Professors concerned over program discontinuances

The French, Greek & Roman Studies, Elementary and Secondary Education, Chinese and Japanese Studies, Social Work and Theatre programs have been going through a process of discontinuance this semester. 

The programs were notified they were up for discontinuance prior to the start of the semester.

“I personally found out about this news or at least that it was coming back in June from the Dean of Arts and Sciences. In our case not only did we have these discontinuance proposals coming forward but one of our faculty positions in the German section that position was eliminated essentially immediately. At the end of July is when we received the official proposal from the Dean for discontinuance,” said Timothy Tomasik, Department Chair of World Languages and Culture.

The programs were first reviewed by the Education Policy Committee (EPC). The university has four main criteria for discontinuance.

“So one has to do with the fit of the program with the mission of the university, one has to do with the quality of the program, one has to do with student faculty ratio and enrollments and the last one has to do with a financial calculation that’s referred to as a direct contribution margin which has to do with the expense of the program compared to the revenue that’s brought in from the program. What was initially troubling to my department, and as it turns out to other departments as well, the decisions for discontinuance were made not on those actual criteria but on other factors,” Tomasik said. 

Some faculty members of the programs up for discontinuance were dissatisfied with the lack of feedback from the EPC. 

“Yeah that was a frustrating thing that we just received this very telegraphic email saying these were the votes against, they didn’t say who voted against it, but there were eight votes for discontinuance and four against discontinuance for the minor and the same for the Chinese and Japanese studies major,”  said Fontaine Lien, Assistant Professor of World Languages and Culture. “Supposedly the chair of EPC will provide a summary of discussion, but I was told not much discussion took place anyway. So for that body, I really don’t know why they voted against it.”

After going through EPC, the programs were reviewed by the Faculty Senate. 

“We wrote a document to the dean who presented it to the Provost who brought it to both EPC and senate. Then there was a working document of questions that senators were asking us for five days. So anytime a senator had a question at any given time we would respond to those questions and when we went to actual faculty senate we fielded questions about elementary education specifically,” said Selina Bartels, Assistant Professor of Education. 

The senators voted to keep Social Work, Theatre, Greek & Roman Studies, Elementary and Secondary Education, and French. They voted to discontinue Chinese and Japanese studies along with the Chinese Language Minor. 

There was more positive feedback regarding the Faculty Senate process than that of EPC. 

“A lot of us didn’t know what the rationale was behind it [EPC didn’t] and it was pretty evident that, or it seemed like, they hadn’t read the proposals. Whereas the faculty senate last night, a lot of senators read the proposals very thoroughly and had really thoughtful comments to make,” said Allannah Karas, Section Head of Greek & Roman Studies. 

The decision now comes down to President Emeritus Mark Heckler and the Board of Directors. 

“So this is where it gets a little murky because the president, he decides and then he says to the board here’s what I think you should do and usually the board will go with whatever he says. The board could also overturn whatever he says but they probably will go off of his recommendation,” said Benjamin Boche, Assistant Professor of Education. 

However, Heckler is not limited to either cutting or saving each of the programs up for discontinuance. 

“The way discontinuance has worked in the past is the president still has some latitude as he had the last time to sort of make certain decisions so it’s not just necessarily an up or down situation. It could be but the president is not limited to that. So for example when we did this in 2019, the president decided to keep the Chinese minor, but only under certain circumstances so that same kind of a decision could come up again,” Tomasik said. 

Many faculty in programs up for discontinuance have expressed their frustration with the overall process. 

“My program is growing, I’m making money for the school. Just like social work none of the four aspects of why you would discontinue a program, or the criteria, my program did not meet any of the criteria for discontinuance. It was simply a matter of ‘oh we can’t support that program and they’re junior ixnay,’” Karas said. 

Tomasik expressed frustration with how the student to faculty ratio was calculated for individual programs. It is normally calculated by multiplying the number of credit hours of the course by the amount of students taking the course. This number is then divided by thirty, or the average number of credits students take per year along, with the number of full time faculty teaching those courses. 

“When you break out individual programs that calculation becomes more problematic because I am the chair of the department I officially am only teaching half time in French and the other half of my time is actually spent administering the department and working for the other language sections. So to count me as one full time teaching member of the French program in a year when I’m the chair of the department and officially half of my time is not spent on teaching French it’s automatically unfair,” Tomasik said. 

Similarly, there is an issue with the cuts going against university values. 

“The fact that so many programs in world language were identified there’s some sense we’re not honoring our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Two of the faculty members will be affected by discontinuance are faculty members of color. It seems like a move that is going against what our missions and values stand for in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Tomasik said.

There was also no number given for the cuts. 

“What’s interesting is no one really understands the financial situation and the financial constraints. The hand of the faculty senate, the hand of the EPC has been forced to vote about things where they didn’t fully understand the financial picture,” Karas said. 

Similarly, financial benefits would not be seen until the discontinued programs are taught out, meaning that the current students in the program get to finish their majors. 

This process may also cause issues with enrollment down the road for these programs. 

“So we’ve had some prospective students that have come but every time they come the admissions counselors say to them ‘By the way this program is up for discontinuance, we don’t know if it will continue, do you still want to come visit?’ And so thankfully we’ve had students come but that can be a deterrent in some regards because our fate is unknown so it can deter students,” Boche said. 

Some members of the Faculty Senate were also dissatisfied with the process and are writing a proposal about how this process was handled. 

“There were enough questions about the legitimacy of the process that some senators wanted to have some other form of communication with the president and ultimately with the board of directors to suggest that perhaps there would be a better way about going about this. There was a sense among some senators that cuts proposed by the board of directors, there was a sense there was some overreach with that,” Tomasik said. “Coming up with a number for budget cuts is certainly within the purview of the board to decide on but how that money is found and what those cuts are based on that is not necessarily for the board to decide on, particularly in the case of faculty positions. That there may be other ways to get the same budget targets without having to eliminate all of these programs.”

Each program has several different ways that they have used to try to save their programs. 

“So obviously we’ve contacted current students, we’ve reached out to the alumni as well. The Chinese program has received around 15-16 alumni letters, the French program even more and they’ve all been very supportive of the process,” Lien said. 

Many programs relied on letters to show support for the programs. 

“So I compiled a list of testimonies from students from every single college at Valpo. And then I also reached out to alumni, past and present, and I had over 40 alumni respond with testimonials, with full letters...and that was part of the discontinuance proposal,” Karas said.

If Chinese and Japanese Studies programs are discontinued, Lien says the curriculum will be mostly Eurocentric, which is unfair to students who want to have a more diverse education. 

Greek & Roman Studies is applicable to today and provides a chance for general education requirements to be fulfilled for all students. 

“I think it’s important for us to understand where some of these ideas, whether it be about whiteness, whether it be about democracy, whether it be about capitalism, whatever it is where they came from because so much was adopted from the ancient world,” Karas said. “So when students look at those ideas they can unpack our own culture and then go into the world and be more thoughtful and constructively critical citizens in our society.”

Elementary Education provides both visibility for Valpo and a unique hands on experience for students. 

“What makes us unique other than going to Ball State or Butler is our cohort model that not only builds community throughout their four years here at Valpo university but then also dives deep into field experiences. Our preservice elementary teachers spend three weeks in the fall all day, everyday in K-2 classrooms and then again in the spring in grades three through five classrooms,” Bartels said. 

They also have a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College to bring in more teaching students. 

Yet, there is a concern that if these programs are not discontinued, faculty will have to take bigger pay cuts or make budget cuts elsewhere. 

“At our last listen and learn session people asked what’s going to happen if we vote to save a lot of these programs and the provost basically said you would probably get a larger pay cut. The reality is we want these programs to exist but there’s still a budget issue and ideally everyone who was recommended not to discontinue is saved but then we’re up against still a budget crunch,” Boche said.

This may factor into the decision made by Heckler regarding the programs. There has been no timeline of when this decision will be made. 

 

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