Saturday, January 15, 2011

Penn State to cut academic program that includes Disability Studies

From the Centre Daily Times:

At least one academic program at Penn State is slated for closing as a result of a widespread review aimed at saving money and improving efficiency.

The science, technology and society program, a joint initiative between the College of the Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering will close in June 2012, if the decision receives approval from the Faculty Senate and university board of trustees.

The interdisciplinary program does not have majors, but offers students minors. It has about 15 faculty, including five who are untenured. Four are fixed-term faculty.

Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said the recommendation came from a review of the College of Engineering. It has also been endorsed by the university’s core council, which has been charged with overseeing the review of academic and administrative programs

“While the program’s faculty have made many contributions over the years, the program is not as central to the missions of the colleges as are their core degree granting departments,” Welch said in a letter announcing the decision to department heads.

She said that the economy is one of the main drivers behind the decision.

The university is facing the possibility of state funding cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. The state is facing its own $5 billion deficit and federal stimulus money is coming to an end.

“We’re anticipating that times are maybe going to get even tougher than they are now,” Welch said.

Tenured faculty will be reassigned to other departments, but there isn’t a guarantee for nontenured faculty and staff. Students in program minors will be able to finish their work.

“You’re always reluctant to see a program with quality faculty be cut,” Welch said. “No one’s feeling really good about it. It’s just a matter of facing reality. Penn State can’t do everything.”

Susan Squier, acting director of the program, and a professor of women’s studies, English and STS, expressed disappointment in the decision and the process, which she said hasn’t been transparent.

The program, she said, draws faculty and students from different disciplines together.

“We in STS are deeply disappointed that Penn State has taken such a step particularly in this era when it is increasingly important to understand the social impact of science and technology, the ethical questions raised by biomedicine and biotechnology, and the issues formulated and clarified by disability studies,” Squier said in a written statement.

The core council and review of academic and administrative programs has been under way since 2009 as part of the university’s overall strategic plan.

University spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said the process is data-driven, including reviews of enrollments, demand, future outlook and input from the affected units.

“All Penn State colleges and campuses are undergoing internal scrutiny for cost savings and efficient use of resources at this time, as part of the second year of the strategic plan, in an effort to strengthen academic quality and control costs, as well as maintain access and afford-ability for students,” Mountz wrote in an e-mail.

The university is not alone. According to an Association of Public and Land- Grant Universities survey in September 2009, half of its member schools said education revenues were dropping, and two-thirds planned broad reviews of university operations and programs.