Administrators at the University of Hawaii Manoa identified more than two dozen degree programs that could one day be cut as part of a broad reorganization meant to slash costs and realign goals to help drive the state’s economic recovery.
Many of the potential program cuts, affecting degrees in everything from microbiology to theater, were proposed in part due to dropping or stagnant enrollment in those programs. Some of the proposed cuts and reorganizations have gotten pushback from deans of the 18 schools and colleges at UH Manoa.
The recommendations from a UH Manoa Budget Committee as well as responses to those proposals from the deans were made public Friday on a new website detailing plans for dealing with the impending budget crisis brought on by COVID-19.
The programs flagged to start winding down make up just a portion of more than 200 degree programs offered at the flagship campus. However, those not on the chopping block could be affected by proposed mergers.
In a message to students and faculty on Friday, UH Manoa Provost Michael Bruno reiterated that all of the suggestions are preliminary.
“It is important to emphasize that our suggestions were never meant to be the last word, but the beginning of an open conversation that we hope and expect will be ongoing now that our campus is back in full swing,” he said.
Even if those programs that were identified are eventually terminated, students currently enrolled in them would still be able to complete their programs.
Eleven of UH Manoa’s schools and colleges house degree programs that may face cuts.
bachelor’s degree programs in several languages, religion, journalism, and communications were identified.
There were also master’s degree programs in microbiology, developmental and reproductive biology, public health, travel industry management, art history, French, several tracks in music, religion, dance, theatre and law that could be cut.
The documents identified doctoral programs in microbiology, developmental and reproductive biology, social welfare, nursing, ocean and resources engineering and juridicial science.
What’s still worrisome for several programs is vague language in the recommendations. For example, Ty Tengan, chair of the ethnic studies department, said ethnic and women’s studies were told to partner with another program, but what that means is unclear.
UH officials’ recommendations suggest ethnic studies would be cut if enrollment falls too low. Tengan said his department has increased enrollment recently, and noted strides in other areas like a streamlined master’s program.
“At a time the nation is dealing with its greatest reckoning of racism on all fronts, and in the most ethnically diverse state, that the ethnic studies program is even possibly being considered for a stop-out, is really tone deaf to what is going on nationwide,” Tengan said.
The UH system is not faring well financially, according to recent budget projections presented to UH’s Board of Regents. The board recently rejected a spending plan with instructions to come back with a better proposal at a later date.
Like other state agencies, UH is still waiting on exact budget figures from Gov. David Ige’s administration. This comes at a time state government may have millions of dollars less to spend in the coming years.
Phase 1 of the plan to reduce costs started earlier this year, when UH implemented hiring freezes and halted travel. The new proposals are part of Phase 2 that looks “to re-make the university to be more efficient, more effective, and more directly focused on the needs of Hawaii today,” Bruno wrote in his message to faculty and staff.
Bruno and UH President David Lassner worked over the summer with four other vice chancellors to come up with some of the recommendations.
“Our goal was to be ready to share an initial set of ideas with the campus when faculty formally returned to duty and students returned to their studies,” Bruno said in the message.
Bruno said he and Lassner also looked to cut executive positions, and have so far axed eight executive and managerial positions. The message didn’t specify which positions those were.
It also wasn’t immediately clear from the available documents how much money the cuts and mergers are expected to save in the coming fiscal years.
In a meeting with department chairs on Friday, Bruno said the recommendations are all preliminary, and that any savings from programs that are phased out may not show up for years, according to Tengan.
Some colleges, like the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and the Institute for Astronomy would be left relatively untouched under the university’s preliminary plans.
Some programs are recommended to expand.
A note in the Hawaiian Knowledge school’s suggestions recommends continuing to develop a Hawaiian Language immersion program. The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology also had areas to expand in.
“There appear to be opportunities to increase enrollment in both Atmospheric Sciences and Ocean & Resources Engineering, areas in which we have both State need and strength,” the school’s recommendations say.
And while a doctoral program in nursing could also be cut, recommendations are to hire more faculty, which would allow more students to enter Manoa’s undergraduate nursing program.
Responses to administrators’ recommendations from deans of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, John A. Burns School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene were still pending as of Friday.
Several deans that did respond to administrators defended programs in their schools that could be cut.
“I don’t agree with the recommendations to stop out all of the dance degrees,” dean Peter Arnade wrote. “A small dance program is relatively low cost and enriches our arts in Hawaii; students should not have to go to the mainland for this degree.”
Denise Eby Konan, the College of Social Sciences dean, countered some of the recommendations with suggestions of her own. Administrators proposed axing the journalism program, but Konan suggested a new curriculum that covers journalism, public relations and other media.
“Society seeks and even demands strong communicators in the news industry, public health, environmental science, politics, education, nonprofits and business,” Konan wrote.
The rejiggering of academic programs comes as the Manoa campus undergoes a bureaucratic shakeup first approved by the Board of Regents in 2018.
The reorganization has resulted in several mergers, including that of the Shidler College of Business and the School of Travel Industry Management.
The university is asking for emailed feedback on the proposed changes at COVID19@hawaii.edu.
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