UNO to end seven degree programs, cut more jobs to save millions _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- UNO President Peter Foss enters a news conference where he announced the university's Academic Program Restructuring at Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Six months after forming a working group to assess his financially hard-pressed school’s strengths and find ways to trim costs, University of New Orleans President Peter Fos said Thursday that he intends initially to eliminate seven academic programs, one department and 26 faculty and staff positions in an effort to save $1 million this academic year and $2.8 million next year.

Fos released his recommendations Thursday ahead of a meeting next week of the board of supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, who will have final say on the changes.

He said the review was aimed at identifying programs that fit with UNO’s long-term mission, considering factors such as student demand and each program’s size, graduation rate and tuition revenue.

Among his proposed cuts, Fos recommended eliminating UNO’s bachelor’s program in early childhood education; master’s programs in special education, political science and Romance languages; and doctoral programs in curriculum and instruction, special education and political science.

He also proposed eliminating the department of geography, which stopped offering degree programs in 2011. In addition, Fos recommended reducing UNO’s budget for adjunct instructors by $1 million annually and eliminating four positions in the school’s library. With fewer adjunct instructors, Fos plans to begin requiring department chairs to teach a minimum of two courses each spring and fall semester.

“Remaining faculty will have a larger teaching load, unfortunately, but we have to find these savings,” he said during a news conference.

The faculty working group released its own recommendations last month, calling for ending three degree programs and restructuring another 25. The group had scored UNO’s 80 degree offerings using criteria they developed to assess which areas should be given more funding and which should be restructured or eliminated.

Fos’ proposals go further and largely mirror recommendations issued separately last month by Richard Hansen, UNO’s interim provost. One notable exception is that Fos decided against recommending elimination of the “bachelor’s program in elementary education — integrated/merged approach,” which was targeted by Hansen, who contended that it suffers from low enrollment and too few students finishing the program in a three-year span.

“There’s a little balance here,” Fos said about his decision to keep the program.

Meanwhile, the fate of the remaining degree programs recommended for restructuring or merger by the faculty group, but not targeted for elimination by Fos, is unclear. Faculty of each program are required to submit a restructuring plan to the working group by late spring.

A third category in the group’s report listed programs that it recommended be enhanced or sustained, though the committee has yet to differentiate between those two categories; that process is ongoing. Those programs include bachelor’s degrees in English, film and theater, fine arts and history; master’s programs in English and in hospitality and tourism; and doctorate programs in chemistry, financial economics and urban studies. The programs also will be studied for ways to improve efficiency.

The group’s review measured a program’s demand by considering enrollment, trends in academia, the number of students who graduate from the program and the general outlook among committee members on the program’s projected future enrollment. Different criteria were used to evaluate bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.

Fos said the faculty of programs eyed for restructuring or merger will have until May to “work on plans to restructure, merge or otherwise transform,” which will be submitted to the working group for review. Fos will weigh in on them later.

Reshuffling the deck during that phase is expected to result in cutting another 15 positions and five academic programs, while another five programs likely will be merged. Altogether, the measures are projected to save $4.7 million by the 2016-17 academic year.

After the proposed changes are finalized, UNO will stop admitting students into the discontinued programs, and those departments will begin developing teach-out plans for current students, Fos said.

Though the political science department appeared to be hard-hit, Fos said the future of the acclaimed UNO Survey Research Center is secure. The center collects information about public opinion on a range of economic and political issues.

“First of all, the UNO Survey Research Center will not go away,” Fos said during his news conference, repeating it for effect.

Fos, who is entering his third year at the helm of UNO, has blamed declining state higher education funding, low enrollment and changes in the workforce climate for the university’s need to retrench.

UNO has been grappling with sharp drops in state higher education funding and a declining enrollment, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the campus and the city in 2005. Since starting at UNO in January 2012, Fos previously has cut more than 110 positions and closed a popular on-campus child care center. He has said the fiscal belt-tightening is necessary in light of the school’s reduced size.

In recent years, new state-mandated admissions requirements also have gone into effect, further reducing the size of the freshman classes, he said.

“There’s no new money from the state and probably won’t be for many years, so I have to find money to reinvest in programs that this university should be doing,” Fos said.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.