By Julia Corrigan
Since last spring, an appointed committee of administrators, deans and bargaining-unit faculty members have been working together on a process by which academic programs would be analyzed for strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward improving Rider’s offerings and, thus, its financial position.
Called the Prioritization Task Force for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, guided by Provost DonnaJean Fredeen, the committee has been following a process described in Robert C. Dickeson’s book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services, to critically analyze and evaluate the potential to expand, cut or merge programs.
On Oct. 29, President Gregory Dell’Omo announced that the university aimed to cut 14 academic programs and lay off 14 faculty members because of a projected $7.6 million deficit. The decision to cut academic programs and faculty members was done without consultation with the prioritization task force, according to members. This caused at least three committee members to resign from their positions on the task force.
The task force had created criteria and an operational mission statement to guide them for the academic program prioritization (see box). The next step the group for the group was to send out a series of questions to each department to collect data for the prioritization process based on the established criteria, according to former committee member and associate professor of philosophy Joel Feldman, who was one of the professors identified on Oct. 29 as being laid off.
The proposed program cuts caused some committee members on the prioritization task force to feel that they had “no input” and “no feedback whatsoever,” Feldman said. This is the reason he gave for leaving the task force.
However, Dell’Omo said that the decision was made to cut the programs and faculty members without consulting the prioritization task force because the projected deficit was much worse than anticipated.
“Why we jumped into it right now instead of letting it play out into the spring is because the nature of the problem has gotten so bad,” he said in the town hall meeting. “It’s so urgent that we’re required at this step in the process to basically jump-start this decision-making process. We have a $7.6 million deficit this year. And I know some people may dispute that number and how the accounting is done, but believe me, that is real. And that number will continue to grow over the next two or three years unless we do make some tough decisions.”
According to Feldman, some members of the prioritization task force feel the president’s and administration’s criteria for evaluating the programs were too narrow compared to what the task force was preparing to analyze.
A document sent from Fredeen to Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) outlined the administration’s criteria (see box below). The letter stated, “The program’s centrality to the university’s mission and identity also was considered. Only established programs were considered for elimination, giving new programs appropriate time to become established.”
Therefore, some of the main criteria in evaluating the programs were based on savings, low enrollment and job market demand for the programs.
The prioritization task force’s mission statement, on the other hand, highlighted giving students a “fulfilling life and satisfying career,” developing “key skills and competencies,” creating a “student-centered education,” and enabling students to contribute to the “cultural, social and economic life of the community, nation and world.”
Feldman said what frustrated some members of the prioritization task force is that they were working on something “thoughtful, based on broad criteria for what an education should be. Then the administration comes in with a very narrow set of criteria and a very narrow vision of what an education should be.”
Though some people may feel the criteria were constricted, Dell’Omo stressed that the cuts were essential to the livelihood of the university.
“So I understand it may look somewhat cynical to many people,” Dell’Omo said. “It really was out of a sense of urgency and immediacy needed to address the issues, to get us on the track of affordability, savings and moving on some other investments.”
The prioritization task force remains in place to continue to analyze the programs still available. However, Feldman feels that its continuation shows that there will be cuts in the future.
“It’s not over,” he said. “It’s the beginning of what could be a series of cuts. For those students who think, ‘Well, my program is safe,’ it’s not. The fact they want the task force to go on shows that the remaining programs are not safe. In fact, they are more vulnerable than before. Because before, they were competing with programs that have been eliminated.”