Some Ph.D. programs may get ax

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.

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EqDoc wrote on November 01, 2012 at 8:11 am

Dean Dutta is completely full of it!  There was nothing open or transpartent about the process. He came in with an agenda and his appointed committies were nothing but yes men to bend to his wishes.  He is very biased and only will support programs he consideres worthwhile.  What a joke!  Another administrative Stooge!

rsp wrote on November 01, 2012 at 9:11 am

I don't know about how they did it but 50 years is too long. How do you know if you're meeting the students' needs if you don't reevaluate once in a while?

kevhead71 wrote on November 01, 2012 at 9:11 am

How do you know if you're meeting student needs?  It's called graduation and job placement.  The U of I is a very political place in that most "administrators" have their own agendas.

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 01, 2012 at 10:11 am

Do you mean that some administrators have their own interests ahead of the reality of the job market?  Some students may want to pursue their passion in studies that have no connection to money.  After all, other universities may hire them to teach the subject matter of their studies.  

adams wrote on November 01, 2012 at 10:11 am

Graduate College Dean Debasish Dutta declined to disclose the names of the programs ... He called it a '... transparent process.'"

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

vcponsardin wrote on November 01, 2012 at 10:11 am

I'll be interested to see the list when it comes out.  My guess is that many of the programs cut will be in the arts and humanities.  There's little secret that the upper administration is working to turn the U of I into the "MIT of the Midwest."  Their stated excuse is that doctoral programs in the arts and humanities cost the university too much to maintain, because these programs don't bring in multi-million dollar grants.  It's a bit short-sighted, of course.  And ignores the value of scholarship for its own sake.

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 01, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Your comment goes right to the heart of the matter.  Why do students go to school?  Do they go to school for occupational training?  Do they go to school for the value of scholarship regardless of the economic outcome following graduation?  There is exposure to the arts and humanities in the degree requirements.  How many Ph.D.s in the arts and humanities obtain employment based on the number of schools needing Ph.D.s in those fields for teaching positions?  If I were a Ph.D. in English Literature, I would be arguing against the cuts.  If I were a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, I would be arguing in favor of the cuts.  It depends on whose ox is being gored.

moderndaycowboy wrote on November 01, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Not to mention the fact that if they axe programs in the humanities, whose going to teach the 100 and 200 level introductory general eudcation courses? The cheap labor the U of I uses (grad students) would disappear! You certainly wouldn't see a faculty member stoop down to teach any of them. 

EdRyan wrote on November 01, 2012 at 3:11 pm

They'll simply tap the vast pool of unemployed/underemployed Ph.D.'s out there and hire them as adjunt faculty at less than they now pay grad students.

vcponsardin wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am

Finding people to teach the large 100 and 200 level courses probably won't be much of an issue.  How else do you explain the sudden rise in the University's interest in online education, where one professor can teach and grade thousands of students with just one push of a computer key...

Bulldogmojo wrote on November 02, 2012 at 10:11 am

Yes I agree. We have a growing reputation as an Engineering school bootcamp hellbent on flunking out the majority of Engineering applicants. I think it's important to walk out of any University having had exposure to and study of many different disciplines.

As Historian and Journalist David McCullough said, "The best education is a well rounded Liberal Arts education". There is more to the human educational experience than spitting out one more IT guy who loves to make iPad apps in his mom's basement. This university is becoming an intellectual property and patent rights machine and their fous is solely on that. It's a shame.

Kingdomwrker wrote on November 01, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Tell me again how "student-focused" this process was that they interviewed program faculty and staff, but apparently no students?

rsp wrote on November 01, 2012 at 1:11 pm

They surveyed the students. So they had some imput. 

DoYourHomework wrote on November 01, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Students who didn't ignore the survey sent to them last winter had the option of giving input, even if one might argue with the nature of that input, or the process more generally.

Simply go to the Graduate College website if you want to learn about the assessment process they used:

Most high-quality universities (and many of lesser quality) have long had policies to regularly review graduate programs. It's frankly bizarre that UIUC did not until now.


a currently enrolled PhD student in a struggling program

Reykjavik wrote on November 01, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Seems like a process that is needed.  If we dont weed the garden, then the good plants cant grow as well, so to speak.

Publicizing those programs to be scrutinized is a recipe for stopping the committee's work.   

Naturally most programs being examined will be in LAS, because that is where most PhD programs reside. 

Although faculty and students at UIUC tend to be liberal, they are ultraconservative when it comes to change.  Witness the decades(!) to close the Institute for Aviation.

We have to trust Chancellor Wise and co to protect vibrant degree programs, regardless of their market position.

The impression that humanities are expensive is false.  Relatively speaking, it is the science and engineering programs that cost the UIUC.  Their grants dont come close to covering the costs of their research programs.

kiel wrote on November 01, 2012 at 2:11 pm

If the process is so "transparent," why can't we see the list? 

itazurakko wrote on November 01, 2012 at 4:11 pm

If people saw the list before the meeting, they might actually organize some opposition to it and show up and make noise.  Far safer to just spring the list during the meeting when it's a "done deal" and take people off guard.

pattsi wrote on November 01, 2012 at 4:11 pm

We have been through this before, about a decade to a decade and half ago. Then it was more focused on getting rid of departments and colleges. This concept was like a brush fire burning through a drougt area across the higher education landscape. Each entity fought to remain in tact. Actually one of the funniest stories during this past history time had to do with Ohio SU. At that juncture, OSU was planning to merge education, psychology, and urban planning and name it the College of the Helping Hands. Humor always helps.

Manny L wrote on November 01, 2012 at 6:11 pm

It seems that the faculty senate, students or anyone could just FOIA the report of the review committee and any changes Wheeler or Dutta made to the committee's recommendations in their report to the trustees.  There is no reason for this to be a secret and I don't believe it can stay a secret under FOIA statutes.  Unfortunately the administration has once again undermined its claims of transparency by failing to disclose the list and details.

sgdavis wrote on November 01, 2012 at 9:11 pm

A comment to those who think such reviews are overdue -- all graduate programs are reviewed internally and more important externally by outside peer reviewers, and regularly, for accreditation purposes.  This massive internal University review process was not one of these, but part of a process of "streamlining" and "stewarding excellence" -- can we bear to hear those words again? -- in the interests of "flexibility" and "agility."

Faculty in some grad programs can tell you that in recent years they've been under assault by review after  review after review, year after year after year -- a huge time sink and very demoralizing.  Why?  Because their grad programs or units "don't make sense on a flow chart."  Yes, we have heard those words uttered too!

We have also heard not to worry because "Springfield will be the Humanities campus" while Urbana-Champ[aign will be the science and technologies behemoth.

But as some distinguished scientists have said, who wants to teach sciences and engineering  on a campus with no languages, history, philosophy?  

Bulldogmojo wrote on November 02, 2012 at 9:11 am

After 20 years at this University I can definately say that things are only transparent if you know where to look.

Let me put it this way. If the University was a company you couldn't buy it because they won't let you do due diligence.

Kingdomwrker wrote on November 04, 2012 at 7:11 am

Oh, thank you for this. I did fill out the survey, yay these many months ago, and had forgotten. I made my comment above because the news article did not mention that students were involved at all.