IU turns to consolidation to save programs

By Peter Schuh

Some NIU programs might perceive the budget ax as more of a blender as the state of Illinois’ budget crunch runs its course.

In order to save several of the programs cited by the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative, NIU administrators have turned to multiple program consolidations.

NIU proposals of “comparable scope” to the IBHE’s initiative range from the consolidation of degrees within a single department to the merging of entire departments.

The two proposals which would most affect students and faculty are the possible merger of the journalism and communication studies departments and the geology and geography departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LA&S). However, NIU’s administration has not ruled out the possibility of more large-scale mergers.

“There possibly could be other proposals for mergers coming forward,” said NIU Provost J. Carroll Moody. “I think we could see many more proposals before the Academic Planning Council.”

Administrators agree there is both an up side and a down side to merging programs.

LA&S Dean Jim Norris said he believes mergers can save money and improve academic programs for the sake of students. However, he said, “I think there is always a little drawback in that both units loose a little of their identity.”

Moody said, “Mergers between departments can sometimes bring better efficiency, but there’s also an issue of quality. If a merger would reduce the quality of one of the programs in it, then I don’t believe there would be much support for the merger.”

Richard Brown, dean of the College of Business, cited his opinion on why the IBHE and NIU are looking so heavily at program mergers and eliminations.

“The problem is we have been creating new programs for some time without cutting the old ones which have fallen to low demand or poor quality,” he said. “The key is you have to be willing to dump them, and we haven’t been doing that.

“I wouldn’t just blame Northern,” he said. “This is something all large state universities have failed to do.”

Charles Stegman, dean of the College of Education, agreed the consolidations in his department were not as much a budgetary exercise as “a response to the IBHE to eliminate separate degree programs.” The consolidations in the College of Education would eliminate two programs and revise them as specializations in other programs.

“This will not save any funds, and we do not foresee any benefits to the students,” Stegmen said. “But it will cause the loss of some program identity. We see this as a political process and not an academic process.”

Norris expressed his sympathy for the individuals caught in the crunch of consolidations. “I am very sympathetic for the faculty who have been singled out in the School of Law or wherever. They have done nothing wrong.”

Additionally, Norris said he did not see a need for his college to be looking at further mergers in the near future. “I think we’re going to see the IBHE turning its attention to administrative costs, research centers and things like that.”