UCO wrestles with deficit, ‘essential’ programs to stay

After UCO officials announced the $15 million budget deficit last semester, meetings for faculty and staff were scheduled throughout the spring to “practice shared governance in informal and formal ways to build a cohesive plan to which we can align,” president Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar said in a statement last semester.

One task ahead of those in charge of budget cuts is deciding what constitutes an essential university program, and the answer is complex. 

The Vista spoke with Erik Huneke, professor of history and director for the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies minor at the UCO. 

There are many levels of what determines an essential program for any university. Not only are there some standards that the university must meet for accreditation, but there are also “certain kinds of knowledge that are essential for a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma to possess, regardless of whatever field he, she, ze, or they might be going to specialize in,” said Huneke. 

“This question of what is essential is continually open to definition and redefinition,” Huneke said.

The action of attempting to define an essential program asks: What is the value a course or program holds?

Huneke emphasized that each person determines value differently.

“The question is, who gets to make those decisions? How much is it student centered? How much is it faculty centered? How much is it administration-centered? How much is this focused on what we think the outside world might want to expect of our students in the education we provide?” Huneke asked. 

“Those are difficult things to reconcile because different stakeholders are going to have a different point of view, people in liberal arts are going to maintain that liberal arts should be an essential part of the core curriculum as it currently is,” he said. 

Core requirements are one way to define “essentials,” according to Huneke. 

As another factor in the definition of essential, he asked, “How do the programs and courses that we offer dovetail with the larger mission of the university as one which is devoted to transforming to thinking of itself as a metropolitan university, which means different things to different people?”

Huneke thinks that even though ‘essential’ is hard to define, “it’s worth having conversations about how to define it. But I think that those conversations can become unproductive when it is a matter of defining what is essential and what is not essential, because I think that there are many ways of defining what is essential. And instead of trying to say, this is what this isn’t, I think it’s important to approach the process with an open mind in terms of acknowledging that we are not necessarily going to agree on what is essential.”

“Part of the conversation needs to be how does UCO — and how does higher education in general — make a case for its value to governments, to prospective students and parents and other stakeholders, and to ourselves in terms of what exactly we think we’re doing and why we’re doing it?”

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