June 30, 2021 329 PM
ALPINE — A new report out of Sul Ross State University recommends making sweeping changes to the university, from eliminating degrees and firing professors to clarifying policies surrounding tenure and initiating continuing education programs.
The Academic Planning Committee, which produced the report, comprises 19 senior and junior Sul Ross faculty members from all four campuses. The committee met for five days in May 2021 at both the Alpine and Del Rio campuses. There, the members identified problematic school policies, degrees that could be consolidated or pared down, nonessential personnel that could be fired and other potential administrative cuts that could save the university money.
According to the report, Sul Ross President Pete Gallego convened the committee in April 2021 –– for the first time in the university’s 100-year history –– as the school is facing serious fiscal challenges from the pandemic, static enrollment, budget cuts and declining support from the state. In the report, the committee concluded, “Much of the problematic policies emanating from administrative decisions were powered by academic policies, ultimately necessitating irresponsible fiscal actions in order to sustain these practices.”
The committee recommended making changes to the chemistry, Spanish, fine arts, psychology, English, agricultural education, biology and nursing programs. Some of the recommendations were minor, like cutting one or two professors, while others called for more extreme changes.
One of the more drastic recommendations was to let go of ten faculty members in the music, art and theatre programs. Marjorie Scott, who is the chair of the fine arts and communication programs, said, “I was expecting some cuts, but not to the tune of 75 percent. That surprised me.”
Scott, who is speaking on her own behalf and not on that of the university, said she’s confused as to how the fine arts program would logistically operate if the university were to go through with slashing department personnel. Right now there are 10.5 full-time faculty members in these three departments (Scott is considered half of a faculty member, as she splits her time between the theatre and communication programs). “If the president were to take the recommendation, that would leave .5 to teach art, theatre and music,” Scott said. “Imagine getting all of your education in that one area you’re majoring in from one person.”
Scott said that the committee, which had only one fine arts faculty member, did not reach out to her to learn more about the issues facing the fine arts programs. “I would’ve been happy to give them whatever information they needed and helped them understand what we do and what would’ve made sense for our program,” she said.
The committee also recommended getting rid of the degrees in music, art and theatre and creating one general Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Carol Fairlie, who teaches painting and drawing at Sul Ross, said she’s unsure how the university would make that work.
“Say you want to be a theatre major because you like being able to get up and perform, but you’re also going to have to take art classes and you really don’t like drawing. And you’re going to have to take a music class and you don’t play an instrument,” Fairlie said.
After press time Wednesday, students and alumni showed up to protest the possible cuts to the fine arts degrees.
Scott said she is staying optimistic and has faith in President Gallego to make the best decisions for the university. “Nothing is set in stone yet, and it’s very possible, and I believe likely that the president is not going to take those recommendations as written,” she said.
Not all of the recommendations in the report received unanimous approval either. Ninety percent of the committee was on board with cutting faculty from the fine arts program and merging the degrees.
Another recommendation that didn’t receive unanimous approval was the elimination of the Spanish program with 21 percent of the committee dissenting. According to the report, the program has not historically, or currently, been popular amongst the student body. The committee wrote, “The Spanish Club remains one of the most significant student organizations on campus, and Mexican-American Studies courses enjoy stable enrollments; however, this has not translated into enrollment in Spanish language and literature as a popular academic program.”
President Gallego, who received this report on June 8, has the final authority on whether to go forward with any of the committee’s suggestions. Michael Pacheco, the spokesperson for Sul Ross, said, “[The president] is taking these recommendations seriously and wants to act on a good chunk of them to show goodwill because this came from the faculty.”
The president hasn’t announced when he plans on going public with which recommendations will be approved and rejected, but Pacheco said that he wants to make an announcement as quickly as possible.
Pacheco said that the recommendations in the report appear to be drastic as Sul Ross hasn’t convened a committee like this since the school opened. “It’s my understanding that other universities activate these committees on a regular basis, on an every-other-year type [schedule],” he said. “If the faculty was looking at things on a regular basis, they may have been able to see the trends happening and adjusted –– and make slow changes versus significant ones.”
In the conclusion of the report, the committee wrote, “The recommendations made were not easy to determine and offer, as often they conflict with what we spiritually believe the intention of the Academy should be –– a place of culture, combining the arts with the sciences and humanities.”