Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2010

Heard on the Hill: Seeking feedback on smaller degree programs; former journalism student earns Hearst award; longtime architect bids adieu to KU

December 9, 2010


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Here’s a little Heard on the Hill experiment, as I continue to tinker with what kinds of items to include in this daily mish-mash of goodness.

I’m going to be expanding this out into a bigger story over the next day or so, but I’m giving a sneak peek to the Heard on the Hill faithful followers here in this space.

I inquired back in October about a list of KU programs that give out 10 bachelor’s degrees or fewer each year.

The idea popped in my head to poke around here because Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had asked for a statewide review of programs that only graduated a small number of people.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the programs in Kansas that had low numbers of graduates. KU reports they have 15 programs that have a five-year average of 10 bachelor’s degrees awarded or fewer.

The university offers a variety of reasons for keeping them around, including supporting a quality liberal arts education, providing important research opportunities and service opportunities to the state. Also, a few don’t cost KU additional dollars because they draw on existing faculty from other disciplines. I’ll get into the university’s reasons a little more in the upcoming story.

But, without further ado, here’s the list of KU’s smallest programs, with the average number of bachelor’s degrees awarded from fiscal years 2006-2010.

• Physics: 9.4 degrees

• Germanic languages and literatures: 9.2 degrees

• Humanities: 9.0 degrees

• Slavic languages and literatures: 7.5 degrees

• Visual arts education: 7.5 degrees

• Dance: 7.0 degrees

• Music therapy: 6.0 degrees

• Engineering physics: 4.6 degrees

• Petroleum engineering: 4.4. degrees

• Classics and classical languages: 4.2 degrees

• Classical antiquity: 4.0 degrees

• Astronomy: 3.6 degrees

• European studies: 3.2 degrees

• College special studies: 3.0 degrees

• Russian, East European and Eurasian studies: 2.3 degrees

And here’s the experimental part. I’d like to open this all up for feedback to you all now, before I’ve actually published the story itself. I’d like to know what you think of the story — what questions do you have about this information? What would you like me to find out? Any surprises on that list for you? Some (like Gov. Nixon) say these programs may be a good target for budget cuts. Others say they serve important needs. So, e-mail me, tweet me or leave a comment with your feedback. It’s my effort at true "community" journalism. We’ll see how this works…

• Former University Daily Kansan staffer (and Lawrence Journal-World intern) Aly Van Dyke has placed third in the college feature writing category of the William Randolph Foundation’s Journalism Awards program — the equivalent of the college Pulitzer Prizes. The award comes with a $1,500 prize.

Her entry, which focuses on four women’s experiences with unplanned pregnancies, is a compelling read. If you read one of the four, it’s a good bet you’ll be drawn in to the other three, too.

Be warned in advance, though, a few of the stories contain some salty language.

Today, Van Dyke can be found digging up health care stories at The Kansas City Business Journal.

• With finals week nearly upon us, I found it interesting that there’s a system in place at KU to find replacement classrooms for finals in case of a building evacuation.

KU Public Safety and the Office of the University Registrar have a system that finds backup spaces for finals, in case a building evacuation is necessary.

Of course, we’re just off the heels of a recent evacuation of Malott Hall after a malfunctioning exhaust fan made the fifth floor smell funny.

But it looks like this plan was put in place mainly to discourage students from raising havoc. At least, that’s the sense I get from a memo from the provost’s office that features stern, boldface font.

So if you didn’t study for that French final, you’re going to need a better back-up plan than pulling the fire alarm.

• Today isn’t just the last day of classes for the fall semester, it’s also the last day of work for Warren Corman, KU’s university architect, after 63 years of work in the field. You can read more about him here.

The UDK also did a much larger story on him here.

• I wonder if I have the stamina to work 63 years in journalism. One thing that sustains me, though, is when people send me tips for Heard on the Hill at


Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 5 months ago

Simple question - does Kansas need more than 6 new music therapists every year? Probably not.

Does Kansas need at least 1 new music therapist every year? Probably so. Just because the demand is low doesn't mean the demand doesn't exist. Many of these numbers seems about right for the number of opportunities with those degrees.

If the goal of KU is to only offer degrees a minimum number of people will graduate with, then it won't be a University, it will be a Vo-Tech.

kernal 7 years, 5 months ago

Don't forget we also have out of state students, not just Kansas students, and not all four year universities offer this degree.

Adrienne Sanders 7 years, 5 months ago

I wonder how much overlap is in some of those programs. For instance, petroleum engineering- I assume those 4.4 people did most of their coursework under the regular engineering program, which wouldn't be cut. How much "extra" does it really take for some people to specialize in petroleum engineering over what would still be in place regardless? Same with Russian & East european studies- doesn't that have a lot of overlap with Slavic language and literature? (Or maybe it could if it doesn't already.)

What the heck is "college special studies"?

akhmatova 7 years, 5 months ago

Russian & East European Studies actually receive a huge federal grant (over $20+ million) and some of the faculty of the Slavic department is funded by local Slavic families, such as Czech families that pay for Czech classes to be taught. There is some overlap, such as Russian language classes that are "shared" between the classes but it is generally separate. Slavic teaches literature, linguistics, and some culture, while REES focuses more on politics, history, and geopolitical things.

The two departments do a lot to serve ROTC students who want to learn less-commonly taught languages in order to eventually assist the government in foreign affairs. The Slavic department at KU is actually one of the best you can find, as it has absolutely world-class faculty in a lot of areas that are hard to find in the midwest, such as Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Slovene. Actually, KU has the only Slavic department in the Great Plains that offers both an MA and PhD.

So yes, it may initially seem like these departments are prime to be cut down to save a few bucks, but they are heavily subsidized outside of KU and serve a lot of purposes within the community (Lots of people from Ft. Leavenworth and Riley taking classes in Slavic languages/culture) and general academic research.

IronChefKS 7 years, 5 months ago

I'll be interested in hearing how the dance program is justified.

guesswho 7 years, 5 months ago

This may or may not be a justification but there has been some interesting work with dance and movement with Parkinson's patients.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

I agree. It should be mandated that all those who get dance degrees should also be required to do research that advances the utility of coal-tar derivatives.

betti81 7 years, 5 months ago

I'd be interested to know which ones offer minors and how many of those are granted by each area. Also if in any of the areas there is a faculty member (or members) who specializes in that area, brings in national research money (or prestige) and will only remain at KU if they can continue to teach at least some courses in their area of discipline. Last one - how many students enroll in the various entry level courses in these areas to fulfill general education requirements or other degree requirementst (such as physics - not everyone is a major, but how many students at KU take at least one physics course). I think it is valuable to have degree programs in those areas so as to strengthen the general course work required by other degrees.

Thanks. I think it is a worthy story.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

Psychology: 500 degrees per year.

Biology: 500 degrees per year.

Consolidation of the smaller programs is the answer.

ahyland 7 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for all the great feedback, both here and via e-mail. Keep it coming!

Andy Hyland KU reporter

Laura Wilson 7 years, 5 months ago

I think looking at just degree rates isn't showing the whole picture. Do these departments offer classes that serve as requirements for a bachelor's degree in general? Back in the 1980s, Classics offered mythology and a couple other classes that fulfilled the humanities requirement and the mythology course had up to a hundred students a semester. Latin had several sections for first year, as it fulfilled the foreign language requirement. While the number of degrees might be low, the number of students taking classes in a department may be a lot higher. I would guess that the Physics Department has a high number of students taking first year physics courses, too; German as well for the language requirement. You do away with those departments and you do away with the subjects.

I'd argue the need for Classics till the cows come home. Without a knowledge of the ancient world and Latin and Greek, where would we be today? We wouldn't be a democracy, that's for sure!

On the other hand, I'd argue there is no need for a Humanities department and several of the "studies" departments should go right back into the larger departments of the foreign languages and history.

And, yeah, what the heck is college special subjects?

KU_cynic 7 years, 5 months ago

Regarding the small-number-of-graduates degree programs:

I think an important next step in pursuing this is to examine frequency of offerings and enrollments in elective coursework that satisfies these degree requirements.

A major usually requires something like 21 credit hours (typically seven courses) of elective coursework. Many majors are structured, with 1-3 broader electives serving as prerequisites for some focused advanced electives.

Some of these degrees may have structured electives such that at some point there are only a handful of students in a particular advanced course (e.g., probably Slavic languages). It's reasonable to inquire whether it's cost effective having small enrollment courses that cater to such majors.

In the case of languages, some of these classes may be very cost effective when they rely on non-faculty native-language speakers who are enrolled in graduate degree programs as opposed to tenure track faculty.

Other degrees may have very broad, unstructured electives, allowing students to cobble together a major by sampling a broad array of general courses (e.g., perhaps classics and classical antiquity), courses that may be frequently taken to satisfy gen-ed requirements by a large number of students.

It's reasonable to inquire if sampling across such classes imparts valuable knowledge to the focused degree-seeker. A natural response is probably that faculty members do some special mentoring of such students.

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