Three majors at Fort Lewis College – computer science, Southwest studies and agricultural science – will be discontinued by the end of the 2012-13 school year, according to a unanimous decision Friday by the college’s Board of Trustees.
The three programs were eliminated because of a combination of high cost and low or declining enrollment numbers, said President Dene Kay Thomas.
The decision most directly will affect nine professors and 126 students who have majors, minors or concentrations in the degree programs, Thomas said.
The programs were the latest casualties in a $4.5 million budget cut process the college completed over the last two years. A predicted 30 percent reduction in state funding over the next fiscal year was a major factor in the cuts.
Of the total reductions, $425,000 will come from discontinuing agriculture, computer science and Southwest studies.
The amount is less than the $550,000 administrators originally planned to cut from Academic Affairs because Thomas agreed to also make $192,000 in cuts to non-instructional administrative and staff costs.
Academic Affairs makes up almost 40 percent of the college’s $42 million general fund budget.
Identifying the cuts
In most budget cycles, academic programs mostly are spared, but the anticipated drop in state funding meant they, too, had to face the financial ax, said Michele Peterson, the college’s budget director.
In response to budget shortfalls, the college also is considering tuition increases ranging from 9 to 20 percent for in-state students, but the board has not yet approved any definite action, FLC spokesman Mitch Davis said.
Knowing that academic programs would face reductions this year, the college embarked on its most comprehensive review of academic programs in at least a decade, Davis said. The process also aimed to help Fort Lewis develop a more contemporary curriculum.
While President Thomas defended the program review as both necessary and comprehensive, debate about the merits of such a task, and the process used to achieve it, have continued to swirl among faculty.
In the three-month-long review process, faculty and administrators scrutinized each of the college’s 102 majors, minors and certificate programs on criteria such as student demand, revenue and performance.
The deans of each school, President Thomas and Provost Steve Roderick used the evaluations to make final budget cut recommendations Dec. 3 to the Board of Trustees.
Thomas said the cuts approved by the Board of Trustees were in line with her recommendations.
A balancing act
Some faculty members said the process provided a good opportunity to thoroughly examine each program, while others said the process fell short in providing meaningful and clear evaluations.
“I think the approach we took was honest, and the programs found modifications they could make within themselves,” said psychology professor Michael Anziano before Friday’s meeting.
Anthropology professor Charles Riggs said some faculty were concerned with the potential effects of an increased focus on a program’s revenue and enrollment numbers.
“The interesting thing is when you do rely heavily on tuition count and on student dollars, and I don’t know what extent this happens at Fort Lewis, there is a little bit of a hesitation to hold students as accountable as we normally would,” Riggs said. “You don’t want to fail too many students because you lose tuition.”
Riggs said faculty also had difficulty rectifying the emphasis on bottom-line returns with the college’s liberal arts mission.
“We had trouble defining what sustainable means because sustaining the liberal arts meaning, if that’s who we truly are, may be at odds with being financially sustainable,” he said.
Thomas said administrators made their best efforts to make the review process comprehensive.
“The complexity of the process recognizes the difficulty but also the importance of being comprehensive and not limiting it to the financial,” she said. “But clearly the financial has to play a role we can’t ignore.”
Jim Cross, an associate professor of exercise science and president of the faculty senate, said some faculty were uncomfortable with the task of making decisions that could affect their colleagues’ jobs.
They also were concerned that the college is top heavy on administration, he said.
In response to those concerns, Thomas established an organizational review group to make recommendations on administrative positions. The $192,000 in administrative cuts were in response to the group’s work.
Thomas said the review process was long and complicated out of necessity.
“It has been a tough process,” she said. “If you’re looking for weaknesses, you can find them, but this is our best attempt to make a fair decision.”