Friday, March 27, 2009
Radford forum sparks discontent
Hundreds of students stormed out of a Radford University forum Thursday, upset that questions about the potential elimination of university programs went unanswered.
Photos by Justin Cook | The Roanoke Times
Matt Prater, a Radford student and co-founder of Students Advocating the Liberal Arts, listens during Thursday's forum. Hundreds of students were upset that their questions about program elimination were not addressed.
Rick Slavings (from left) and Vickie Taylor collected and screened questions during the forum at Radford University, and Stephen Lerch read questions aloud for the university president to answer.
RADFORD -- Hundreds of students stormed out of a public forum held Thursday by Radford University President Penelope Kyle, upset that their questions about the elimination of programs at the school were not being addressed.
The event, which Kyle announced as a forum for the university community to ask questions and give feedback about the school's budget, attracted a crowd of nearly 1,000 students, faculty and staff.
Kyle announced that questions would be submitted in writing, not asked directly, to allow the questioners anonymity. She also said questions regarding only the budget would be addressed.
The first hour of the forum went smoothly. Kyle gave a presentation about state budget cuts that will result in the university receiving about $7.6 million less in state support next fiscal year than it did in fiscal year 2007-08 -- the cumulative result of cuts over two years.
Stephen Lerch, vice provost for academic enhancement, read questions from a stack of papers audience members submitted before and during the forum. Topics ranged from the creation of a new vice provost position to the job security of nontenured employees to university spending on overpriced paper.
An early hint of the discontent in the crowd was evident when Kyle, answering a question from a longtime staff member and single mother worried about her job security, said that the difficult economy had affected everyone.
"I'm personally not living like I used to live," she said, as members of the audience laughed out loud and groaned. Kyle's annual salary is $359,256.
Several of the students at the forum are members of Students Advocating the Liberal Arts. Radford students Emily Walker and Stephen Schmidt started the group last week to voice concern about the impact budget cuts and the university's strategic "Radford 7-17" plan will have on educational quality at Radford. More than 700 students have joined the group on Facebook.
The forum came in the middle of reviews to academic programs at Radford that are in danger of being discontinued. Most of them are liberal arts programs.
Provost Wil Stanton said the program reviews had nothing to do with the budget and are part of a long-term strategy to gauge demand for programs and better utilize resources.
The university designated 29 programs for expedited review, calling for program leaders to justify their continued existence. Stanton said five programs were voluntarily discontinued before the review process began, including Radford's anthropology major and four post-baccalaureate certificate programs.
The fate of the other 24 will be determined through a process that includes meetings of the university's Academic Program Review Committee. The group -- which includes university deans, a faculty member from each undergraduate college and a student -- voted on 15 programs Monday.
A majority voted to discontinue only the post-baccalaureate certificate in Appalachian Studies. The remainder of the programs are scheduled for review today.
The committee's reviews will go to the faculty senate, provost's office and president's office before the fate of any program recommended for elimination is determined by the Radford University Board of Visitors.
But students wanted their concerns about the programs addressed Thursday. About an hour into the forum, someone in the audience yelled, "Why aren't the questions we actually have being answered?"
A chaotic back and forth ensued as Lerch, Kyle and Stanton tried to calm the students by referring to the volume of questions and telling them that there is an established process for program review.
"Why do you get to choose?" one student shouted. "This is an open forum."
Kyle said Stanton would set up a separate forum to discuss questions about program review. Kyle added later that the university could not discuss it publicly now because it could taint the process.
"Why was anthropology cut without the program review?" another student shouted.
Kyle repeated that no program review questions would be answered at the forum and most of the students got up and walked out.
Schmidt said he was not surprised by the outcome of the forum and said the program review has "everything to do with the budget."
"I wanted them to be honest and I wanted them to be straightforward in their answers," he said. "What this school has needed and what it needs now is a watchdog."