Strategic Cuts With Positive Outcomes

HG: Can you tell us about instances where you believe strategic cutting has worked well?

BB: Well, the cornerstone of this year’s budget cut is something I am very proud of because it increases student contact with tenure-line faculty members and gets students into both their major and the courses for their major faster. We call it the new instructional and curriculum plan [ICP] of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The ICP resulted from the budget cuts. To protect faculty positions, we took a major component of our cut—more than $1 million of the $4.7 million that has been cut—by decreasing our budget for lecturers and adjuncts. Lecturers and adjuncts already deliver more than half of the student credit hours at the university. Perhaps that sounds shocking, but it is not atypical for universities these days. To deal with the loss of lecturers and adjuncts, we have asked the departments to increase by 15 percent over 2007–08 levels the number of student credit hours delivered by tenure-line professors. This is a good thing in principle insofar as our world-class faculty is what makes us a flagship research university and is one of the primary reasons that outstanding students desire to attend UTK.

The faculty met the challenge; they came forward with plans to increase their classroom contact with students, not by increasing the number of courses that our professors teach—which would make us less competitive in the academic market—but by increasing the number of seats in a class or redirecting tenure-line professors from courses with small enrollments to those with larger enrollments.

That is the instructional part of the ICP. The curriculum part is an effort we launched this year by creating a committee to do the first comprehensive examination of the arts and sciences curriculum in 25 years. (The last curriculum review was in 1984.) We anticipate that this will lead to some curricular reform. I hope that, in particular, we will produce a curriculum that is less prescriptive and more flexible. We want to organize a smaller suite of required courses or required sequences of courses so that core requirements have more meaning for students by building into those courses more connections between the contents of each course.

As I mentioned, our ultimate goal is to get students into their majors and into the courses for their majors faster. Those major courses are the ones professors want to teach, so we want to align the instructional power of our faculty with the courses where they want to deliver their content, which tends to be the richer, more-challenging courses. At the same time, we want to align that teaching power with the courses where the students need to take their instruction.

We are not going to decrease the number of student credit hours required for graduation, but we do want to do whatever we can to give our students a more meaningful, more challenging path to graduation and to get them there in a timely fashion. It is a lofty goal, but I think our faculty and students are up to it.

I should mention also that the ICP moves us part of the way toward our budget cut. If the cuts were such that we could manage them entirely through the ICP, I would feel really pleased with what we are doing. The cuts are projected to be significantly larger than that, though, so we still will have some painful decisions to make.

Beyond what we accomplish with the ICP, we are going to have to continue making strategic, selective cuts. Even though it is clear to everyone that we cannot maintain the status quo, doing everything we have done in the past, when our resources are decreasing, there is always resistance to any cut. But to achieve this vision of trying to make our peaks even higher, we have no choice but to pare some activities. That is our toughest challenge.

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