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Utica University Board of Trustees ‘sunsets’ 13 majors

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 2/25/23

The Utica University Board of Trustees voted Thursday to sunset 13 out of the 15 majors as recommended by university President Laura Casamento last month.

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Utica University Board of Trustees ‘sunsets’ 13 majors


UTICA — The Utica University Board of Trustees voted Thursday to sunset 13 out of the 15 majors as recommended by university President Laura Casamento last month.

But those decisions will not force any current students out of a chosen major, stressed Board of Trustees Chairperson Robert Brvenik.

“Decisions to sunset majors mean that new students will no longer be admitted to that major,” he explained in a statement that afternoon. “The decision will have no impact upon students currently enrolled in or accepted into the major. The university will continue fully resourcing and supporting the major until all current and admitted students have completed their programs of study.”

Five degree programs - including bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, healthcare management delivered both online and on campus, nutrition and Spanish - were not appealed by the faculty of those departments so the board accepted Casamento’s recommendations to sunset them.

The bachelor’s of the arts in geoscience was sunset on the grounds that it is redundant with another certification.

Casamento withdrew her recommendation to sunset the bachelor’s in chemistry and the bachelor’s in physics based on arguments in their favor heard in appeals. The board also acknowledged a faculty proposal to develop a new major in digital media marketing to replace the current B.B.A. in public relations and marketing.

And after considering statements of appeal, the board instead accepted Casamento’s recommendations to sunset the bachelor’s degrees in fraud and financial crime investigation; geoscience; international studies; philosophy; sociology and anthropology; and therapeutic recreation.

The Board of Trustees initiated an Academic Portfolio Review process last August to fine-tune its degree programs based on student enrollment and changing world occupational needs. In January, Casamento made her recommendations. Only 4.4% of Utica’s current student body were enrolled in those 15 majors she recommended to be sunset, Casamento said.

The board then invited students, faculty and staff to submit their own comments online to be forwarded to the trustees. Meanwhile, a public petition was started by the AAUPUtica/AFT 6786 union online to be submitted to the university’s “Public Commenting Form” and presented to the trustees two weeks prior to their Feb. 16 and 17 Board of Trustees meetings.

Associate Professor of Philosophy Leonore Fleming is the president of the AAUP-Utica/AFT 6786 union, including faculty, librarians and Higher Educational Opportunity Program counselors at the university. Fleming said the faculty at Utica University has been asking for transparency for months, and the recommendations only gave them a list of programs to be eliminated or modified, with no explanation of how they arrived at those decisions.

Fleming said after reviewing the Board of Trustees’ report, the AAUP-Utica’s objections to the Academic Program Portfolio Review have not changed. She said Casamento and the Board of Trustees have failed to provide transparency, failed to provide clear rationale and “clearly violated proper procedure by voting on these recommendations while there is a pending grievance.”

She claimed the board’s characterization of their report as “comprehensive” is misleading. Only 16 of the 169 pages contain the board’s actual report, Fleming noted, with only eight pages including institutional data and the remaining 145 pages filed with case studies provided by faculty. The “rationale” section of this “comprehensive” report is only six sentences long and “wholly inadequate,” Fleming said.

The report contains “several unsupported assertions which further contribute to the lack of transparency in this process,” she continued, and it references both “financial summaries” and “financial analyses” without those documents being shared. The board has yet to provide the financial ramifications of these decisions, Fleming said.

The AAUP-Utica has submitted multiple information requests for financial information related to the program cuts to assist with bargaining, Fleming explained, and the university has refused to provide them that information.

“It seems there are real financial costs to what they are doing and it makes me question their financial expertise,” Fleming said. “Just this week I had a student in my office asking me to write a letter of recommendation so they could transfer somewhere else in case their major was cut.”

That major was indeed cut, and now who knows how many other students will follow that one in transferring elsewhere, Fleming wondered.

“Given that we are a tuition-driven institution, and we are down in enrollment as the report emphasizes, why would the outgoing president and Board of Trustees be so careless and treat students so disrespectfully?” she asked.

Luke Perry, professor of political science and director of the Utica University Center of Public Affairs and Election Research, said the report suggests that some programs at Utica have less majors than others due to demand. The reality there is more complicated, he said.

This overlooks how it is the admissions department’s job to recruit new students for every program and their resources have never been allocated equally across all programs, Perry said.

“As a result, recruiting for some programs starts at third base, for others it starts at home plate, and if you don’t score enough runs, you now get cut,” Perry said. “This is a huge challenge for majors in social sciences and humanities and will continue to be until Utica’s marketing resources are more equitably distributed.”

Fleming said the university has to respond to Step III of their grievance by Feb. 28. If the grievance is not resolved in that response, the next step is for the union to submit the matter in writing to the American Arbitration Association pursuant to the Voluntary Labor Arbitration Dispute Rules. 

Most likely the union membership will then meet March 1 to plan their next actions in light of the board’s current report and to discuss the response to the grievance they expect to receive Feb. 28. That day they will also have worked 29 days without a contract, Fleming added. 

But despite any opposition, Brvenik said the board feels confident their final decisons represent a positive path forward for Utica University.

“When the board initiated the Academic Portfolio Review process in August, we recognized that while such reviews are routine across higher education, it would inevitably elicit strong criticism and consensus among all constituents would be impossible to achieve,” Brvenik said. “However, it was our duty and obligation as a legally constituted governing body to ensure the university’s portfolio of majors reflects and anticipates student interest and employer demand.”


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