Some Ph.D. programs may get ax
URBANA — After a yearlong review of 98 Ph.D. programs, the University of Illinois may shutter a few of its doctoral programs on the Urbana campus.
Next Wednesday, the UI Board of Trustees is scheduled to hear from Urbana administrators about a comprehensive assessment of the Ph.D. programs and review a short list of programs suggested for closure. Graduate College Dean Debasish Dutta declined to disclose the names of the programs before the trustee meeting.
Dutta said he believes the review, which involved an 18-member faculty committee looking at all 98 doctoral programs, was the first campuswide doctoral assessment in at least 50 years.
He called it a "thoughtful, open and transparent process."
The committee did not look at how the programs compared with rankings such as those published in U.S. News & World Report or the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
"We focused on ... how effective are these programs and how well are these programs preparing our students for a career in their chosen disciplines," Dutta said.
It was very student-focused, he said.
Committee members reviewed factors such as average time-to-degree, four- and six-year retention rates, mentoring programs, professional development opportunities, faculty-advisee ratio and more. They also asked students to complete a confidential survey about their education.
Program staff submitted a five-page report and, throughout spring 2011, different subcommittees met to discuss the programs' strengths and areas for improvement. Later, Dutta and then-interim Provost Richard Wheeler reviewed the subcommittees' reports and evaluated the programs. They also met with faculty and staff from the programs.
"A few meetings started out tense ... but by the time it ended, all of us were on the same page. Our goal was not to say, 'we're going to penalize you,'" Dutta said.
Instead, the goal was to help the programs address their areas of need and help them find out what the college can do to help.
"The decisions (about closures) that have been made are based on data and have been made in collaboration with units and their executive officers," Dutta said.
The Graduate College itself cannot arbitrarily close a program, but the process requires the program itself to initiate it, he said. Several other approvals also are needed, including the program's home college, the Graduate College and academic senate.
Dutta said the college's staff were able to assemble some of what they learned were best practices from the programs and they published these on the college's website so other programs could benefit by learning how some programs manage mentoring, recruit students or organize professional development opportunities.
Beginning fall 2013, the Graduate College will start to conduct these reviews regularly. Instead of all 98 being reviewed in one year, they will look at about 20 to 25 programs each year.