Program elimination by another name: emeritus professor speaks out

By Margaret Schleissner

Under the banner of “prioritization” and “academic efficiency” with faculty “buy-in,” Rider’s administration is proposing to eliminate 20% of existing academic programs. 

The Provost’s notion of assessment seems inexplicably linked to prioritization. Middle States Accreditation does not require prioritization, as the Provost asserts in one of her recent communications to faculty. Middle States require only that academic programs undergo an assessment process; which one is up to the program. Rider is under no external pressure to engage in prioritization. Prioritization is exclusively the provost’s choice of assessment. It is based on the outdated 1999 book by Robert Dickeson which starts with the a prior assumption that 60% of a university’s programs are not worth their cost and that 20% should be eliminated. Think about this! What would you do in this case: your professor comes into the classroom on your first day of classes and says that 20% of you will fail the course, no matter how hard you work. 20% of the students will fail totally independent of their individual performances. This is what will happen to 20% of Rider’s programs.  

Prioritization also favors large mediocre programs over small, often excellent programs. It does not have any reasonable method to measure and assign costs, and it often produces recommendations far different than that of a true cost/benefit analysis. 

As the sole faculty member of a major and minor program in German, I participated in the first round of prioritization in 2015, reporting on the program’s quality and student outcomes, like graduate school acceptances and Fulbright scholarships. Yet, based solely on the number of majors (not minors or education majors), the program received a ranking of zero. Small departments with three full-time faculty or fewer, such as art, physics, German and Russian, were eliminated following faculty retirements, and others threatened with layoffs, while new major programs were added in narrowly-focused fields determined by the short-term marketplace. Will Rider students be prepared to pivot when demand for such specialized skills disappears? 

Faculty morale at Rider is at an all-time low. Funds go to outside consultants, attorneys, seemingly frivolous campus improvements and administrators’ salaries. Private, four-year regional universities, like Rider, do not have to offer everything, but they owe their students an education that will last a lifetime. Dedicated to excellence in teaching and research, Rider’s faculty is certainly the institution’s backbone and key to its future success. I implore you to support your faculty in any way possible in their efforts to maintain Rider’s excellent academic programs that are under threat to be cut by a provost who is in charge of making up savings that the administration frivolously spent on paying themselves handsomely, consulting firms and other projects that are not profitable. 

Dr. Margaret Schleissner

Professor of German Emerita

Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Originally printed in the 11/17/21 issue.

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