Too Early to Say What Courses May Be On the Chopping Block

Kristen Roney, the new Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, working with programs on course scheduling amid budget cuts

Writer: Kasumi Collins, Editor-in-Chief

The UHH campus has been abuzz about budget cuts and what that will mean for class availability, staff retention, and graduation. Kristen Roney, the new Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs here at UH Hilo, is getting acclimated to her new job with a hefty to-do list. She is tasked with looking for ways to reduce the budget, and at the same time ensuring courses will be available for the various majors that the university offers.

“The budget this year is, not to put too fine a point on it, in rough shape owing to the economic impacts from COVID-19 on the state,” Roney said. In September, Roney started what she described as a two-step process, in order to determine what classes would be available Spring 2021, as well as what lecturers would be tasked with teaching those classes. In the first step, Roney sent out a memo asking programs to create a schedule that did not include lecturer faculty or overloads. “As a result, one of the things that was not especially clear as I started was how much we have remaining in the hiring funds for lecturers for Spring 2021.”

In her communication with the program, she suggested the elimination of courses with a couple of different scenarios or, as she described, stages. “The first stage of which had to assume no funding for lecturers. We are presently in the second stage,” Roney stated, noting she recently sent out another communication to the programs detailing what that looks like: “Departments and programs identify courses not offered in the first schedule that are needed per the student data.”

Roney explained that the course list would be prioritized based on three areas: courses for students graduating in Spring 2021, courses for students graduating in Fall 2021, and general education (which also includes the integrative requirements). “Weʻll then work through the remaining list in academic leadership until we run out of funding,” Roney said, adding that she and other administrators involved in this course prioritization hope to wrap up their work at the end of October. “Part of the process here is identifying exactly what the gaps between schedule needs and doing our level-best to assure students can progress through their degrees.”

At press time Roney wasn’t ready to share the list of courses that administrators are planning to put on the chopping block. “I donʻt have a list to share as we are still collecting the second phase schedule,” she said, pointing out that she wants to give lecturers notice before publicly revealing such information. “We had to get through hiring and overloads for faculty, etc., before I could have a serious idea of where we were,” Roney said, adding, “But, departments needed to begin work on a schedule long before I would have that information.” Roney’s request to programs was to create a schedule designed around students’ needs, using data from StarGPS about anticipated course enrollment. She asked that the programs develop their schedule “bearing in mind the myriad needs for student progression.” She said the programs “have done their very best in meeting these goals.” She asked in that same September memo that a prioritization list be created, so that once she knew where UHH stood financially, administrators could begin identifying additional courses and hiring lecturers in response.

Now that Roney has a “relatively stable number” for the budget, they are gathering priority lists from the programs, namely courses needed for students graduating in Spring 2021, courses needed for students graduating in Fall 2021, and courses needed for general student access, such as general education. “Weʻll also create additional priorities as a group in the academic leadership of the Colleges and fund as many additional courses as we are able through these lists,” Roney said. While this two-stage process in course scheduling is a university-wide measure, Roney acknowledges that her communication to the programs did create some anxiety amongst the faculty and staff. “I will absolutely own that the communication around the initial memo did not go as I had expected,” she said. “I would have been broader in communicating the situation initially were I to go back, so that everyone knew the language used around that second part of the process. It wouldnʻt completely ameliorate anxiety--how could it, knowing we still wonʻt have as much of a budget as last year?--but at least we would have shared a common language, and the information would not have come across as a rumor.”

Roney assured Ke Kalahea that administrators are working hard to make sure that UHH has the “capacity” to provide students with necessary courses and they will be seeking student feedback “when it looks like a problem is arising so that we can help.”

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