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University of Hawaii at Manoa mulls possible cuts in programs, degrees

                                The Public Policy Center, in Saunders Hall at University of Hawaii at Manoa, is facing proposed cuts along with other UH programs.


    The Public Policy Center, in Saunders Hall at University of Hawaii at Manoa, is facing proposed cuts along with other UH programs.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa is considering merging, realigning or cutting some academic programs as it tries to meet Hawaii’s future needs in the face of a looming budget gap.

The preliminary ideas from a small team of administrators are labeled as merely “suggestions” to kick off discussions among faculty and other stakeholders.

The proposals include eliminating the Public Policy Center and the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, and phasing out bachelor degrees in religion, journalism, dance and German along with some advanced degrees that attract few students.

The suggestions and many others are posted along with relevant data at a new website, “UH Manoa Planning for Post-Pandemic Hawaii.” If ultimately approved, any changes would not take place until the new fiscal year that starts in July, or later.

“Over the course of the semester, you are likely to hear debates about the future of some of our degree programs, and about how departments or schools and colleges might be reorganized in order to be stronger, more effective and cut costs,” UH-Manoa Provost Michael Bruno wrote in a message to students Saturday.

He assured them that such changes would take time and that students would graduate before any degree program is terminated. Also, classes in the subject would typically continue at lower­-division levels even if a major is phased out.

“It is important to emphasize that our suggestions were never meant to be the last word, but the beginning of an open conversation that we hope and expect will be ongoing now that our campus is back in full swing,” Bruno wrote in a message to faculty Friday.

The idea of closing the Public Policy Center, which is part of the College of Social Sciences, came as a surprise since it has been quite active during the coronavirus pandemic. Colin Moore, the center’s director, said in an interview Tuesday that he believes it plays an important role for the state.

“We are a very small center that has a big impact,” he said. “I think we provide very good value for the money. Most faculty have separate affiliations with their departments, so we don’t understand how this would save money. And we think it would reduce the capacity of the state to evaluate policy issues, which I think we need now more than ever.”

Since the pandemic hit, the center has pumped out five different reports on subjects such as how the state can mitigate the COVID-19 crisis; Hawaii residents’ assessments of pandemic restrictions; and reopening Hawaii’s restaurants.

Moore chairs the School of Communications and directs the Policy Center, which has one other faculty position along with a specialist and a secretary. Affiliate faculty in other departments contribute to its reports.

The Matsunaga Institute, housed in the Public Policy Center, has two faculty members and one staffer. The proposal suggests moving its graduate certificate in conflict resolution to the UH Law School and its peace studies major into Interdisciplinary Studies.

“That tiny institute has had a big role in the community for things like alternative dispute resolution and our conflict resolution program,” Moore said.

In April all segments of UH Manoa were challenged to develop plans to produce significant cost savings given the looming fiscal crisis, with targets from 5% to 15%.

A team of administrators met over the summer, examining enrollment trends, faculty-student ratios, current program relevance and external reviews. Their aim was to streamline, reduce administrative costs, invest in new growth areas and phase out degrees with little demand.

For instance, only 17 students at UH Manoa are majoring in religion, down from 36 in 2012, and another 17 students are majoring in German. The committee suggested those bachelor’s degrees be eliminated but the subjects still taught as a minor.

Rather than a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, the committee suggested offering it as a concentration in the communications major or as a minor. UH Manoa’s journalism program is not professionally accredited, and enrollment fell to 38 undergraduate majors in 2019. Meanwhile, the communications major grew to 208 students that year, from 155 students in 2012.

Ann Auman, undergraduate chairwoman of journalism, said enrollment has rebounded to 58 journalism majors this fall.

“Eliminating the journalism B.A. sends a signal that journalism is not important,” Auman said. “But it’s so important during this age of misinformation, the pandemic and our elections.”

The committee also advised dropping bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dance though keeping it as a minor. Currently, 21 students are working on bachelor’s degrees in dance and 11 on master’s degrees.

“A small dance program is relatively low cost and enriches our arts in Hawaii,” Peter Arnade, dean of the College of Arts, Languages &Letters, wrote in opposing that idea. “Students should not have to go to the mainland for this degree.”

Advanced degrees that might be phased out for low enrollment include the Master of Law, the Doctor of Juridical Science and the Ph.D. in social welfare.

The committee was made up of UH President David Lassner; Bruno; Interim Vice Chancellor for Administration, Finance and Operations Sandy French; Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Velma Kameoka; Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Laura Lyons; and Senior Advisor to the Provost Wendy Pearson.

It was dubbed the “Budget Committee,” although it is not a decision-making body.

In March the university imposed a hiring freeze, halted travel and restricted spending. Since then UH Manoa has eliminated eight executive/managerial positions among others, and executives and managers are forgoing the salary increase that faculty and staff receive this year.

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