Colleges And Universities Eliminating Academic Departments

By Staff
August 14, 2009

As institutions of higher learning strive to cut back on expenses, many are resorting to phasing out some of their less popular academic programs.

The University of Southern Mississippi announced this week, for example, that it may completely eliminate its economics department. The decision to eliminate the department is part of a plan to reduce spending by $11 to $12 million within a year, reports Inside Higher Ed. According to an outline of the plan, the economics program graduates less than five students a year, although that number is in dispute.

"We have never witnessed economic conditions like the ones we face today, which necessitate that we make hard choices," said USM President Martha Saunders in a written statement which was quoted in the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

University faculty responded with shock and anger to the proposal. "USM will stand alone as a major university without an economics faculty," wrote George Carter, a professor of economics at the institution. Another professor, Mark Klinedinst, noted that while few enroll in core economic programs, the economics courses in the department support many other majors.

"I'm just sort of baffled," Klinedinst told Inside Higher Ed. "It seems to me similar to not having an English department or a biology department. Here we are in the worst economic mess in 70 years, and to not give our students a chance to understand their own personal economic situation--their finances--and understand what some of the remedies are that are being talked about by the president and Congress and state legislators, I think is a shame."

Klinedinst expects that if the plan is adopted, the school will likely lay off tenured faculty and rely more on adjunct professors to teach economics courses, thereby saving money. But he argues that the new model will ultimately be a disservice to students.

Other institutions grappling with revenue loss are making cuts in the arts. The New York Times reports that the department of theater arts and dance has been eliminated at Washington State University. And at Florida State University, the undergraduate program in art education and two graduate theater programs are disappearing.

Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has eliminated its undergraduate program in theater education, a decision that was also based on student demand. "It only had 15 students," explained Tom Bauer, assistant director of public affairs, "and they will be allowed to finish."

While the Times points out that budget reductions have affected every discipline, administrators who were interviewed at more than a dozen state and private institutions noted that arts programs often receive the brunt of the cuts.

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