Prioritization plods forward

Graphic by Roz Kirkelie.
Graphic by Roz Kirkelie.

First, take the over 300 programs and 200 or so functions that constitute UAA and have staff and faculty describe their importance. Next, assemble two respective task forces culled from staff and faculty for the purpose of evaluating the responses. Finally, place each of these programs and functions into one of five prescriptive categories, ranging from “priority for higher enhancement” to “further review, consider for reduction or phase out.”

This is a simplified version of the massive review known as prioritization, and its consequences are directly tied to the decline in state funding that is said to have made it necessary.

While some believe prioritization is an effective means of UAA making the best use of its resources. Others say it is an attack on academic tenure and an erosion of university morale.

Little has seemed to go as planned for the 18-member Academic Task Force (AcTF), whose job is to rank all of the programs at UAA. The AcTF, after months-long debate, has abandoned the quintile ranking system in favor of a system that does not force an equal distribution of programs.

From the beginning, the AcTF had planned to rank programs as a group by achieving an 80 percent consensus among members, but as of Dec. 6 they have decided this presents a conflict of interest.

“Discussing and voting on programs an AcTF member is not directly contributing to may nonetheless impact the probability of his or her program being placed there,” reads the AcTF’s December 2013 Faculty Senate Progress Report.

Now, all voting will be done electronically and anonymously. Once an 80 percent consensus has been reached there will be no further discussion of the program in question.

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Task force members will identify potential conflicts of interest, or COI, to the group as a whole. If they seem legitimate the AcTF will review these potential COI after final program categorizations have been made, and “these analyses will be part of the AcTF’s final report.”

The actual templates for each of the programs that provide the basis for the AcTF’s review have come to a temporary standstill.

Centralized data provided by an 18-member Facilitation Team was shown to be flawed shortly after its release on Dec. 5. The Facilitation Team has since been dissolved. Faculty and staff can no longer access the flawed data site needed to complete their templates, and the AcTF has suspended deadlines for template submission.

“We anticipate delivery of accurate and usable data in the first half of the spring semester,” the report states.

Some departments are further along than others in the completion of templates for each of their individual programs. Mathematics had most of its templates filled out months ago, while the Dental Hygiene Program hasn’t begun.

“We’re not going to begin until we know we have good data and what the process is going to be,” said Sandra Pence, associate professor of dental hygiene.

The other side of prioritization consisting of functions ranked by the Support Task Force, for which little has been known, released templates of their own Dec.16. The approximately 200 functions being reviewed range from Athletics to Theater Productions to Books of the Year and includes all services or activities at UAA.

Last Friday, the STF introduced the Prioritization Plus software, which allows staff to complete their respective templates online. Data for the templates is coming from the administrative software Banner. The deadline for template submission is St. Patrick’s Day.

The STF has opted to use an unmodified quintile ranking system that will create an equal distribution of 20 percent of the functions in each of the five categories.

In an open briefing last Wednesday, STF co-chair Sandi Culver acknowledged the staff and faculty trepidation that has characterized prioritization as a whole.

“We’re not looking to reduce staffing. It’s not a witch-hunt. It’s not anything subversive like that,” Culver said.

Though the AcTF and STF are at different points in the process, both are still holding to a deadline of June 30 for completion of final reports. The reports will eventually be made public.