The Louisiana Board of Regents on Wednesday gave Southern University permission to drop its master of arts in mass communication degree in a budget-cutting move that provoked the ire of faculty when the idea was first floated months ago.
The regents set policy for Louisiana’s public colleges and universities.
Karen Denby, regents associate commissioner for academic affairs, explained that Southern’s mass communication master’s degree was recently denied reaccreditation by a national organization earlier this year, while the bachelor’s program was conditionally approved.
Terminating the master’s program “was the right decision,” Denby said.
Southern System President Ronald Mason acknowledged that axing a program is rarely a good thing, but called it a necessary evil in a time of financial uncertainty.
Declining enrollment coupled with fewer state dollars and rising benefit costs preceded Southern’s 2011 declaration of financial emergency, called exigency.
By declaring exigency, Southern’s Baton Rouge campus had greater leeway to downsize staff and consolidate programs.
Mason said Southern is currently going through the first phase of an extensive program review which may lead to other cuts as deemed necessary.
“Mass communication at the undergraduate level is more marketable,” Mason said. “We had low enrollment at the master’s level, and at a time of tight budgets, we had to make a call.”
Wednesday’s decision by the regents came with significantly less outcry than when it was proposed at a Southern Board of Supervisors meeting this past summer.
Members of Southern’s Faculty Senate loudly objected to the move by saying the school was essentially deserting a good program and ceding a degree program to other institutions.
Southern also got the go-ahead to end its doctor of philosophy in physical education program.
The regents also on Wednesday reinstated its endowed professorship support fund program, which guarantees a financial match to campuses looking to attract “rock star” professors.
Campuses typically receive a $40,000 match from the state for every $60,000 given in private donations.
Endowed professorships are generally a way for universities to raise their profile while also attracting students by bringing in well-known or highly respected faculty.
Since the program’s start, the regents and the state have paired up to fund more than 2,300 professorships at salaries of $100,000 each on 39 campuses. The program dwindled as funding became scarce.
The regents reinstated the program with the caveat that schools submit applications outlining how the professorships will improve the quality of education, internal processes for meeting academic standards and how the professors will be selected.