs the university has added over the past four years as examples of where the university is heading.

“We have international relations, cybersecurity at both the undergraduate and graduate level, computer technology, entrepreneurship, organizational leadership, sports management, child advocacy studies and also at the master’s level, actually, supply chain and analytics. … So things are moving along in a very positive direction,” Sobolik said, “and we’re continually meeting with our community and our corporate community as well on what it is that we need to be the most relevant educationally.”

Sobolik said all of higher education has to grapple with those concerns, as well as a long decline in public funding.

“There has been a defunding of higher education over the last, I would say, 20 years in general, [and] same thing in Missouri,” she said. “So one of the things we have to do is make sure that we are efficient, that we always are evaluating our programs, so that they are the most relevant and they serve the highest number of students.”

Producer’s note: The University of Missouri Board of Curators, which also governs UMSL, holds the license to St. Louis Public Radio. The station is editorially independent.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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