UA Little Rock retrenchment process moves forward despite coronavirus disruption

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 444 views 

UA Little Rock Chancellor Dr. Christina Drale says the metropolitan campus can’t wait for the coronavirus crisis to subside before making tough decisions on keeping, eliminating or redesigning the school’s academic future.

Confronting an $11 million budget shortfall, Drale began the formal process of retrenchment in January. A preliminary report for community comment has now been put forward despite the disruptive nature of the spring semester brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On a personal note, I certainly understand that the retrenchment process is traumatic for any campus to undergo and I don’t take this lightly. This will likely be the most difficult thing this campus ever does,” Drale said in a memo outlining her initial recommendations. “Some may be wondering why we don’t hold off until the added trauma of the Coronavirus has subsided. Believe me, I wish we had that option. However, if we don’t maintain our original schedule, we won’t be able to include the results in our FY21 budget, and that would cause significant damage to the long-term health of our institution.”

Drale’s proposal, which was released March 30, outlined four major priorities:

  • Maintaining a solid liberal arts core as the basis for a general education curriculum;
  • Providing programs that respond to the needs of the region, that have demand, and that prepare students for viable career paths;’
  • Providing graduate level programs that meet the region’s demands; and
  • Maintaining a research portfolio appropriate to the school’s Carnegie status.

Drale’s recommendations include maintaining 104 academic programs; reducing, redesigning or reviewing 26 programs; and eliminating or suspending 23 programs. Some of the elimination or suspension recommendations include Higher Education (bachelors and masters), Health Education, Systems Engineering, E-commerce, Environmental engineering, and Architectural and construction engineering.

Several of the eliminations or redesigns consisted of Drale agreeing with two review committees’ suggestions as well as other input. At other times, she disagrees with recommendations and outlines her reasoning.

For instance, she noted the major resources invested in programs such as engineering and construction management are overstaffed for the number of students participating in some of the programs.

“The College of Engineering and Information Technology was originally created in response to a regional demand for graduates in this area in order to attract and develop high tech business and investment. Currently, the computer and information science areas are producing high-demand graduates and stakeholders continue to express strong interest in these areas,” she said.

“Additionally, these areas are strong in research. Construction management also has very strong support from local industry and continues to produce high-demand graduates. There is sufficient student demand and community interest to warrant maintaining an engineering curriculum, but these areas have long been over-resourced for the level of enrollment they maintain.

“Systems Engineering has the lowest student to faculty FTE ratio at the institution and Engineering Technology the fifth lowest. These departments consistently run courses below the required minimum enrollment levels, and a number of engineering faculty do not have full teaching loads… Therefore, my proposal includes a reorganization and retrenchment of the engineering programs.”

In April the proposal outlined by Drale will undergo a formal comment period with the following schedule:

  • March 30 – April 3 Program Faculty, School Director or Department Chairperson
  • April 6 – 10 College Faculty, College or School/Department Curriculum Committee, Dean
  • April 15 – 20 Undergraduate Council, Graduate Council
  • April 24 – 27 Faculty Senate
  • April 29 Provost

“On April 30, all recommendations will come back to me for review and I will write my final proposal,” Drale said. “I will then forward that proposal with all recommendations from the formal review process to UA System President Donald Bobbitt for his consideration. Dr. Bobbitt will present the results of the campus process and make his own recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees will then vote whether to approve the retrenchment plan as presented.”

Drale ended her memo to the campus noting that the timing of this process could not be delayed despite the dire predicament of school disruption and postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we all understand that we have very difficult choices to make. We need to proceed with making them. I will continue to welcome your counsel as we carry out the rest of this process,” she said.