Editorial: Pitt must alter program suspension approach

When it comes to suspending University academic programs, timing and transparency are everything.

On Jan. 30, the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences terminated its graduate religious studies program and indefinitely suspended its German and classics programs after suspending admissions to the three programs in April 2012. These admissions suspensions came right at the time students were deciding which graduate school to attend, forcing those planning to attend Pitt to look and apply elsewhere.

This decision came after a period of internal review during which administrators chose not to conduct an external review that faculty members had requested. Additionally, with decisions such as this, information regarding reviews of any kind should be made public throughout the entire process, not only once a decision is made.  

As reported in The Pitt News today, Provost Patricia Beeson stated that the programs were assessed by the Dietrich School, the Graduate Council and the Arts and Sciences Council on the quality, impact and cost of the programs. Suspending admissions to these programs gave accepted students little notice to change their plans for the following year.

Several groups, such as the American Association of University Professors, believe that Pitt did not follow necessary guidelines while suspending and closing these programs, namely following an opaque process of program suspension and elimination. Additionally, it is said that the Dietrich School’s bylaws were broken in the process. According to the bylaws, actions planned by the Dietrich School Council can only take effect 30 days after they are published in the Dietrich School Gazette. The first record of the program suspensions was noted on Oct. 8, 2013, the day the Faculty Senate’s Budget Policy Committee issued its reccomendation to eliminate the religious studies program and to indefinitely suspend the German and classics programs.

When it comes to issues such as suspending academic programs, transparency is key. Instead of evaluating programs from within the University, professionals in the fields of the threatened programs should perform external evaluations. These professionals will be able to look at the programs with an objective eye, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the programs separate from how the programs affect the strengths and weaknesses of the University as a whole. The results of these reviews should also be made available to the public.

The timing of the programs’ suspension is also an important factor. If academic program suspensions are pending, the announcement must be made before graduate students must make decisions regarding which graduate school to attend.

Administrative decisions need to be made responsibly and with students in mind. Giving consideration to both students and affected faculty would ensure issues such as this receive the great attention they deserve.