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Regents Close University of Northern Iowa Programs

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) The University of Northern Iowa will no longer offer degree programs in French, German and numerous other subjects ranging from geology to microbiology under a budget-cutting plan approved Wednesday that will shrink the choices available to students.

Brushing aside criticism from faculty leaders locally and nationally, the Iowa Board of Regents voted 9-0 to terminate 22 undergraduate majors, 20 minors and 16 graduate programs offered at the campus in Cedar Falls. The regents suspended admissions to another eight programs while they undergo restructuring, rounding out a plan that touches about one-fourth of all programs and easily amounts to the deepest cuts in school history.

University officials say they targeted programs for closure that had low enrollment and completion rates, focusing on those with 10 or fewer graduates per year. They say the cuts will eliminate an $800,000 deficit that academic programs face next year and pave the way for future growth of high-demand programs.

School president Ben Allen urged the regents to take quick action during their meeting in Iowa City, saying further discussion of the cuts would be fruitless.

"These are low-enrolled programs. The impact is obviously significant for those individuals in the programs, but from the university's perspective, it doesn't have much impact," he said.

Regent Bob Downer said he was concerned the cuts will limit class options for non-majors, and suggested school officials could ease concerns by sharing more information about classes that will still be available.

The cuts will be felt across campus. Figures given to the regents show more than 400 students were enrolled in the affected programs as of last fall.

The Faculty Senate and a union representing faculty have both accused the administration of rushing harmful cuts without enough consideration and input. The cuts were released publicly two weeks ago, and university officials were revising the list up until hours before Wednesday's meeting.

Provost Gloria Gibson could not tell the regents definitively how many majors were being cut. She said "around 19 or 20, maybe a few more." Nonetheless, Allen insisted the process was "carefully done."

Even before the plan was released, the faculty issued a vote of no-confidence in Allen and Gibson. The American Association of University Professors launched an inquiry last week that could lead to a largely symbolic censure of the school, saying the administration appears to be violating faculty rights with program eliminations and buyouts.

Allen told AAUP in a letter Wednesday that the school was honoring the principles of academic freedom and the terms of its collective bargaining contract with professors, which calls for layoffs to be a last resort.

He and Gibson said the administration listened to feedback and pared back the initial list of closures. The school spared the bachelor's of science degree in physics at the last minute after what Gibson called a nationwide groundswell of support for the program, as well as a master's program in technology. Some were moved from the closure list to restructuring, a process that will downsize and change the curriculum for the particular programs.

About 30 tenured faculty members whose programs have been targeted have been offered voluntary buyouts, which will pay them one year's salary and a cash payment of $20,000 or more to buy health insurance for 18 months. Faculty have until April 30 to decide, under a one-week extension approved Wednesday by the Board of Regents.

Professors and instructors without tenure will be let go under the plan, but Gibson declined to say how many. She said a number of others have notified the school of their plans to enter a two-year phased retirement.

Gibson said the university would allow students enrolled in the programs to finish and that plans are being developed to make sure there are teachers for them.

She said many of the programs being closed were tracks within larger programs that few students followed. For instance, she said the microbiology emphasis would be closed but the more popular biology major would remain intact. Geology will be closed, but students can study similar content in the earth sciences program.

The university is working to reassure students that an array of academic offerings will still be available, Gibson said.

"Our message to students is that UNI is a strong university," she said. "It's still a place where we pride ourselves especially in the undergraduate experience for students."

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