The Doane community recently went through a challenging experience described benignly as Academic Prioritization. The administration, trustees, and Academic Strategy Partners consultants described the process as a collaboration between all stakeholders. They stated that the goals were to establish a ranking of academic and administrative programs that would eliminate or reduce enough programs to eliminate the expected budget deficit and allow redirecting resources to programs that could better serve the university in the future. Doane faculty must prepare for the next challenge.
The Beginnings of a Critique
There were several problems with how the process was conducted.
- The conditions for a successful process outlined by Academic Strategy Partners consultant Robert Dickerson in his book Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services, did not exist at Doane.
- The data set ostensibly used for final decisions about program cuts was unreliable.
- One of the primary directives about the process articulated by President Jacque Carter was violated. This directive was number 2 from the March 5, 2020 memo:
2. The process will be open and transparent, with no a priori decisions having been made, and with decisions based on the published criteria.President’s Charge to Task Forces – 05/05/20
- The bulk of the work required of the faculty occurred during the extreme challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doane faculty would be well-served by a serious study of the academic prioritization process, as it played out from 2019 through 2021. Some of the questions that we should investigate include
Was the working assumption used by the Academic Strategy Partners that declining enrollments on the Crete campus were due to too many academic program offerings a good one?
Was the process used by Doane’s administration and trustees consistent with best practices of shared governance as articulated by the AAUP?
I believe that Doane faculty could have done a better job of organizing against the program cuts pushed by the administration and trustees. We should have made better use of help from the state and national AAUP organizations. The lack of a more successful organizing campaign was due to the multiple challenges presented by the prioritization process and the need to rapidly convert teaching modality from ground-based to online and then to dual-modality modes. We were overwhelmed by the onslaught of work requirements and family responsibilities.
I believe that the future will continue to challenge liberal arts programs, and Doane faculty could face similar program reduction campaigns. We must be prepared to organize quickly and effectively to oppose unnecessary program elimination. To begin this preparation, we should look at examples of successful organizing against program elimination conducted elsewhere. One example worth investigating is Guilford College, which faced a severe budget crisis in 2019 due to declining enrollments and some terrible decisions made by the administration and trustees without faculty input. A recent article in Academe summarizes the response of the Guilford College AAUP Chapter, which helped to avoid the worst of the proposed cuts in programs and faculty. The article is a quick read, so I encourage all faculty to take a look at it:
Zweigenhaft, R. (2022). How the AAUP Helped to Save Guilford College. Academe, 108(1). https://www.aaup.org/article/how-aaup-helped-save-guilford-college
If anyone is interested in conducting a post-mortem on Doane’s Academic Prioritization experience then contact me at cdwentworth (at) protonmail (dot) com