Dustin Steinhoff, Staff Writer
A report published by the Program Prioritization Committee suggesting the inactivations of some of the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ programs such as anthropology and theater and cinema arts has caused widespread concern from the St. Louis community, leading many to believe these programs were eliminated and possibly scaring off potential students.
On April 2, a report by the Program Prioritization Committee evaluating the university’s academic programs was released. Included in the report were recommendations of cutting programs such as anthropology, theater and cinema arts, and a master’s degree in communications.
“We had a committee analyzing all of our programs for their growth, strength and excellence. [The committee looked at] quantitative data such as the number of majors, student credit hours, faculty, research productivity, how much they cost, and the revenue they generate. The committee divided into different groups and met with each program and talked about what their goals and missions are. The committee then came up with recommendations, which were presented to the campus community,” said Kristin Sobolik, UMSL’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
The committee’s report sparked concern for students and faculty alike who were worried that programs they are a part of were on the university’s chopping block. However, Sobolik says that is not the case.
“The most important thing to understand is that this report is just the committee’s recommendations. These are not necessarily what is going to happen,” Sobolik said.
Despite the committee’s report only containing recommendations regarding the departments, Professor of Anthropology Susan Brownell has had faculty members from different colleges contacting her, believing the anthropology program has already been inactivated.
“I have had colleagues from Washington University emailing me expressing condolences,” Brownell said.
Brownell believes the act of revealing to the public that the anthropology program could possibly be inactivated has hurt the department.
“We have already had damage done to our image in the community. We are already losing students. There were students we were recruiting to come to UMSL, but [they] decided to go elsewhere. We have students at UMSL who are wondering if they should go elsewhere because they are concerned about the anthropology major,” Brownell said.
According to Sobolik, current UMSL students enrolled in a major that could be inactivated should not be concerned.
“If we decide to inactivate a program, then any student that is currently in that program would be able to graduate with their degree in that program, but we would stop admitting new students into that program,” Sobolik said.
Brownell believes the university has not communicated enough what the report’s intentions were due to the widespread premature concern.
“I do not think the communications part of the report was handled well,” Brownell said. “The committee has said that this was merely meant as a recommendation to start a discussion. If this is the start of discussions, I have no problem with it. However, St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Post Dispatch are announcing it like it is a done deal. I do not understand why the chancellor and the director of communications would have not realized this would be something in which you would need to be proactive and communicate with the faculty before you release it for the media. I am disappointed in UMSL’s communication.”
The committee’s budgetary recommendations came amid reports of a decrease in enrollment rate and state funding, which are two major forms of income for UMSL.
“We want to reinvest into our areas of growth, strength, and excellence. We are getting less funding from the state. We are working very hard on [increasing] our enrollment,” Sobolik said. “We want to build programs that our communities and students want. We physically cannot do that with a decreasing revenue rate unless we reallocate resources from areas that are no longer growing into areas that are. That is something any business or industry would do and we should be doing that all the time. Paying attention to programs that our students want and supporting those programs.”
Students and faculty can expect to hear the university’s final decisions regarding the report’s suggestions in the coming weeks.
“We will have action items stemming from the committee’s report that may include some of the things they suggest on the report, but it can also be broader and not have some of those things,” Sobolik said. “Students will know what actions will be taken before the end of the semester.”