Students, Faculty Debate Program Review

Students and faculty joined forces to discuss the Program Review process in an open forum held on December 12.

More than 150 attended the two-hour forum, held the day before the exam period. Dr. Casey Hurley, chair of the faculty, moderated the discussion, which centered on the work of the Program Review Committee to decide if certain degree programs need to be eliminated or consolidated.

The work of the committee began after Paulien and Associates, an academic consulting firm out of Denver, Colorado, published a study of the academic programs at WCU in September 1999 at the request of the administration.

This study compared WCU to five institutions (Humboldt State University (Pa.), James Madison University (Va.), Murray State University (Ky.), Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, and University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point), all of which had slightly larger student populations than and similar student demographics to WCU.

The study compared the number of students majoring in certain subjects in the five universities to WCU, as well as the types of programs offered at the schools. The study recommended that to stay competitive, WCU should consider eliminating certain degree programs or consolidating them with courses offered in other degree programs.

At the time of the forum, the Program Review Committee, chaired by Bruce Anderson, asked students and faculty for their input on the questions of which programs should be enhanced, eliminated, added, or given increased resources.

Some of the programs recommended for elimination or restructuring include Child and Family Studies, philosophy, mathematics, and physics.

Several Child and Family Studies majors, spoke out at the forum, holding signs that said “I am one of 50 Child and Family Studies Majors.” The consulting report suggested that the Child and Family Studies program be offered through the psychology department.

“We are training to be advocates of children and to help fight for children who are defenseless,” said Carrie Richardson, a Child and Family Studies major. “We are not training to be child care workers. We are training to work with individuals across the life span, especially in the context of families.”

Some programs at WCU suffer from a lack of majors, but others suffer from too many majors and a lack of faculty advisors.

“We have 150 majors in one program and two full-time faculty people,” said David Claxton, professor of Health and Human Preformance. “We have been trying to get additional faculty members for this program, but since Western as a whole is not growing, we’re not getting additional faculty members for the university as a whole, so we just have to wait until the university grows or additional faculty positions become available.”

Anderson mentioned that the program review process was also intended to conserve the resources of the university, and was not originally meant to simply cut programs because of small enrollments.

“One of the problems that we encountered right from the beginning is that Western Carolina University is spread more thinly than any university in the system,” said Anderson. “We have more programs per student, more programs per faculty member, more programs per book than other programs in the area.”

Lex Davis, a student, compared the degree offerings at a university to the menu at a restaurant to argue against cutting programs.

“If you don’t like what’s being offered, you’re going to go somewhere else,” said Davis. “If you don’t like geology, you can choose philosophy, you can choose mathematics, you might want a side of French, or something else. If you can’t get these things, you’re going to go to another restaurant, another university, and I don’t think that’s what anyone here wants.”

Brian Railsback, head of the English department, defended the philosophy department because of the wide array of courses that it has provided within the liberal studies program.

“If you look at the new liberal studies program that we labored for so long to put together, one of the major things we were trying to do was to get the professors in the liberal studies with high morale and very interested in promoting their disciplines, very hard to do if you are working from a department that no longer has a major program,” said Railsback.