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Panel: Targeted graduate areas must improve quickly

BY MORGAN OLSEN | FEBRUARY 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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The majority of the UI’s graduate programs scored well, a UI task force said — but those that didn’t must quickly improve or risk restructuring, consolidation, or elimination.

The UI Task Force on Graduate Education released its report Monday with ratings and recommendations for reorganization of several graduate programs, including the 14 with the lowest evaluations. These programs will undergo further assessment in the coming months.

Russell Valentino, the head of the cinema/comparative literature department, one of the programs with the lowest rating, said people in his program have begun brainstorming ideas, but they would need substantial time to evaluate any success. He expressed anxiety that rushing changes could lead to greater problems.

“I’ve seen nightmare scenarios at other institutions, where programs were mismatched together and they ended up falling apart,” he said.

UI Provost Wallace Loh, who commissioned the six task forces to explore how to cut the university’s expenses, said changes and reductions are inevitable.

“As a university, we will shrink,” he said on Monday. “The question is: How do we maintain quality and be strong and outstanding?”

The goal is to become a “stronger and leaner” university, he said.

To improve graduate departments, the task force recommended:

• Restructuring the languages, biology, and health, sports, and recreational studies programs.

• Reorganizing or merging small, overlapping departments — such as biophysics and pharmacology. Large departments such as biology and genetics could maintain their current structure.

• Moving second-language acquisition, applied mathematical and computational sciences, and economics to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Our interdisciplinary program is a neutral place for faculty to work together across departments,” said Judith Liskin-Gasparro, the codirector of Foreign Language Acquisition Research and Education. “I would hope that the very productive collaboration across campus of faculty in interdisciplinary programs can continue.”

Several language departments in Phillips Hall have discussed combining into a division of languages and cultures. The task force supports the idea and speculated merging departments could help programs struggling with admission rates.

UI officials asked department heads to respond to an initial assessment earlier this month. These replies were added as an appendix to the report, but Valentino said they weren’t included in the final assessment.

“One surprise to me was that none of the preliminary assessments were changed after the responses were collected from faculty and staff,” he said. “My speculation is that they didn’t care very much about our input.”

Task-force members couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

While some programs will likely be closed, UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan on Feb. 1 that current students would be able to complete their degrees.

John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College, said he hopes deans look at how they can improve their programs regardless of the assessment given.

“We were asked to help set a direction for improvement in all our grad programs,” he said. “We investigated and identified strengths and weaknesses in each program; the task force did its job with the purpose of improving the university.”

The task force also addressed its concern for the declining financial support and said it strongly recommends that private fundraising for the graduate programs be a high priority for the UI.

Another priority should also be graduate recruitment and admissions, as well as increasing diversity.


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