Program prioritization criteria revealed


By Jackie Nevarez

Finalized criteria for the program prioritization of academic and administrative programs show reviews will focus on how programs contribute to NIU’s mission.

Carolinda Douglass, vice provost for Academic Planning and Development, presented the criteria to Faculty Senate on Wednesday. Program prioritization is the process the university will undergo to review academic and administrative programs to determine mergers, cuts and increases in funding.

The two task forces, academic and administrative, will consist of no more than 20 members nominated by faculty, staff and students. The academic task force will include tenured faculty and instructors while the administrative task force will consist of staff, tenured faculty and instructors and at least one representative from each division. More than 100 people are being considered for the task forces, and up to 40 will be selected and trained in the summer.

Academic programs will be reviewed on eight criteria, including the quality of students and faculty, demand for the program and the contribution the program makes to diversity. The programs’ contribution to the university’s mission as well as the quality of students and faculty have the most weight in the review process.

Administrative programs will be reviewed on five criteria, including quality, productivity and demand. Importance to the university mission is weighted the most important for administrative program review. Weighted the least is opportunity analysis, which is comprised of reviewing opportunities for cost-saving, additional revenue and improvement of staff efficiency, among other things.

Associate English professor Tim Ryan said he and other faculty are concerned by program prioritization continuing without adequate discussion of its purpose and outcomes.

“Administrators at other universities say that it suffers from a variety of logical flaws,” Ryan said. “Academics describe it as anti-intellectual. Some colleges that performed program prioritization talk of it as a miserable failure.”

Program prioritization benefits large programs, Ryan said, as universities cut small programs’ funding and award it to larger programs instead of addressing decreasing resources.

Robert Dickeson, author of “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance,” suggested in his book universities skip faculty in the shared governance process of prioritization, Ryan said.

Dickeson’s book has been provided to NIU faculty, staff and administrators as a resource for program prioritization. Ryan asked Douglass and Provost Lisa Freeman why program prioritization was chosen instead of departmental and program recommendations for funding, which was answered by applause amongst the faculty.

Although program review has been done by departments, the university has never linked the results of the reviews to NIU’s resources, Freeman said. Cuts across the university have prevented NIU from increasing factors like program quality and enrollment, but Freeman said program prioritization allows resources to be shifted from administrative programs to academic programs.

In regard to Dickeson’s 1994 book, Freeman said it is a starting point and not a manual for prioritization.

“So, I’m sure we will never agree on the wisdom of embarking on program prioritization, but I want to say that we have thought about many of the arguments we made, that you have made, and we will continue to listen to them,” Freeman said. “But I do not think it’s a fair characterization of our process to say we have adopted a flawed methodology published in 1994 with no thought about how it would fit our culture or what the impact would be.”