Prioritizing our programs: Academics should be last cut

You may notice UMD is undergoing a lot of superficial changes this semester. For instance, we’re building a grand entrance from BlueStone Lofts to campus, resurfacing the parking lots and renovating Kirby Student Center from a study area into a pool hall. But where is all this money coming from?

A sum of $8-12 million needs to be cut from UMD’s budget, and the disputed solution is Program Prioritization. This means that academic programs, as well as non-academic areas, are currently under evaluation to determine whether or not data proves their purpose and worth. If they’re unable to meet certain qualifications, they will be restructured or cut by next semester.

The trouble with this is that it is unclear how much is going to be cut and how much is going to be cut from academics versus administrative and support services. But if the mission of UMD is teaching and research, then our spending and cutting should reflect that.

While there is much more to campus life than the classroom, academics are the reason universities were created in the first place, and they should be protected at all costs. After all, what would the university be without its academic programs?

“This is sort of akin to saying we’re going to build a new gymnasium because people want to play basketball,” said sociology and anthropology professor John Hamlin. “So we’re going to build this gymnasium with all these seats, and we’ve got extra money so let’s put in lavatories at both ends and let’s put in drinking fountains of different heights . . . and then you find out you don’t have enough money. So you start cutting the size of the court.”

At UMD, this is happening on a much larger scale. The court is to the gymnasium what the classroom is to the university. While UMD looks to prioritize, it’s unclear if they are going to cut the court, i.e., academic programs, or the extras, i.e., the administration and support services.

“It appears to be a lot of funds spent on all the peripheral things,” Hamlin said. “I’m not saying these are bad things; it’s nice to have lots lavatories when, in fact, you’ve got the money. But do you leave those things intact and cut at the academic side or do you cut all of those things first to see if you can, in fact, save the programs?”

On Sept. 11, UMD faculty members gathered in Kirby Student Center Rafters to discuss what the newly implemented Program Prioritization could mean for their classrooms and the entire university.

“We worry as faculty—we worry a lot about fundamentally cutting the core,” Hamlin said. “Whether they will do it or not, we don’t know, but it’s all on the table.”

The atmosphere was full of worry and stress during this two-hour forum. There, the faculty members all raised their hands, waiting for a chance to voice their concerns.

Why now? Why this method? Why so fast? How much is going to be cut? What programs will be cut? Isn’t there another way to solve this problem?

But many of their questions would go unanswered as they claim the administration isn’t providing any straightforward answers and needed explanation.

Walking away from this forum, it became clear that Program Prioritization is not in favor of professors, who, frankly, are the real leaders of this university. While the administration calls the shots and hands over money (which there never seems to be enough of), it is the professors that ultimately guide students to their degrees.

This is not to say that the supportive services on campus are not valued or needed. Of course, the college experience is more than just school. Such services offer necessities to students like food, housing, tutoring, wellness centers and more—all of which are managed by the administration. Some of these are necessities, but many are just part of the peripheral. And when it comes to cutting funds, these areas are the ones that should face the chopping block first. Not the academics.

The prioritization process can be sourced to a number of past budget issues. Last year we all tried to wrap our heads around how a miscalculation within UMD’s fringe benefit pool could go unnoticed for over 16 years, resulting in a $3 million deficit. Now, drops in enrollment and retention rate add to the deficit list, which this year totals at $2.5 million, and this is expected to double in 2014.

If you want to play the blame game, both the fringe miscalculation and UMD’s inability to recruit and retain students is the fault of the administration, not faculty.

In fact, professors have been UMD’s saving grace by doing so much with so little funding. So why does it seem like they’re being punished? Why are their classrooms being threatened by cuts when they are not the ones causing most of these budget problems?

The real problem is not having enough money to begin with. And if we are unable convince the state and the U of M system to fork over more money, UMD’s going to ultimately compromise its own mission by cutting what brings us all here in the first place.

During my conversation with Professor Hamlin, he noted that if UMD prioritizes its programs for cutting, it’s a “top down process.”

Ultimately, the administration gets to decide who and what gets cut, giving them an obvious advantage over faculty. In the end, the administration could just decide to save themselves. If UMD’s mission is education, then the prioritization process should protect academic programs, not cut them.

In his book, “Fall of the Faculty: the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters,” Benjamin Ginsberg said administration might sometimes forget or ignore the purpose of the university and even “redefine . . . the mission of the university to enhance the centrality of their own roles.”

It’s hard to view Program Prioritization as a positive thing when so many negatives surround it. I’m not against UMD prioritizing its budget to combat the harsh realities of higher education. Universities everywhere are dealing with deficits and making tough decisions. However, when prioritizing, academic programs need to be made the priority; they should only be cut after all else fails.

As students, we need to be more critical of the changes happening on campus and question what UMD’s priorities really are. The concerns of my professors are my own. I fear that the result of Program Prioritization could potentially mean cutting valued academic programs, like the courses I am taking right now. What are we saving if we cut academic programs? And what am I paying for if you’re cutting my classes?



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