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Provost defends grad report

BY MICHELLE HILLENBRAND | MARCH 04, 2010 7:30 AM

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In a public forum Wednesday night, University of Iowa Provost Wallace Loh and Graduate College Dean John Keller addressed student concerns about the recently released task-force reports.

Most questions raised by those attending focused on the Task Force on Graduate Education, which recommended 14 graduate departments reorganize or face consolidation or elimination.

Around 22 students gathered at the IMU’s Blackbox Theatre — almost three times the turnout of the undergraduate public forums. Most questions regarded changing graduate programs and graduate education.

Allison McGuffie, a graduate student in the cinema/comparative literature department, asked the officials what the UI is doing to save money administratively.

“The University of Iowa has the leanest, the absolute leanest administration in the Big Ten,” said Loh, noting his eliminating the senior vice provost and associate provost for academic programs positions.

The UI’s ratio of administration to faculty has dropped in the past five years, Loh said, noting some other universities have seen increases. By July 1, the UI will have eliminated 35 faculty, 188 staff, and 150 teaching-assistant positions.

“We have lost more over the past year than any other public university in the country,” Loh said.

While most students asked questions about the task-force report and graduate programs, others chose to give suggestions. One student recommended asking alumni to serve as TAs on a voluntary basis, which, he said, could count toward public service hours. Another said a public forum for those in the Iowa City community would allow the public to take part in deciding particular programs’ fates.

Loh said he is proud that 80 percent of the UI’s graduate programs are high-quality, ranking in categories other than “additional evaluation required.”

“It’s a question of whether we focus on the glass that is four-fifths full or one-fifth empty,” he said.

Stef Shuster, a graduate student in the sociology department, said she worried prioritizing programs based on their ranking could stratify departments.

“I appreciate Dean Keller’s comments; from a short-term perspective, he addressed my concerns,” she said. “But what about the long-term and further down the road?”

In response to a question about the advantages and disadvantages of combining programs in the future, Loh used a phrase he said is common in Texas: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Now is the time to do something different by restructuring and redesigning programs, he said.
Keller iterated that the task force is not trying to get rid of programs, it is trying to make improvements. Despite future changes, graduate students already here at the UI will be able to complete their degrees.

While Loh said faculty don’t have to agree with everything the task force concluded, they should consider areas that could be changed to attract more students and analyze curriculums.

“This is a catalyst for change,” he said.


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