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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

KBOR revises academic program review, pulls control away from universities

Mia Hennen
Faculty Senate on Aug. 28.

The Kansas Board of Regents has created a new academic review framework, eliminating language that would have been used to definitively protect certain university programs by labeling them as “mission-critical.”

Some Wichita State professors criticized this decision, saying it takes autonomy away from universities and gives it directly to the Regents. 

At the Board’s Academics Affairs meeting on Sept. 20, Daniel Archer, KBOR vice president of academic affairs, said that, although KBOR had previously talked about exempting “mission-critical programs” from the program review, that language would no longer be in the process due to “confusion” in subsequent discussions and feedback. 

That exemption would have allowed individual institutions to flag certain programs as critical to their goals, giving them special consideration during KBOR’s review. Institutions will no longer have that security.

In a statement to The Sunflower, Matt Keith, KBOR director of communications, said that the Regents will still consider whether or not a program is “mission-critical,” but that while working with the state universities, they found it difficult to adopt a single definition of “mission-critical,” due to each of their respective missions being different.

“I think it really created more confusion than it provided clarity, so that’s not going to be in the process going forward,” Archer said. “We’re really going to be moving forward with the core review here.”

Chase Billingham, an associate professor of sociology at Wichita State, disagreed. 

“What really happened was that the Board of Regents, once again, took more power into their own hands regarding unilateral decisions to mandate the universities around the state to terminate academic programs,” Billingham said at a recent Faculty Senate meeting.

Keith said that each university will still be able to present to the Board about any programs being self-defined as “mission-critical.”

Since there is no regulated definition of “mission-critical,” universities are left hoping that KBOR takes their particular definitions into consideration.

These concerns are compounded with recent restructuring at Emporia State University as well as a recent study from rpk GROUP, a consulting firm hired by KBOR. Following the firm’s study, rpk identified 83% of Wichita State’s degree programs as operating below an “optimal” level.

History professor and senator Jay Price speaks to the Faculty Senate on Sept. 25. The Senate talked about the Kansas Board of Regents’ academic program review.

During a Faculty Senate discussion, both Jay Price and Elizabeth Heilman, senators from history and applied studies, expressed concerns about the involvement of rpk GROUP in creating the academic program review. 

Heilman pointed to the situation at West Virginia University, where their board voted to cut 28 academic programs and terminate 143 faculty members after rpk was brought in for consultation. She requested clarification about the exact role of rpk in KBOR’s academic review process.

Price said that he would feel better about this process if rpk wasn’t involved and described it as a “hatchetman.”

“Yes, we can make recommendations, but (rpk) seems to be the bellwether that something bigger is going to be happening,” Price said. “And so if that wasn’t in the background, I’d be a lot more comfortable.”

Faculty Senate responds

Following KBOR’s meeting on Sept. 20, the WSU Faculty Senate voiced concern for their revised academic program review, which excludes decisive definitions of “mission-critical.”

Jolynn Dowling, Faculty Senate president, broke down the updates from KBOR. Billingham, a sociology senator, opened the discussion by explaining his perspective on KBOR’s retooling of the academic program review, saying that he took issue with it.

Provost Shirley Lefever speaks to the Faculty Senate on Sept. 25. (Mia Hennen)

Dowling and Provost Shirley Lefever said that they interpreted the information differently, stating that the university can defend certain programs and “tell their story.”

“It was an effort on the Regents’ part to give each institution the autonomy to identify the programs themselves and to make the case for each of those programs,” Lefever said. 

Lefever further emphasized that this program review is similar to what Wichita State did in the past. Lefever said that she and Ashlie Jack, the associate vice president of institutional effectiveness, have been through the university’s programs and think that “it’s going to be very predictable.”

“They’re the same programs that were already on last year’s list,” Lefever said, referring to internal program review at WSU.

Neal Allen, a senator from political science, questioned if the “net” to catch certain academic programs had been widened. This widening would increase the likelihood of programs being merged rather than cut entirely.

Lefever said the process would be similar to how Wichita State approached the results of program reviews in the past. She said that they would meet with the dean of a “triggered” program’s college and the department.

“In some cases, it makes perfect sense to merge a program with another one,” Lefever said. 

In other cases, Lefever said, the demand is not there, meaning the program should be cut.

After the Faculty Senate meeting, some senators spoke to The Sunflower about their concerns with how KBOR has presented this academic review process.

George Dehner, a senator from history, said Billingham put it best, saying that this decision does not give adequate voice to the faculty members and administrative officials at each university. 

He said that the university’s definitions of mission-critical are now “merely a suggestion” for KBOR.

“Quite frankly, I don’t believe KBOR has the expertise to determine for the six Regents universities what is critical to their mission,” Dehner said. “If the final determination of what mission-critical is resides in their heads at KBOR, then we really don’t get to decide what the value of each program is.”

Terrance Figy, a physics senator, called KBOR dropping the mission-critical component “unfair” for “changing the rules on the fly.”

Figy said he chose to miss the Sept. 25 Faculty Senate meeting discussing KBOR concerns because he wanted to prioritize his mental health, saying he already loses sleep at night worrying about the academic review process’s implications.

Figy said that the KBOR framework makes him nervous, especially when considering the terminations and cuts at Emporia State last fall.

Figy said he isn’t against evaluative frameworks, but that there needs to be a “healthy balance.” He called KBOR’s process confusing and would like greater clarity on what is expected from him as a faculty member.

“I’d love to have a dialogue,” Figy said. “You know, tell me what you think we should be doing. Maybe let’s just have some honest discussions here, as opposed to using the bureaucratic mechanisms to do this.”

Mission-critical programs at Wichita State

Before the Sept. 20 meeting, Wichita State prepared a list of “mission-critical” undergraduate programs, explaining their review process and principles. That list was presented by Dowling on Sept. 11, according to the Faculty Senate website.

Programs deemed as “mission-critical” were stated as reflecting WSU’s three priorities: access and affordability, developing the talent pipeline and economic prosperity.

“As with any decision, we consider our existing resources with these priorities to determine what programs are phased out, merged or placed on an action plan,” the Wichita State document stated.

The full list of programs can be found here.

Timeline moving forward

KBOR will release the finalized list of programs for universities to make decisions at their Oct. 19-20 meeting at the University of Kansas.

The universities will have six months to conduct their own reviews and get feedback to the committee by April 20. 

After reviewing those recommendations, KBOR’s Academic Affairs committee will advise the full board in May 2024, and KBOR will make the final decision about what happens to academic programs in June 2024.

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About the Contributors
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, Former news editor
Courtney Brown was one of the news editors for The Sunflower during the 2023-2024 year. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.
Trinity Ramm
Trinity Ramm, Former managing editor
Trinity Ramm was the managing editor in 2023-2024 and former sports editor in 2022-2023 for The Sunflower.  Ramm graduated with a major in English, a minor in sociology, and a certificate in film studies. In her limited spare time, she can be found at the movie theater, browsing some obscure film database or crocheting. Ramm uses she/her pronouns.
Mia Hennen
Mia Hennen, Copy Editor
Mia Hennen is the copy editor for The Sunflower. Most recently, Hennen served as editor-in-chief for the 2023-2024 year. A senior English major, Hennen will graduate in May 2025 and hopes to pursue a career in journalism.

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    Paula WelchSep 28, 2023 at 3:13 pm

    When will KBOR decide to provide over site to the non-profit universities. Especially since several seem to be on the edge of cutting so many programs and resources?

    Other states have their Regents governing more that the public universities and community/tech colleges.