Shaping our future through dialog

11-04-2009

It has been observed by many that colleges and universities are good at adding programs but not so good at closing them down. The reality, however, is that academic programs are closed each and every year at MSU.

No effective organization can long function without periodically taking stock, and so we at Michigan State do this regularly. We assess changes in demand for programs, and we challenge ourselves to critically examine our particular role in addressing societal needs through the programs we offer. We cannot be all things to all people and be world-class.

Last year, MSU placed enrollment moratoria on four programs due to low enrollment and review of priorities, and over the past 10 years, the university has closed 69 programs. But during that time it also placed enrollment moratoria that were later lifted on nine programs. Why?

While there can be a variety of reasons, the fundamental answer is the same one that will be given when the final list of program closures resulting from MSU’s current deliberations emerges in a few months time: this is a process.

It begins with a request to place a moratorium on enrollment whenever there is serious consideration given to closing a program. This is done to protect students. But it doesn’t end there. There is consultation within the college that administers the program, consultation with other colleges affected by changes to that program, review through academic governance, and, very often, consultation with alumni of the program and other external stakeholders.

What’s different about what is happening now at MSU is not process but scale. The initial work done by deans in their colleges to develop and deliver restructuring recommendations to Provost Kim Wilcox could affect as many as 30 academic majors, specializations, and other programs, and two departments—the Department of Geological Sciences and the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders—could be closed.

But these possibilities, outlined at Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting, are a starting point for a broader conversation, not the end of it. As I’ve said many times, this process of focusing priorities and aligning resources to address our fiscal realities will be as transparent as possible and, therefore, inherently messy.

When you think about Michigan State University and the quality of our academic programs, there is no easy programmatic decision. We work diligently to attract excellent faculty and staff, to prepare the best and brightest students, and to graduate proud and successful alumni.

We understand that all of the programs we offer are important—and needed. We also understand that they are of much higher quality than many that are offered around the state, the country, and the world. All this makes the task even more difficult. But not making the hard calls puts the excellence of the entire institution at risk.

As we each champion our particular point of view in the dialog over the coming weeks, we must not lose sight of the fact that the scale is driven by ever-steeper declines in state financial support and the challenges of keeping up with rising costs.

We’ve worked diligently to present the fiscal reality we face to internal and external stakeholders and to communicate our determination to respond in a way that enhances—not diminishes—this institution’s ability to pursue its mission in the 21st century. We are keeping the special Web site created to document this work and to facilitate conversation—shapingthefuture.msu.edu—up to date. A new video, “Understanding the Budget,” created by Director of Planning and Budgets Dave Byelich, has been posted to the site to help make understanding the budget situation more accessible.

As Spartans, we cherish our heritage. But we also have the will to move this university forward even as we deal with difficult times. I have tremendous confidence in our ability as a community to engage the here and now and to shoulder the responsibility to stride purposely toward a future of which we will be the chief architects.

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