Over the summer, Chancellor Black and his cabinet made the decision to do a campus-wide initiative called Program Prioritization. Its aim is to review all programs, courses and services to determine the best way to allocate finances to better serve students at UMD. The president of the University Education Association (UEA), Michael Pfau, described the initiative as “a process of cutting our way to greater financial stability” in an email sent to all UMD faculty on July 18 in response to Black’s decision.
“The UEA thinks (Program Prioritization) is particularly problematic,” Pfau said. “Our position is that at the core of the university are the academic programs and that we need to focus on those. So, we think it’s more appropriate to have more transparency upfront. Unless we hear a larger conversation . . . my concern is that academic programs will not benefit.”
What is Program Prioritization?
“To truly utilize our resources to their fullest potential, we need to review all of our programs in relation to how they support UMD’s mission,” said Black during his welcome speech given to UMD faculty and staff on Aug. 28. “Instead of moving forward without the resources to support programs to their full potential, we can provide much-needed resources to our priority areas. “
Universities across the nation have adopted this exercise created by Robert Dickeson, author of “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance,” in order to find inefficiencies and deal with tough budget crunches.
Pfau’s email went on to describe Dickeson’s philosophy as one that places budgetary difficulties on the shoulders of academic programs.
According to Dickeson, the “relative worth" of academic programs is not considered, but they still remain a part of the university. Pfau described the narrative of the book as making the faculty the “villain.”
Instead, Pfau cited the work of Benjamin Ginsberg, a scholar at Johns Hopkins University, who, in his book “The Fall of the Faculty: the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters,” blames budget crunches on the growth of administrative roles.
Ginsberg’s book reveals data from the years 1975 to 2005 that described the growth of faculty versus the growth of administration. During that time, faculty grew by 51 percent while administration grew by 85 percent.
Ginsberg will be visiting UMD for a lecture on Thursday, Sept. 26.
According to Andrea Schokker, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, UMD is not doing everything according to Dickeson’s book. Instead, the university is using it as a framework. And although they are using Dickeson as a guide, both faculty and administration are on the chopping block.
“If we don’t have as much money, how do we distribute that differently?” Schokker said. “What programs might be restructured or looked at in a different way? There may be some that should be cut. Everything is on the table. My staff aren’t protected just because I’m making some of the decisions.”
How does it work?
The exercise breaks down into two areas of the university: 1) academic and 2) administrative and support services. Prioritization within the academic/degree side consists of those things directly related to the classroom, like courses and professors. While support/non-degree side relates to services such as the Dining Center and residential housing.
There are two different phases in Program Prioritization: 1) evaluation and collection and 2) implementation. Currently, we are in the first portion of phase one: evaluation.
For each of the two areas, degree and non-degree, there has been a committee designed by the deans and vice chancellors. The committees are responsible for developing rubrics and a set list of criteria for all programs and departments to be evaluated by.
The Program Prioritization Committee (PPC) for degree granting programs consists of two faculty members, mostly all professors, from each of the five collegiate units on campus. Alternatively, the Administrative and Service Units Program Prioritization Committee (APPC) is comprised of an array of staff from athletics and tech services to academic and external affairs.
Each set list of criteria made by the PPC and APPC examines areas of demand, external and internal, and quality of the programs.
However, the list is twice as long for academic programs. But PPC and APPC both follow the same ground rules.
Scores will be given throughout the semester based on the criteria and posted online in a timely manner.
Still, prioritization isn’t based solely on numbers. A portion of the criteria allows for departments to vocalize the uniqueness and reputation of a program to keep it from getting merged or cut.
Programs with small enrollment numbers are not necessarily on the chopping block, either.
“Don’t assume that because we don’t have high student numbers that we’re in jeopardy,
” Schokker said. “That is absolutely not the point of this.”
Schokker noted that just because a program gets a high or low score doesn’t mean it’s safe or not safe.
By Nov. 15, scoring for all programs will be wrapped up and the data will be sent to the Chancellor’s Cabinet (CC) for review.
“The (PPC and APPC) are totally parallel and they’re not supposed to have anything to do with each other until you get to the level of the (CC),” Pfau said. “And so the (CC) is the place where they’re actually going to decide, ‘Okay, how much should we cut from academic versus non-academic?’”
Phase one will be completed by this December and recommendations will be announced to campus before any changes are implemented.
According to Schokker, by phase two, if a certain program either needs to be cut, merged or restructured, the CC will meet with that program to discuss the best way to do it.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to or needs to happen, or that would’ve already happened,” Schokker said.
If a program is changed, students will not be left in the dark during the process.
“We will accommodate you and your degree, whether it’s finishing out that degree or moving to another one,” Schokker said. “If you want to stay with that degree, we are going to find an alternative that is acceptable.”
The same goes for faculty and staff.
“If your exact thing goes away, we’re going to put you in something that’s comparable, that you have expertise in,” Schokker said.
For instance, an English professor isn’t going to teach an engineering course. She also emphasized that faculty are under contract, so there is a process to follow if someone were to lose their job.
“There is likely to be job cuts out of this thing,” Schokker said. “It is also likely to see a reduction in year-to-year hires of faculty and staff,” she added.
If it seems like the timeline is rather rushed, that’s because it is. Although there is no right or wrong timeframe using the Dickeson model, UMD is certainly trying to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time.
“There are some schools that have done this, the whole thing, in three months, and there’s some that have done it in three years,” Schokker said. “So it just depends.”
According to Black, UMD needs recommendations from the Prioritization Program by December in order to have its budget proposal ready for fiscal year 2014.
Professor Michael Mullins, who sat on UMD’s Budget Policy Committee last year, said there was no mention of the Prioritization Program until this past June.
“We ended our last meeting sometime in May, right before finals week,” Mullins said. “We never talked about this exercise at all. They may have discovered all of this after the semester ended—I don’t know. But the problem was, this is not insignificant, what we're talking about doing. And it wasn’t on the radar, we knew we needed to do some things differently . . . but there was no mention of this,” Mullins said.
Prioritization at UMD is driven by the need to adjust the budget so that it is more sustainable. According to Black, there is a need to establish a new budget target that is $11 to $12 million less than our current budget.
Schokker said that going through Program Prioritization allows UMD to get rid of something outdated in exchange for something new. Something that was a good idea 15 years ago may not be what students are looking for now, she explained.
How is this going to affect students?
“Let’s say we take cuts to academic programming, which we probably will—how will that affect students?” Mullins said.
While faculty and staff are informed and involved in the Program Prioritization process, students play a different and more distant role.
When the Statesman was relayed information describing this process, the major concern was that students may be left out of the discussion and blindsided to foreseeable big changes on campus.
Black announced to faculty and staff that during prioritization, “Student Association (SA) will also be involved in appropriate ways.”
Vice Chancellor of Student Life, Lisa Erwin, mirrored this by saying that SA “will have some involvement for sure.”
But, upon contacting SA President Kimberly Newton, the consensus of SA was that they had no idea what Program Prioritization was, or that it was currently underway.
Newton’s first reaction to realizing what the process could potentially entail was shock, and she simply responded with, “Wow.”
According to Newton, a well-rounded student experience consists of both academic and non-academic programs. And while she understood the idea of certain programs being merged, she said, “We still can’t afford to lose academically.”
“It’s already difficult enough for students to get into classes they need,” said Newton. “I’m not comfortable with this. Watching them struggle to get into classes, it’s already a hard time.”
What can I do?
Program Prioritization is not a quick fix, and will require changes to be made for the next five to ten years, according to Schokker. Because of the extended timeline, she said it would be difficult to involve students who are currently enrolled, because they will only be at UMD for a short amount of time.
“The idea would be that the faculty and deans are going back to talk to their units, which includes feedback from students,” Schokker said. “I know that SA will be used to get feedback, and I hope that . . . we can keep a dialog through the paper.”
Newton said that she would be contacting people in the Chancellor’s Office to get more information on Program Prioritization so that they could have a conversation with students on the matter. And although she wanted SA to already be up to date with the process, she said SA will be involved.
“With huge issues that includes cuts, you should use your student government,” Newton said.
The Statesman will also do its part by following the Prioritization Program as it unfolds throughout the academic year, to keep students at UMD updated and informed.