Group asks for open process

GAPSA’s resolution calls for more public discussion about program closures.

Bryce Haugen

When the University considers closing graduate programs, it should let students know, members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly said Wednesday.

By a vote of 21-4, GAPSA passed a resolution that asks the University administration to be “straightforward,” “cautious” and “compassionate” when making program-closure decisions. The resolution also calls for more public discussion about closures, including student government leaders.

This summer, the University began a systemwide evaluation of its programming, called strategic positioning. In the coming months, a task force will recommend which programs to close or merge.

In fall, the Medical School ordered the occupational therapy program to stop admitting students as part of its own evaluation.

GAPSA member Jamie Larson, the resolution’s author, said that closure prompted her to act. To prevent a trend, GAPSA needed to send a strong message against the closure, she said at the meeting.

“Program-closing directly reflects the future reputation of your degree,” she said.

Graduate School Dean Vic Bloomfield, who addressed GAPSA, said the process of closing the occupational therapy program was flawed.

“Are we going to do it again? I can’t promise we won’t,” he said, “but not if I can do anything about it.”

Bloomfield said the initial closure process will “be appropriately behind the scenes.

“However, if it is decided to closure a program, then there’s a public Graduate School process for that,” he said.

The 20 to 40 graduate programs that have very few graduate students might be targeted, said E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost.

“We shouldn’t have programs for which there is no demand,” he said.

The strategic positioning task force will make its program-specific recommendations to University President Bob Bruininks by the end of March, Sullivan said. The Board of Regents will make the ultimate decisions, he said.

Peggy Martin, occupational therapy program director, said she hopes her program, which has received hundreds of inquiries from prospective students, finds a new home elsewhere in the University or the state.

“We meet the core mission of the University, but we may not fit the core mission of the Medical School,” she said.

But some students said they are now worried about the future of their departments.

GAPSA Executive Vice President Karen Buhr said she and other students in small programs fear they might be affected by strategic positioning.

“We want to know what’s happening,” said Buhr, a natural resources graduate student. “As (student) leadership, we are the people who should be told first, and I feel that hasn’t happened.”

Sullivan said he has invited public input during the entire process, at more than 30 public events – many of which students attended – and through monthly e-mail updates.

“I think the strategic planning process Ö has been one of the most transparent and accessible processes in the history of the University,” Sullivan said.

In other business Wednesday, GAPSA discussed its annual fees request. The group asked for $376,900 in Student Services Fees for next year’s programming. Last year, the group received $450,500.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a difference in the services we’re providing,” Buhr said. “It’s just a lot less money and a lot less Student Services Fees for graduate students.”