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UAA evaluators finish ranking academic offerings, with an eye toward cutting some

Michelle Theriault Boots

Evaluators have finished a controversial, high-stakes audit of the University of Alaska Anchorage's hundreds of academic offerings that could lead to some departments being cut.

Faculty, staff and the public will have to wait until later this summer to see the conclusions, the university said Wednesday.

The unprecedented, institution-wide reckoning is called "prioritization." It has been controversial with some faculty members who say that it is a veiled attempt to threaten tenure and gut programs, especially in the humanities.

During the past school year, every program and department at the university -- where 15,000 students study disciplines ranging from auto maintenance to anthropology -- was asked to complete an extensive self-evaluation.

Two committees made up of faculty and staff members then sorted the programs into five competitive, equally-sized groups using pre-defined criteria including "impact and essentiality" and "quality of program outcomes."

The highest-ranked programs will be considered for expansion and increased funding. The lowest-ranked could be cut altogether.

Recommendations are now with the university chancellor's cabinet, a group of high-level university managers.

Professors and other UAA workers will be able to see the report before it is released to the public, said Kristin DeSmith, assistant vice chancellor of university relations. That will likely happen sometime between now and August.

"We want to make sure we talk to our faculty and staff first," DeSmith said.

No professors contacted Wednesday wanted to speak on the record about prioritization. But some have said publicly that it has created a wary and at-times poisonous atmosphere at the university, one likening it to the dystopian novel series "The Hunger Games."

University administrators counter that it is necessary self-reflection meant to clarify the mission of an institution that has sprawled to offer programs ranging from a doctorate in psychology to a certificate in welding.

"Our goal for this is to look at alignment with our mission and also the needs of the state," DeSmith said. "We've been around for 50 years and have never done anything like this."

The process of shrinking or culling the lowest-ranked programs could take years and would take approval from the Board of Regents, DeSmith said.

Support staff cuts could be made more quickly.

When the process started, the university did not have a budget deficit. For fiscal year 2015, it has already absorbed a 7 percent cut.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com.

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com