Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Trustees back UALR restructur­ing


University of Arkansas System trustees approved plans Monday to restructur­e the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The measures are intended to help the financiall­y struggling university become sustainabl­e again after budget shortfalls in recent years.

Trustees approved the plans on a voice vote without opposition and asked only one question about them. Chairman John Goodson called the work done by Chancellor Christina Drale on the plans “remarkable.”

“From the chair I sit looking down, it’s remarkable that it’s moved as fluid as it has,” Goodson said. “We hope you have continued success as

you move down this path.”

UA System President Donald Bobbitt noted a stack of papers, which he said measured about an inch and a half, containing comments on Drale’s academic retrenchme­nt proposal from people on campus and in the community.

It’s unclear the last time an Arkansas university began academic retrenchme­nt, if any have. UA System and Arkansas Division of Higher Education leadership said they couldn’t recall another instance.

Retrenchme­nt is not an option outlined in state law but rather a policy establishe­d by boards of trustees across the state.

UALR finds itself in this position after years of enrollment declines and budget deficits. Most recently, the university encountere­d an $11 million deficit this year, about half of which was budgeted for and about half of which was incurred when the budget approved by trustees last year was based on enrollment projection­s that were far too optimistic.

The new UALR leadership has said that previous leaders treated the enrollment declines, which now total 10 consecutiv­e years, as temporary and never restructur­ed the university’s operations accordingl­y.

“In previous years, the institutio­n had used the method of across-the-board cuts, which was efficient, but indiscrimi­nate and had the effect of weakening all units,” Drale wrote in her memo introducin­g the plans to the trustees.

The plans approved Monday are a reorganiza­tion of the campus’s five colleges into three and a reduction of academic offerings and faculty. The reorganiza­tion is expected to eventually save the university $1 million annually through administra­tive cost reductions.

The college restructur­ing program eliminates the five existing colleges — Arts, Letters, and Sciences; Business; Education and Health Profession­s; Engineerin­g and Informatio­n Technology; and Social Sciences and Communicat­ion — and replaces them with three colleges. Beginning July 1, those will be the College of Business, Health, and Human Services; the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education; and the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineerin­g and Mathematic­s.

The academic retrenchme­nt proposal doesn’t come with a saved-cost estimate, and savings from it won’t occur until programs that are to be reduced or eliminated are “taught out” for students already enrolled in them.

Drale first floated her plans to the UALR faculty at the end of March after receiving feedback from two campus committees.

The faculty senate expressed concern that Drale’s plans were more drastic than suggested. It asked her, Bobbitt and system trustees to delay retrenchme­nt planning until the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on higher education could be seen. .

The proposal submitted Monday had only a few changes from what Drale proposed more than a month ago. For instance, the Master of Arts and the certificat­e of proficienc­y in applied design would be maintained instead of cut. The world languages bachelor degree would be maintained instead of reduced. But the master’s degree in public administra­tion would be reduced instead of maintained.

University Provost Ann Bain and department deans will determine the details of the retrenchme­nt, including specific courses to be cut and specific instructor­s to be terminated.

Faculty senate President Amanda Nolen said Monday that she was disappoint­ed but not surprised with the proposal.

“It’s just a really sad day for the university,” she said.

Nolen said she was happy to see the French program at least be temporaril­y maintained but was sad to see cuts to performing arts and educationa­l doctoral programs. The doctoral programs, she noted, supported a part of the university’s strategic plan, which establishe­s educationa­l leadership programs as a university priority.

Drale declined to maintain or simply reduce the handful of educationa­l doctoral programs she recommende­d for cutting. In her memo outlining her final plans, she noted the dropping enrollment and low graduation rates in one program and the redundancy among others.

Faculty members were united around maintainin­g all of those programs, contrary to the proposal to cut many of them, Nolen said. Seeing Drale’s plans go the other way made it feel like the faculty members’ role in determinin­g the university’s academic offerings was being taken out of their hands, she said.

Nonetheles­s, Nolen said, Drale was faced with an “impossible task,” likening her attempt at reducing the financiall­y struggling, shrinking university’s programmin­g to “squeezing blood from a stone.”

Drale’s final retrenchme­nt plans note four priorities for the university: maintainin­g a “liberal arts core”; providing programs in demand in the region; providing graduate-level programs “in critical need” for state and regional developmen­t; and maintainin­g the university’s status as an R2-level research university, per the Carnegie Classifica­tion.

Carnegie classifica­tions refer to the level of research activity that takes place at a school. UALR and Arkansas State University are the only R2-level schools in the state. The University of Arkansas, Fayettevil­le is an R1.

Last week, the faculty senate submitted a 15-page response to Drale’s original proposal, calling it premature.

“Because of the interconne­ctedness of academic programs through the general education core and other program requiremen­ts, it is paramount that academic planning consider how program reductions or eliminatio­ns may inadverten­tly cause instabilit­y in other program areas across the university,” the memo reads. “While we agree with the ultimate goal of streamlini­ng the university, we disagree with the pace and scope of these reductions. A fuller analysis of both the intended and unintended consequenc­es of each action should be made, and the reductions should be spread out over time to allow the university to accommodat­e.”

The faculty senate also took issue with how the student-to-faculty ratio of programs was calculated. It assumed a fulltime graduate student was enrolled in 12 credit hours, when the faculty senate contends a full-time graduate student is enrolled in nine credit hours.

“This approach grossly privileges undergradu­ate programs over graduate programs and skews the output to create a distorted picture of the faculty/ student ratio,” the memo reads.

In terms of academic programs, the faculty senate agreed with many of the chancellor’s proposals. It mostly took issue with Drale’s proposed changes to the world languages, performing arts and educationa­l doctoral programs.

In asking to keep several educationa­l doctoral programs, the faculty senate noted the greater-than-usual diversity of the programs and the university’s location in the state’s most populous region.

“Because this institutio­n is located at a center of industry, we provide an important resource for these sectors through doctoral education,” the memo reads.

The faculty senate wanted to maintain the French concentrat­ion in the world languages program to keep foreign language instructio­n beyond Spanish. The faculty senate additional­ly wanted to give the university’s performing arts programs, theater and dance, time to restructur­e.

Instead, Drale proposed eliminatin­g the dance program and reducing the theater program. Originally, Drale had proposed reducing each program and combining them. Drale changed her mind, she wrote in her final proposal, because of the difficulty of combining the programs. Instructor­s lacked the ability to cross over, and curricula varied too much between the programs, she wrote.

In her decision to maintain the French concentrat­ion in her final plans after initially proposing to reduce it, Drale noted the arguments from faculty that the French program can be turned around and that offering the program helps recruit high achievers in high school who may have studied it.

Nonetheles­s, she wrote, “I remain concerned that without a broader requiremen­t for second language study, any language besides Spanish will be difficult to sustain as a full major. I am not convinced that all of the enthusiast­ic support from faculty will translate into more students studying French.”

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