By VINCE TWEDDELL
for the Mail Tribune
Southern Oregon University officials met with faculty and staff Thursday morning to dispel rumors and answer questions about a streamlining process that will eventually lead to cuts of some programs.
The process, called prioritization, has raised fears around campus, as it will create winners and losers, with the losers likely facing more cuts.
SOU President Mary Cullinan said there’s more to the process than cutting; it also will allow the university to assess the significance of programs and determine the university’s focus.
“We have to figure out how we’re going to not just survive, but thrive,” she said.
In May, program prioritization groups will release reports ranking each of the 185 academic programs and each of the 160 support programs in five categories, from the highest 20 percent to the lowest 20 percent.
At the forum, faculty, staff and administrators questioned the rankings process and asked if those who work in a low-ranking program would have a chance to respond.
Anne Connor, a Spanish professor, said allowing a program’s staff to respond to its placement would be the ideal process.
“I think that’s so important,” Connor said.
Connor and others said they would like the opportunity to appeal a program’s low ranking. But Cullinan said that would not occur and that the ranking groups would not be the only determining factor in a program’s future, she said.
“I can’t say it enough — this is just some data,” she said.
University employees are worried that a low-ranking program will automatically be cut, said Dan DeNeui, a psychology professor who is co-chairman of the program prioritization process.
He said the reports released by the groups will be used to make future decisions, but every program in the lowest group will not necessarily be cut.
“It is a recommendation moving forward,” DeNeui said.
For months, SOU officials have been involved in the prioritization process. Initially, representatives of each program on campus filled out reports. Then those reports were sent to the program prioritization groups.
The groups are analyzing each report. Using preset criteria, the groups are weighing the reports to determine each program’s placement, said Chris Stanek, director of institutional research at SOU and the other chairman of the prioritization process.
There are nine specific criteria for academic programs and six for support, Stanek said.
The support programs’ rankings will be released May 1. Two weeks later, the academic programs’ rankings will be released.
Following release of those rankings and their accompanying reports, a long period of discussions will take place, DeNeui said.
Cullinan said she believes the rankings will encourage employees within departments to better evaluate their own programs. She said those within departments may decide a specific program should be cut or merged with another program.
The reports and rankings will come to Cullinan in June, she said.
Talks will continue through the summer, and in September, Cullinan said, she plans to hold a retreat with 60 to 70 key employees and students to discuss proposals. Even after that, she said, there is no timetable for when cuts, consolidations or mergers could occur.
“I can’t outline it completely for you,” Cullinan said. “It’s not going to be a linear process.”
Officials denied campus rumors that a student whose major is cut won’t be able to finish that program.
“No student will be denied a major,” DeNeui said. “They will be able to get that degree.”
Programs that a student needs to complete a degree will be available until he or she graduates, officials said.
Cullinan said the outside world is changing rapidly — including technology and demographics — and SOU must evolve, especially if the school wants to recruit and win students over other schools also making changes.
“We’re not going to look the same in five years, 10 years,” she said.
While it’s early in the process, Cullinan said, change is inevitable.
“Some things will go away,” she said. “I can’t tell you what they are. We’re going to be streamlined.”
Cullinan and DeNeui will hold another campuswide meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the Meese Room of the Hannon Library to discuss the process.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.