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Chapter 7: Cut Unnecessary Programs

In university environments, it is painful and politically explosive to try to eliminate programs. Professors expecting lifetime employment security fiercely fight these measures, often with the support of sympathetic and powerful faculty members and administrators. Sometimes alumni get into the act. Yet, a dynamic society needs change. Majors that once flourished now have few students. Programs that were fashionable a generation ago are now viewed as outmoded. Resources need to be freed up for new areas of academic inquiry based on technological advances, changing income and tastes, etc.

Cuts can be made selectively or across-the-board. Ultimately, however, if serious reform is to occur, some programs should be eliminated. Writers like Robert Dickeson have elaborated upon the process that is appropriate in program evaluation.  Certain questions must be asked: Is the program critical? Is there sufficient student demand and faculty interest? Is the program financially viable? Does it have a superior national academic reputation?  Only rarely, and probably never, can a university truthfully answer “yes” to all these questions for every single one of its programs.

Major budget cuts arising from the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession offer institutions the opportunity to overcome otherwise intractable political opposition to eliminating unnecessary programs since not doing so is prohibitively costly to the rest of the institution. Washington State University, for example, eliminated its Department of Community and Rural Sociology, the German major, and the Department of Theater and Dance. Other universities should use the current period of financial stringency to make similar cuts.

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