Alaska News

UAA prioritization conclusions: More money for arts, languages, humanities

University of Alaska Anchorage faculty members on Monday got a first look at the results of "prioritization," a controversial year-long effort to analyze and rank every offering at the sprawling university with an eye toward growing some programs and cutting others.

The results surprised many: Faculty and staff-led committees concluded that UAA should invest resources in areas that include traditional liberal arts disciplines such as history, philosophy, English, theater, dance and foreign languages while cutting floundering certificate programs and moribund offerings that graduate few students.

Critics of the prioritization process had worried it would take aim at humanities and arts degrees in favor of more industry-friendly science or technology offerings.

The university released the prioritization reports to faculty and staff on Monday to give them time to digest the information before a formal public announcement planned for Wednesday, said university spokeswoman Kristin DeSmith.

The university won't comment on the results before then, she said.

Several faculty members provided Alaska Dispatch News with copies of the prioritization reports ahead of the public release.

None of several faculty members contacted Monday would speak publicly on the ranking results, saying they wanted to wait until the reports had been formally released.


UAA embarked on the unprecedented self-examination of its sprawling academic programs starting last fall, saying it needed to streamline to better serve students and the state.

A money-saving component wasn't part of the original intent, but with declining funding from the legislature, the recommendations will likely be used to justify program cuts in the future, the evaluators have said.

During the school year, every department was asked to justify its existence to the committees through essays on topics such as "impact and essentiality," "size, scope and productivity," and "revenue and resources generated," among other factors.

Faculty and staff-led committees then analyzed the programs, ranking them into five groups.

Academic programs were evaluated separately from other university functions, such as residence life, student health services or sports teams.

In the academic realm, disciplines such as Alaska Native studies, women's studies and international studies received high marks and were tagged for "enhancement."

"This program is core to what UAA wants to become," the evaluators wrote of the bachelor's degree in international studies.

So did language programs like bachelor's degree offerings in Russian, Japanese and German. Programs such as dental hygiene, medical laboratory science, nursing and culinary arts were also considered important to UAA's future.

Other UAA programs -- like a heap of certifications in everything from early childhood development to applied ethics -- ended up in the bottom-ranked "further review" bucket, meaning they could eventually be phased out. The evaluators said there were too many niche certificate programs with little evidence of student demand. The bachelor's degree in chemistry program also landed in the lowest category.

"Chemistry is obviously essential, but offering a major is not necessarily essential," the evaluators wrote.

The evaluators also questioned the existence of some minors, such as physical education and athletic training, that very few students took advantage of.

Administrators cautioned that the ranking categories shouldn't be interpreted as a score or grade, but a reflection of the program's "alignment with our mission," vice chancellor Bill Spindle and provost Elisha "Bear" Baker wrote in an email to faculty and staff Monday.

Programs that landed in the two lowest ranking categories -- "transform" and "further review" -- will be examined closely by the chancellor's cabinet over the next four or five months, the letter said.

The cabinet will make final decisions about program deletions by winter.

Rankings can't be appealed.

Many of the low-ranked programs were already headed for deletion, such as an addiction studies minor.

Non-academic programs identified as needing "further review, consider for reduction or phase out" include literary journal the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Society and the Interlibrary Loan Department, as well as intramural sports and cheerleading.


Other programs were criticized for graduating tiny numbers of students. The bachelor's degree in music program was deemed a "very expensive and relatively non-productive program."

"Graduating so few students in such an expensive program is not something we can afford to keep doing," the evaluators wrote.

The authors of the reports strongly refuted the idea held among a swath of faculty members that prioritization was a veiled attempt to threaten tenure.

"Our analysis of UAA's programs strongly rejects the notion that tenure inhibits flexibility and accountability in academic programs," the authors wrote. "To the contrary, programs with a significant proportion of the program delivered by tenured or tenure-track faculty are more effective and far more flexible than those staffed primarily by adjuncts."

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.