Open forums next week to discuss prioritization process

Many changes are on the rise this year at Southern Oregon University: the construction of brand new residence halls, the 5.8 percent  tuition increase, and plunging student funding rates are just a few examples.

Two open forums this week will be discussing one of the most controversial changes on campus this year: the program prioritization process.

The forums, which will be hosted Thursday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and Friday from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in the Meese Room in the Hannon Library, are designed to answer questions about prioritization, an initiative SOU President Mary Cullinan started at the beginning of this academic year to evaluate every program on campus and determine whether or not its existence is beneficial to SOU’s Five Year Vision.

The Five Year Vision, according to Daniel DeNeui, psychology professor and leader of the program prioritization process, is a set of goals intended to transform SOU into a unique, sustainable campus that incorporates community, adventure, creativity and collaboration.

The Houses program is one part of the Five Year Vision, said DeNeui. This innovative program groups studies around a central theme or question and allows students to work side by side with faculty on real world issues. Two pilot houses are set to go live next fall – the Greenhouse and the Social Justice House. Read the Siskiyou’s coverage of SOU’s Houses initiative here.

The prioritization process is another part of the Five Year Vision. Although prioritization is viewed as a negative measure by those who don’t fully understand it, DeNeui said, it is actually a proactive measure with the goal of creating a more sustainable campus.

“We’re not like other universities that have to cut,” he said. “We’re in good shape; going through this process will give us a better foundation for where we want to go.”

The purpose is to stay away from having to trim budgets due to decreased state funding.

“Here’s what we’ve been doing; here’s what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

The question is “how can we rearrange things to transform the university,” DeNeui added. “We’re looking at everything we do for the first time ever.”

The prioritization process was conducted by two review boards, said DeNeui, an academic review board for evaluating the academic departments on campus, and an academic support review board for evaluating programs such as enrollment services, advising, financial office, athletics, and anything else that offers course credits.

According to DeNeui programs are classified as anything that requires funding, encompassing everything from academic majors to events like the Southern Oregon Arts and Research conference. Criteria for evaluation include the history of department, external and internal demand for program, quality of program inputs, processes and outcomes, size, scope and productivity of the program, revenue and costs, impact, justification and overall importance of the program, and the opportunity analysis for the program.

The program prioritization groups are currently reviewing evaluation reports and will separate them into quintiles. The prioritization groups will then recommend to university administration which programs to improve, reconfigure, or eliminate.

The academic support evaluation group will release their report on May 1, the academic evaluation group will release theirs on May 15.

DeNeui explained the final reports are only recommendations, in June the final reports will be brought to Cullinan, who has the authority to either accept or reject the recommendations.

DeNeui added students are guaranteed to graduate with the degree they have been working on, regardless of the changes made to that program.

DeNeui said that he would like these changes to become the first of many steps in making SOU a more unique college that is recognized on a national level.

It is necessary, he said, “to be open to changing structures that have been in place for hundreds of years.”

“I see the need to change,” he added. “Because whether you like it or not there are forces above higher education.”

DeNeui said that global changes in higher education, such as technological innovations and decrease in state funding, pose issues for many larger universities that aren’t anticipating these adjustments. SOU, however, is the “right-sized campus to react quickly,” he said.

The ultimate goal is to “create a university that is sustainable but proactive about its future,” said DeNeui.

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