Due to budgetary challenges, PSU considers academic program reductions

Portland State might be reducing, or even eliminating, some of its academic programs in the near future. 


The Office of Academic Affairs held a virtual town hall on March 11, where Provost Susan Jeffords and other panelists discussed potential academic program reductions, and what that process might look like over the next three years. 


Like many other universities at this time, PSU is experiencing a budget shortfall due to low enrollment. According to Jeffords, in order to close a $12 million gap in the budget, the university is beginning to consider how best to increase revenues and reallocate resources, which may include academic program reduction and even elimination.


“These conversations we are having now are intended to help us think through how we are going to address that budget shortfall. What we like to call ‘closing the gap,’” Jeffords said at the event. “I know many people want to emphasize the first two words: program reduction. But I want to emphasize today the third word: process. This conversation today is the beginning of a multi-year conversation. We do not have definitive answers today, nor should we, about programs to reduce. What we are beginning today is an exploration of the process that we will undertake in order to have those conversations.”


Jeffords also stressed the importance of collaboration between campus groups in the process, including the Faculty Senate, the PSU American Association of University Professors and students. 


Jeffords laid out a potential timeline for how the academic reduction process might go, but stressed that it is an “iterative process” that will “continue to be informed by changes in the institution’s budget position.” 


Two committees have been tasked with beginning the process of potential academic program reduction: the Academic Program Reductions and Curricular Adjustments Committee (APRCA) and the Program Reduction Working Group (PRWG). APRCA was put together by the Faculty Senate and PRWG by the Provost’s office. 


APRCA is responsible for providing “faculty input into potential program reductions and eliminations due to a persistent decline in enrollment,” according to the Faculty Senate website, while PRWG is responsible for “identifying units to consider for possible reduction, reorganization, or elimination.” 


According to Wayne Wakeland, an assistant science faculty member who sits on APRCA, “[APRCA] has the charge from the Faculty Senate to develop, to the best of our abilities, the principles and priorities to guide this process for making difficult decisions regarding programs, which could be a reduction of a program, or perhaps worse in some cases, and also to look at curricular adjustments and organizational opportunities that we might discover as we work together on this problem.”


Wakeland also stressed the importance of including a “broad range of faculty participation,” as well as the opinions of students and communities “who have not typically been given a voice in these difficult conversations.” 


According to Rositza Wooster, dean of the Graduate School and PRWG co-chair, PRWG is responsible for establishing a set of metrics that “can be used to inform a holistic evaluation process in this program reduction effort.” 


At the town hall, Jeffords announced that her office will be launching a “Reimagine PSU” initiative this summer, which will provide small grants to faculty for their work evaluating academic programs. 


“I recognize that the task we are asking many of you to undertake—which is to look closely at your programs to think about where there might be possibilities for reducing expenditures—that is a difficult task, and it requires work,” Jeffords said. “And so what I am sharing with all of you today and that I will send more concrete information about next week, is announcing that we’re going to have, as part of this broad budget discussion, a Reimagine PSU initiative.”


According to Jeffords, small grants will be provided to units who “think differently” about how program resources can be utilized.


After presentations, the panelists answered questions from the audience. (The Q&A portion of the event, along with all future Q&As related to the academic program reduction process, will be posted in their entirety on the OAA website).


One audience member asked about job stability among faculty and staff. 


In response, Jeffords said that no decisions will be made concerning academic program reduction for the remainder of the academic year. But next year? “It’s possible,” she said. 


Another audience member asked how faculty and staff should deal with low morale due to the possibility of budget cuts. 


“I think that’s a critical question for all of us, because these are difficult conversations, there is no question about it—these are some of the most difficult conversations that any university ever undertakes,” Jeffords said. “I don’t want to be glib that this is an opportunity, that every challenge is an opportunity, but I do think that having these conversations, gathering this data, coming together around these difficult scenarios—it is an opportunity for us to potentially open up and have some conversations that many of us have wanted to have for some time.”


“Lets lean into those conversations,” Jeffords continued, “and make sure that we are building a university that, when this process is done, will meet our expectations about the kind of institution to which we have committed our careers.” 


“These are tough decisions we don’t take lightly,” said President Stephen Percy at a press conference with PSU student media on March 12. “We want to do the best we can to be judicious with our resources. We care about our employees very much. There may be possibilities where people are retrained to move from one job to another. But this process is meant to be a transparent and open way to have lots of dialogue about how we might reduce or eliminate [academic programs].”


More information can be found about the academic program reduction process on the OAA’s and the Faculty Senate’s websites. Future public events are planned to inform the community about the process, including a special Faculty Senate meeting on March 15 on Article 22, a portion of PSU’s bargaining agreement with the union which will need to be invoked in the event of any major budgetary reductions.