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Five things to know about changes to academic programs at McDaniel College

Five things to know about changes to academic programs at McDaniel College
McDaniel College in Westminster is pictured Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

On Saturday, Feb. 23, the McDaniel College board of trustees voted to suspend five majors and two minors.

The college has called the move a reinvestment that will allow it to redirect funds into programs with stronger enrollment and retention or that show more potential to grow.

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Art history, religious studies, French, German and music will no longer be offered as majors for future students. Additionally, minors in German, music and Latin will also no longer be offered. At the graduate level, enrollment will be suspended in the Master of Science program for deaf education.

Some students, faculty and alumni have criticized the decision and how it was made as being indicative of an attack on humanist education and excluding them from having real say in the process.

The Times sat down with President Roger Casey, and Provost Julia Jasken on Monday, Feb. 25. Here are five things you need to know.

1. Numbers of current students in now-suspended majors is about 3 percent

In a letter to students and faculty, McDaniel officials wrote that the number of students currently enrolled in the affected programs makes up less than 3 percent of the student body.

There are about 1,600 undergraduates currently enrolled at McDaniel.

According to numbers provided by the college, about 45 students are enrolled in the now-suspended majors. Fifteen had declared for the now-suspended German and music majors.

These students will be able to graduate with their intended degree, but no other students will be able to declare those majors and minors following the close of the current school year.

For perspective, in the programs with the top three enrollment rankings among current students, kinesiology has 201 majors and minors, business administration has 143 majors and minors and biology has 95 majors and minors.

This may eventually mean loss of jobs for faculty in affected programs. Casey said the administration hopes faculty will stay at the college to see through the graduation of students in the programs.

“I can’t control what faculty will eventually do,” he said.

The Strategic Thinking Group for Pedagogical Value process was closed as of the board of trustees meeting Saturday. No further majors or minors will be recommended for suspension in the near future, Casey said.

2. College expects about $1 million in savings per year for new/expanded programs

Casey said that the projected money saved by the suspension of programs is about $1 million per academic year, which the college is looking at as “venture capital” for launching and improving programs.

The provost and vice president of enrollment management are working on a plan to present to the board of trustees in May for the next several years of reinvestment in other programs.

This is not an overnight plan, Casey said, and will take several years to implement.

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One major the board approved over the weekend was a criminal justice major. The college is now seeking approval to create the program from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Other new programs include a pre-engineering program within the physics program, an applied math major and new biochemistry classes within the chemistry program. The college has hired a faculty member for pre-engineering.

3. Some majors and minors were saved from cuts

Jasken said that academic departments had 30 days to respond to the findings of the STGPV, a group of faculty members picked to look at approximately 10 years of student data.

Three programs were able to present plans to administration to change and reorient.

Casey said that the number of programs suspended by the board vote is less than was originally recommended by the STGPV.

4. Students and alumni peacefully protested outside the board meeting

Outside of the board meeting Saturday morning, protesters gathered asking the board not to suspend programs and to allow students into the closed board meeting.

Protesters said that they were told that discipline including expulsion might result for not complying with Campus Safety. No student discipline resulted from the protest.

In a Facebook post, the Progressive Student Union, whose members made up some of the protesters, posted a letter that they said they would have read to the board if permitted to enter the meeting.

“Recently the faculty engaged in a significant symbolic vote in which a majority indicated that they felt the implementation of the changes should be delayed for at least a year to explore further economic alternatives. Our collection of highly motivated and engaged faculty members work daily and directly with students, and we believe that it would be a disservice to their involvement at the school to disregard their vote and not allow them to pursue other solutions.Students’ opinions have also been underrepresented throughout this process. Students were asked for minimal and token amounts of input regarding the changes,” they wrote in one paragraph of the letter.

They would have asked: “We would like to stay in the room to see the culmination of this process. Given that we have been kept out of it, we deserve to at least see it through.”

Casey said that while the students had the right to peacefully protest, they did not have the right to attend the board meeting. Campus safety was asked to keep the protesters from entering the meeting and to keep peace outside the building, he said.

McDaniel College is a private college and the meetings of the board of trustees are not open to the public.

The protesters included current students and alumni.

Casey said that many board members interacted with the protests prior to entering the meeting.

“From what I saw it was a peaceful protest, and I appreciate their passion,” Casey said.

Coating over the windows was used to prevent outsiders from peering into the meeting. Casey said this was because specific personal salary information for faculty was displayed to the board during the presentation.

The letter reads: “We fully support the affected faculty at McDaniel College and stand in solidarity with language and culture studies educators across the nation, who continue to offer fundamental educational opportunities for their students in light of diminishing support for and increasing threats against their programs and their careers. We are committed to confront publicly these attacks against the humanities at large and against language and culture studies in particular.”

5. McDaniel will not release the numbers used in the decision, citing FERPA

Jasken said the data used by the SVTGP was made public to full faculty. Casey said that student groups have asked for the data, but the administration cannot release it in a way that would not be a violation of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which governs the access to educational information and records.

He said that there would be no way to redact information in a way that would realistically protect the identity of faculty, for example in a department with one or two faculty members. Even if the identity of the faculty member was redacted before a document was released, it would be immediately obvious through context.

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“What I learned is what I call confidential, others called secretive,” Casey said of the process.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to include the correct title of Provost Julia Jasken and the name of the state body that the criminal justice major will go before for approval, which is the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

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