*This OpEd was published in the Greensboro News and Record on Oct. 20, 2023
Scare Tactics Harm UNCG
In any industry, companies review their product or service and make necessary adjustments based on market demand, relevance, quality, and so on. However, higher education is unique. When reviewing our academic portfolio, UNC Greensboro considers factors such as student success and graduation, scholarly and community distinction, creative activity, student interest/demand, student credit hour production, and research. Typically, universities do this every five to ten years. UNCG has not completed a comprehensive review in well over fifteen years.
Over our 130+ year history, we have been responsive to the times by adding new programs (computer science, popular music and technology, animation) and moving on from others (domestic science and secretarial administration). We need to keep being responsive, and I am grateful for many faculty and staff members who have collaborated to develop our academic review process and support our students every day.
A small but vocal group of UNCG faculty have needlessly and unjustifiably put their interests above the interests of the University as a whole and our students. By opposing portfolio review, they insist on the status quo. This group is part of a national organization that follows this playbook at campuses across the country. They have caused a range of emotions including confusion, anxiety, and alarm among some of our students and their families.
This group questions the University’s finances, basing their claims on an allegedly independent report from an accounting professor they hired. After reviewing the professor’s reports on thirteen universities, leaders from the University of Buffalo concluded, “the similarity of financial analyses calls into question the objectivity of the analysis.” We agree. While the UNCG 2023 report may be deemed independent, it is biased and motivated by resistance to program evaluation.
It also misrepresents the facts. One “finding” from the report is that the University is on solid financial footing and can use reserves to cover any budget shortfalls while enrollments rebound. Yes, we are on solid financial footing, thanks to measures we have undertaken and must continue to undertake, but the claim that we can and should use our reserves to protect the status quo is irresponsible. While we continue to use some cash reserves to mitigate reductions, this is clearly not a long-term strategy, especially given the negative enrollment trends analysts expect.
Another recommendation is the old canard “reduce administrative bloat.” This is not supported by a careful look at the data. Since July of 2019, the number of senior administrators has decreased by 17% while the number of permanent faculty has declined by just 1.7%.
A final example is his recommendation that we cut athletics spending. He claims that the University redirects spending from academics to athletics to the tune of $4.5 million dollars. In fact, the University provides around $300k annually.
Perhaps more galling is that this faculty group has published an initial list of programs (which has fluctuated as they have been confronted with facts) purportedly “under threat of elimination.” One of them was nursing. Nursing! A hallmark of our University. One that moved into a $100 million building a couple of years ago. One that produces over 250 nurses annually. We would cut it? No, we intend to grow it. Publishing such a list before the review concludes only serves to scare current and future students and members of the community unnecessarily.
To be clear, if a program is to be modified, doing so will take at least three to five years, and any current student making satisfactory academic progress will have the opportunity to graduate with a degree in their chosen major.
It is best practice—and our responsibility as stewards of the public resources we manage—to review our portfolio of degree programs, ensuring that we are responsive to the communities we serve. Not just for today, but into the future. It is wise and proper management. Change is nothing to fear.
Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr.