Union president condemns proposed cuts at Utica University
Utica University’s President Laura Casamento, along with university Board of Trustees Chair Bob Brvenik, announced Academic Portfolio Review recommendations.
Union president condemns proposed cuts at Utica University
UTICA — Utica University’s President Laura Casamento, along with university Board of Trustees Chair Bob Brvenik, announced Academic Portfolio Review recommendations Wednesday proposing to eliminate 15 majors offered by the university.
Their recommendations also included eight more majors and one program that they say should be revised. These recommendations reflect the career needs of Utica University students building their own futures, Casamento explained.
“Utica University has a long history of responding to the marketplace and especially the workforce needs of our region,” she said. “The employer needs of the region have and will continue to evolve with the positive economic growth that is taking place in the Mohawk Valley and we need to ensure we’re anticipating and aligning with those needs. That’s always been our mission and a part of who we are as an institution.”
Their proposals still have to be approved by the university’s Board of Trustees. The recommendations will be presented to the trustees for their consideration following a two-week campus community comment period.
But Utica University Associate Professor of Philosophy and AAUP-Utica union President Leonore Fleming quickly posted a scathing video for union members in response to the announcement.
“The Utica University we were presented today was not the Utica University we know and love,” Fleming said in the video. “What we witnessed today was an outstanding failure of leadership ... it is an incredibly sad day that will forever change the fabric of Utica University as we know it.”
Recommended for elimination included a bachelor’s of science degree in chemistry; the online delivery of the bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice; campus delivery of a bachelor’s of science in fraud and financial crime investigation; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in geoscience; a bachelor’s of science degree in geoscience; campus delivery of a bachelor’s of science degree in healthcare management; the online delivery of a bachelor’s of science degree in healthcare management; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in international studies; a bachelor’s of science degree in nutrition; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in philosophy; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in physics; a bachelor of business administration degree in public relations and marketing; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in sociology and anthropology; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in Spanish and a bachelor’s of science degree in therapeutic recreation.
Recommended for modification included a bachelor’s of science degree in accounting; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in English; a financial crimes investigator certificate; online delivery of a bachelor’s of science in fraud and financial crime investigation; an online OT Weekend bachelor’s of science degree program in health sciences; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in history; a bachelor’s of the arts degree in mathematics; a bachelor’s of science degree in physics; and a bachelor’s of the arts degree in political science.
Many of these majors recommended to be sunset or modified also included further recommendations for enhancements and streamlines to those or other programs to help compensate for the proposed changes. The majors impacted by these recommendations currently account for 4.4% of the undergraduate student body, said Casamento, who is retiring at the end of the academic year after seven years at the helm.
“The recommendations to sunset certain majors will have no impact upon any students currently enrolled in or accepted to those majors,” she promised. “The university will discontinue these majors only after all current and admitted students have completed their program of study.”
Discussions about the university’s future academic footprint actually began almost a decade ago, Casamento said, and were central to the strategic planning process that led to the adoption of its current Strategic Plan by the university community in 2020.
“One of the charges of the Strategic Plan is to develop a long-range Academic Plan,” she said. “A key component of that work is addressing what programs the university should be delivering in the future as standalone majors, with the primary consideration being ensuring we are anticipating student and employer demand.”
She noted that nearly 75% of Utica University’s undergraduate students are enrolling in just 10 academic majors out of 59 majors total currently offered. And 85% of the most recent first-year class enrolled in 12 majors.
Casamento said the Board of Trustees charged the university in August with undertaking an Academic Portfolio Review to make recommendations for potential changes to programs offered by the institution, including program design, redesign, modification or sunsetting. A workgroup including faculty, staff and academic administrators was appointed in September by the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs to review data and evaluate student interest and demand, enrollment patterns and market trends associated with academic majors.
Working with nine years of data, that evaluation “carefully considered how each individual major fit with the future academic vision and strategic direction of the university,” Casamento said. The workgroup met regularly over the course of the fall semester, she said, and their final report to the president, plus data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, revealed the recommendations.
In response, students, faculty and staff are now invited to submit comments through Thursday, Feb. 2 which will be forwarded in their entirety to the trustees along with the president’s recommendations.
Participants must have a university login to submit their thoughts online. Comments may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, but only messages from utica.edu email addresses will be accepted.
All comments received will be sent unedited to the trustees, but any comments disparaging individuals or the institution will not be publicly displayed on the university’s website.
Fleming said she was surprised by the number of students, staff and alumni who reached out or stopped by her office to tell her how much her video message meant to them. They also asked what they can do to support the faculty at Utica University during this time, Fleming added.
“I have received dozens of emails and texts from union members thanking me for that video I made last night,” she said Thursday. “Many people have told me that it was exactly what they needed to hear after yesterday’s callous announcement.”
She said the people she talked with are “justifiably angry and upset” not only about the announcement, but also with the entire process that has “undermined and alienated several university constituencies from the start.” They are upset not only because of the negative impacts the “short-sighted decisions” will have on faculty and students, she said, but also because of the detrimental impact they expect this will have on the institution itself.
“A number of students have told me that they are very upset that they weren’t consulted,” Fleming said. “Alumni are upset that there is no way for them to comment on this situation or make their voices heard. It’s bittersweet to hear these messages of support for the faculty. It’s clear many of our students, current and past, feel the same as the faculty and librarians do right now - that the university just made a catastrophic mistake.”
The primary goal of this review was solely to determine what programs the university should be delivering in the future as standalone majors, Casamento said.
“This was not an exercise in eliminating programs, departments or courses,” she explained. “The review heavily takes into account programs that are essential to supporting general education and critical thinking learning goals. While certain academic major disciplines may not be delivered as standalone majors in the future, programs and courses in those disciplines will remain fundamental to a Utica University education.”
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