IOWA CITY (AP) — University of Northern Iowa students would no longer be able to earn degrees in subjects including French and physics under a cost-cutting proposal released Thursday to eliminate programs with few graduates.
Despite protests from students and faculty, President Ben Allen said he would ask the Iowa Board of Regents to close 23 majors, 19 minors and 16 graduate programs and restructure 19 more.
The school said the programs awarded less than 2 percent of its degrees last year and graduated, on average, fewer than two students per year over the past five years. But faculty leaders said they feared the cuts would nonetheless cause irreparable damage to the university's education mission.
Students in the programs will be able to finish their degrees, but no new students would be accepted. A number of tenured professors were pulled aside Thursday and offered voluntary buyouts that would pay a year's salary and additional benefits. Layoffs haven't been ruled out.
Their handling of the cuts prompted faculty to make a no-confidence vote for Allen and Provost Gloria Gibson last week and students to lead an ongoing protest at the administration building. Allen, who has led the university since 2006, said that he understood the discontent but that it was no longer "financially sound" to operate programs with few graduates. He said the savings would help erase a budget shortfall and help support programs the school wants to grow in the future.
"We are making some changes that have not been made here, ever," he said.
Approval from the regents is expected during a meeting later this month.
Board leaders have backed Allen as he's made cuts in the face of intense opposition, calling him a courageous leader making difficult choices for the future. Allen has already announced plans to close UNI's K-12 laboratory school and a campus museum.
The programs targeted for downsizing represent a range of some of the smallest 288 majors, minors and graduate programs offered at the Cedar Falls-based school.
Undergraduate majors affected include French, German and Russian, geology, geography and physics. Minors facing extinction include dance, astronomy and meteorology. Graduate students would no longer be able to earn degrees in chemistry, sociology or criminology.
The programs facing restructuring — such as philosophy and religion — could be downsized by merging several subject areas, which would require a revamp of the curriculum, Gibson said. Some would suspend enrollment during that process; others would remain open to students.
Faculty union President Cathy DeSoto, a psychology professor, said the cuts would decimate the school.
"We don't just have universities to give the most popular degrees that are trendy at the moment," she said. "We need physics. We need people to speak foreign languages. We need people to understand geology. And that's why all comprehensive universities have them. You just don't cut them because there's few students."
Jeffrey Funderburk, a music professor who is the Faculty Senate chairman, said the administration used a "terribly flawed process" that did not adequately consult faculty in shaping the plan. He said Thursday was a sad day on campus, and he worried cuts would "have a detrimental impact on our ability to function as a comprehensive university."
"It's gone so fast and we haven't been given the information, so we don't know if they were good decisions or not," he said.
Gibson acknowledged that more meetings could have been held with faculty but said that the administration made significant revisions after sharing a draft of program closures with the Faculty Senate. She said decisions were not based on "the quality of the faculty, curriculum or students" but on changing student demand. The campus would soon identify high-demand programs that will become priorities, she said.
The school said it wasn't known how many employees would be affected. In addition to one year's salary, buyouts would cover the cost of health and dental premiums for 18 months and pay up to $2,000 for accumulated sick leave. If enough professors do not retire or take buyouts, the administration may have to resort to layoffs, which would be based on tenure and seniority under union rules.
The administration declared Wednesday that it could not reach agreement with the union for defining how layoffs would occur if needed, and that it would move ahead with its proposal. DeSoto, the union head, said the language may give administrators too much power to ignore seniority and warned it would lead to grievances if abused.
A report released Thursday by the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, a nonpartisan think tank, underscored the university's budget problems. The school is getting less state funding this year than it did in 1997 after three years of particularly steep cuts.
Allen said funding cuts were a challenge and were exacerbated by $4.1 million in union-negotiated salary and benefit increases that employees will receive next year. DeSoto noted that much of spending was ordered by an arbitrator, who ruled the school had enough funding to provide cost-of-living raises.