Fifty-six academic degree programs across the UNC system were dropped or consolidated last week in a vote by the UNC Board of Governors.
Such program “discontinuations” have occurred every two years since 1995, but this year the action caused a flurry of criticism and anger on social media. Among the degree programs disappearing: the theater and jazz programs at N.C. Central University, and Africana studies and women’s and gender studies at N.C. State University. Also eliminated at various campuses were degrees in French and German, as well as education degrees, including mathematics education, special education and art education.
The UNC system periodically reviews programs that have “low productivity,” defined as those that awarded fewer than 20 degrees in the past two years at the undergraduate level, or fewer than 11 degrees in the most recent year.
This year, 221 degree programs were reviewed systemwide — about 12 percent of the total 1,889 degree programs across the state. In the final vote last week, 46 were discontinued and 10 were merged with other programs.
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Critics honed in on a frequent debate about the future of the liberal arts in an era when job preparation is gaining more attention in higher education. A story in the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper quoted UNC board member Steven Long as saying: “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”
The comment set off faculty and others in North Carolina and beyond, who chimed in on social media with disagreement and dismay.
By late Tuesday, the UNC system’s General Administration sent out a news release to explain the process of degree discontinuation. The regular reviews are undertaken, the release said, to ensure effective use of state resources, to reduce program duplication and to redirect scarce resources to higher-priority programs, based on student and market demands.
Forty-six programs under scrutiny this time were in teacher education, at a time when the state needs to hire 10,000 new teachers each year. The UNC system has not been able to keep up with that demand. At the same time, enrollment in UNC schools of education has declined dramatically — by 27 percent in the past five years, as fewer young people choose teaching as their career.
At NCCU, there is sadness among some that the jazz studies degree will go away, said Robert Trowers, who teaches brass and jazz history there. Jazz had previously been identified by the NCCU administration as one of several areas of distinction for the university.
“It’s gotten quite a bit of recognition and a few accolades,” Trowers said.
Now jazz will become a concentration within the music major, though Trowers said he knew of no plans to decrease the number of jazz faculty.
“I guess some people are [unhappy] — the folks who are really looking for that specific jazz training,” Trowers said. “Once they see how it’s structured, they probably won’t be terribly disappointed.”