GeoWorld February 2013

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 12 of 32

Can the University GIS Department Survive Austere Budget Cuts? EDGENODES A ccording to a recent article in a Canadian newspaper (see news/national/education/no-departmentis-safe-as-universities-employ-us-cost-cuttingstrategy/article6711261), no department or program will be safe if Canadian universities adopt the cost-cutting methods advocated by American Robert Dickeson. If this is the case, how will Departments of Geographic Information Science be affected? Will they be sheltered from this ruthless approach that seeks to cut out BY NIGEL WATERS entire university departments with high costs and low enrollments? Since the spatial and geographic information sciences are in such demand by industry, the military and other applied sciences, it might be expected that GIS departments would be secure, but perhaps they���re more likely to suffer from the law of unintended consequences? Universities in an Era of Cost Cutting Nigel Waters, editor of Cartographica, is a professor of geography and director for the Center of Excellence for Geographic Information Science, George Mason University; e-mail: 12 Previously, many university administrations would approach an annual budget shortage by announcing across-the-board cuts of anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent or higher. These were far more draconian than might be expected, because about 80 percent or more of a department���s budget typically consists of salaries of tenured faculty. ���Lucky��� departments might have one of their tenured faculty members retire and perhaps could handle the entire cut this way, but the downside of that strategy was losing the position, a solution few chairs would countenance. Failing the availability of this solution, other cuts might be made to support staff���administrative and technical���leaving surviving colleagues hopelessly burdened with new duties. More recently, Canadian universities adopted a strategy known as ���program prioritization��� that already has become popular with university administrations in the United States. This solution is the ���survival of the ���ttest��� and based on Dickeson���s mantra of an ���evidence-based��� approach that uses a data-driven model founded on student outcomes, program cost and enrollment levels, among other criteria. G E O W O R L D / F E B R U A R Y 2 O 1 3 Dickeson, a former president of the University of Northern Colorado, and his colleague, Stanley Ikenberry, recently published a book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance. In an interview summarized on the Academic Impressions Web site, they describe their 10 criteria for evaluating an academic department: 1. History and program expectations 2. External demand 3. Internal demand 4. Quality of inputs 5. Quality of outcomes 6. Productivity, size and scope 7. Revenue generated 8. Costs incurred 9. Justi���cation, impact and essentiality 10. Opportunity analysis This is a decision-support system that Dickeson aggressively markets at seminars designed to promote his approach for a ���transparent process ��� [that can be used to] identify programs that should be invested in, cut, downsized or merged.��� Although it���s an intriguing system that has some merit, it has at least two major ���aws. The ���rst is that many of the criteria are non-quanti���able or are so ill-de���ned that they might be quanti���ed in many different ways, resulting in different outcomes. What, for example, is ���essentiality,��� and how do you measure that? Second, it���s dif���cult, perhaps impossible, to adapt the method so that it can be used to prioritize new programs where there���s no record of achievement and success or otherwise. Faculty Reaction to the Dickeson Approach Reaction by rank-and-���le faculty on both sides of the border has largely been negative. In the United States, the most notorious implementation of Dickeson���s prioritization approach was at Columbia College in Chicago, where the administration and faculty have been engaged in a bitter confrontation throughout 2012. The faculty maintained that, in some instances, prioritization and the subsequent faculty layoffs violated their bargaining rights. According to the United Staff of the College of Columbia Web site (, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on July 27, 2012, that the college administration engaged in unfair labor practices by, among other infringements, refusing to bargain with the faculty union. The aforementioned article in the Globe and Mail explained that Dickeson���s approach now is being used in Canadian universities, including the Universities of Regina, Wilfrid Laurier and most extensively at the University of Guelph, which

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of GeoWorld - GeoWorld February 2013