Luther College Chips

APC announces plans to cut fields of study

Ben Selcke, Staff Writer

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Responding to decreased enrollment and a low student to faculty ratio, the Academic Planning Committee (APC) released its proposal to fully cut three areas of study and remove four majors and four minors.

The Dean’s Office released an email to the Luther student body on Feb. 21 containing the details of the APC’s proposal, which resulted from a faculty meeting on Feb. 21. In a separate faculty meeting held on Feb. 23, the APC discussed alternatives to address under-enrolled classes.

The APC proposed to remove the following departments:  Intersections — with the exception of the first-year Scholars Colloquium class — Chinese and Russian. The athletic training, dance, German, and Russian studies majors are being considered for removal, along with minors in Asian studies, K-12 health and physical education, K-12 world languages education, and Russian studies.

The proposal comes in light of the objective that President Paula Carlson and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Kevin Kraus set in the spring of 2016 to return to a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, a major shift from the current 11:1 ratio. Additionally, the proposal comes after the APC’s approximately seven-month evaluation of all academic departments.

Vice President of Communications and Marketing Rob Larson framed the reductions in the context of Luther’s enrollment history. Larson said that the Luther student body increased in the 1990s but has since declined.

“We need to make sure that our costs mirror [the decline],” Larson said. “The same way we went up when it was appropriate — now it’s a matter of going down.”

According to Luther’s Assessment and Institutional Research Department, 2,169 students enrolled at Luther for the 2016-2017 academic year.

The APC’s evaluation, conducted by its nine members, contained criteria for assessing the academic departments. In doing so the APC considered quantitative analyses, class sizes, the number of graduates per year, and whether enrollment was cyclical over a given period.

However, Associate Professor of Art History and APC member Kate Elliott emphasized that, in some cases, less quantifiable traits emphasized interdisciplinary connectivity.      

“We looked at [each] program’s connection with other programs on campus,” Elliott said. “Some programs are small but serve a large number of majors. Physics is a good example.”

Associate Professor of Physics and APC chair Todd Pedlar also feels that the strength of an academic department lies in its connection to other departments on campus. According to Pedlar, the APC considers departmental overlap as a means of evaluation, but also as a model for the future of the college as a whole. Pedlar explained his desire for a connected and integrated curriculum that spans different departments.

“I really do want to see us work together to be creative about how we deal with this situation,” Pedlar said. “[We want] to look for ways for departments to partner together to be more creative about the way they offer courses.”

The college has not yet reduced the faculty size in any way. Further, according to the faculty handbook, the college will not make reductions until the entire faculty has discussed, amended, and voted on the proposal.

The proposed changes will come before a full faculty vote later this academic year. Faculty will meet on March 14 and April 11. Pedlar said that the second meeting is when faculty can take action on the proposal.

“The procedure is very much the same as the procedure for creating a new program,” Pedlar said. “We go through the same steps.”

The Board of Regents will subsequently receive the results of this faculty vote, at which point it will either accept or reject the proposal.

Regardless, the current proposed cuts will not meet the administration’s desired 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, unless faculty vote to remove more departments than originally proposed by the APC.

Despite the significant reductions that the APC proposed, the Dean’s Office framed these reductions in its Feb. 21 statement in the context of the two new programs added to Luther’s curriculum in the past year: data science and neuroscience. Larson further highlighted the college’s emphasis on new areas of study.

“The Dean’s Office is looking at programs we don’t have or fields of study that we don’t currently include that we might consider,” Larson said. “[The college is considering] programs that wouldn’t change who we are but would in fact strengthen our mission.”

In the second faculty meeting on Feb. 23, Kraus discussed the possibility of changes to how the college addresses under-enrolled classes. Faculty are expected to teach six classes each year, Kraus explained. If one of those classes is canceled due to low enrollment — typically classes of five students or fewer — faculty need to re-offer the class the following semester. Kraus suggested that, alternatively, faculty should be given the choice between teaching another class and taking a pay reduction of one-sixth. As a further change, Kraus said he would like to see the minimum size at which point classes are canceled increase from five students to eight.

Some classes, however, proceed regardless of their size due to college graduation requirements. Kraus proposed reducing the pay of faculty teaching those under-enrolled classes.

“I think we should reduce the pay a little because there are only six students and not eight,” Kraus said. “I want to discuss that possibility.”

While Kraus acknowledged that both the pay reduction and the raised minimum class size proposals were unpopular among faculty, he expressed his desire to speak with the Faculty Interests Committee (FIC) for its input on the matter. Kraus added that he would not move forward without the committee’s approval.   

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