SKIP navigation
Faculty Senate
Faculty Senate

Academic Prioritization Review

Faculty Senate Ad-hoc Committee (2003-2004)

Final Report: May 4, 2004 

Committee Members: James Carroll, Ann Coyne, Bruce Garver


The Faculty Senate ad-hoc committee on academic prioritization reviewed the process the university used in 2001, considered the distribution of funding to programs of highest priority over the three year period since, and discussed future development of UNO academic prioritization, including assessment of the effect of prioritization on the highest priority programs, evaluation of further programs for highest priority, and reduction from highest priority of current programs.

We expect broader evaluation of the 2001 process to identify no major shortcomings. Review of the annual decisions of distribution of funding may prompt revision of the criteria or the way proposals should address the criteria. Since the criteria and process are developed and used system-wide, any suggestions for modification will be considered at the level. Academic prioritization should be a topic of regular collaboration by Faculty Senate Presidents.

Funding has been distributed to most programs of highest priority. In the absence of funding to them, the status academic support programs and outreach categories begs clarification.

It is time to design assessment of the results of these distributions, since the long-term benefits to the first-funded programs should start to become apparent in the next couple years.

We expect a limited version of the prior process would serve to allow other programs to propose highest priority status for themselves, and urge that new proposals be solicited.

We expect planning for reduction from highest priority status to include representatives of all campus constituencies and solicitation of feedback from the whole faculty, and to produce a process of evaluation for reduction which is perceived as constructive.

Background on the work of the UNO Academic Prioritization Review Ad-hoc Committee

It has been three years since the academic priorities of the University of Nebraska at Omaha were developed in response to a directive of the Regents. This report to the UNO Faculty Senate considers the initial process, the implementation of the priorities, and modification of priorities.

While prioritization of requests for financial support of academic needs had been practiced since the founding of institution, prioritization had been done within cycles of budget periods and five year Academic Program Reviews. The process used in responding to the Regents was newly developed, and the 2001 priorities were not associated with any cycle of review.

Sufficient time has passed since 2001 for perspective on the process and its implementation. $1,247,500 has been distributed over three years, some of it only recently. The Planning Committee of the Board of Regents met to review criteria for evaluation and prioritization of academic programs in February of 2003. The UNO strategic plan which guided the 2001 evaluation and prioritization process has since been modified in response to developments. The current plan calls for "an ongoing process of prioritization and assessment for all academic programs."

Strategic planning is an inherently fluid process. The Faculty Senate of UNO felt it appropriate to review academic prioritization. After discussion at the August 2003 Faculty Senate Retreat, Senate President Gregory Sadlek appointed James Carroll, Ann Coyne, and Bruce Garver as an ad-hoc committee to study academic prioritization at UNO. In Resolution 2699 "the committee is charged with identifying measures of success of the previous prioritization, and changes in the prioritization process which are expected to improve the impact of a reprioritization." The committee thanks John Bartle for his assistance in obtaining a report of priority distributions.

In fall, 2003, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee formed an Academic Prioritization Subcommittee, led by Graduate Dean Thomas Bragg. In addition to the members of the Senate ad-hoc committee, Hesham Ali, John Bartle, Vincent R. Drieling, Gregory Goessman, Denise Maybank, and Sajda Qureshi were appointed. The subcommittee was charged to "examine the strengths and weaknesses of the previous prioritization process and conduct an environmental scan of relevant factors (particularly economic factors) that will impact our ability to deliver high quality programs. This information will be utilized in the development of an ongoing process for academic prioritization that is consistent with our strategic plan." This subcommittee met December 12, 2003, and February 10, 2004. An April 13 meeting was cancelled by VCASA Christensen on the ground that "we should not move very quickly as a new President could well change the process to something other than what we have done in the past."

2001 Academic Prioritization

The first steps in academic prioritization were taken by the Academic Prioritization Commission, comprised of representatives from each campus appointed by NU President L. Dennis Smith. Representatives from UNO were Faculty Senate President Douglas Paterson and Deborah Smith-Howell and Dean David Hinton. This group developed the prioritization criteria used system-wide, and sought faculty feedback on a draft of these circulated in early 2001. The breadth and flexibility of the criteria were both a benefit and detriment. For example the commission attempted to identify what constituted an academic program. Their report allowed portions and combinations of academic units to apply for priority status, offering useful flexibility. However an announced intention to prioritize no more than 20% of UNO academic programs led to multiple counts and uncertainty of what would be acceptable. It is the sense of the ad-hoc committee that UNO faculty representation was appropriate and the commission's criteria suitable to the character of UNO.

Titles of the nine prioritization criteria are:

I.       Centrality to roles and missions and strategic plans of the University and the campus
II.      Need and Demand
III.    Quality and Outcomes of Teaching/learning
IV.    Quality and Outcomes of Research/Creative Activity
V.      Quality and Outcomes of Service to the Public and University
VI.     Human, Fiscal and Physical Resources
VII.    Impact
VIII.   Cooperation and Partnership with Other Programs
IX.     Other Unique Dimensions of Program

The commission in its report attempted to communicate the sorts of evidence which a proposal might present in regard to each criterion.

The clear objectives and connection to the campus strategic goals in a system-wide initiative all encouraged constructive faculty involvement. Faculty had a strong sense of the programs whose proposals were likely to be accepted as highest priority. To a considerable extent this reflects the faculty's awareness of the strategic goals of the campus and which programs reflect all three (particularly community engagement) and many of the criteria. Still, most programs prepared proposals and gained the benefits of collective review of their strengths and priorities.

Critical to the success of this academic prioritization is that it was designed to evaluate the potential for increased program strength with an incremental increase in resources. Prioritization is not an evaluation of the current state of the program, though that is one aspect. Particularly strong programs can generate sufficient resources by their own activities. Particularly weak programs might not be able to capitalize on additional resources.

The criteria were widely communicated to the campus community well in advance of the due date for proposals, as was the decision to identify priorities without ranking them or the unprioritized programs. Review of the submissions was done by five-member panels consisting of a dean, a member of the Faculty Senate, a chairperson, and two other faculty, none of whom were rating programs from their own colleges. No feedback on the proposals was provided to the academic units. In spite of the opacity of the review process, it was taken as done in good faith and as the basis for selection of programs.

The 13 highest priorities announced by the Chancellor are: the Bachelor of General Studies Adult Degree Completion Program, Artist Preparation, Banking and Finance in the College of Business Administration, Behavior and Life Sciences, the Department (now School) of Communication, Computer Science and Information Technology, the Department of Criminal Justice in CPACS, Graduate Programs in Business, the Department of Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis and its interdisciplinary field of Management Information Systems, International Studies and Programs, the Department of Public Administration, the School of Social Work, Teacher and School Administrator Preparation. The limited number of these was a matter of considerable campus pride in the feeling that the job had been truly done.

Also identified are three support programs vital to academic quality: General Education, Goodrich Scholarship Program, and the Honors Program, and three outreach categories central to UNOmaha's metropolitan mission: Arts Outreach, Business/Civic Outreach, Educational Outreach. That the status and support of these has not been clear has led to disappointment.

Implementation of Prioritization

The highest priorities were not ranked relative to one another, either in merit or timeliness. Deans have been asked annually to submit ranked proposals to the VCAA/VCASA for application of prioritization funding. The Council of Academic Deans and the Vice-Chancellor evaluate the proposals for decision. The distributions by year and college are as follows.


College of Business Administration:

  • $ 116,000 for a faculty line in support of Graduate Programs in Business

College of Information Science and Technology:

  • $ 223,750 applied to three faculty lines in support of Computer Science
  • $   76,250 applied to one faculty line in support of Information Systems

College of Public Affairs and Community Service:

  • $ 95,000 applied 2/3 for administrative increases to retain five senior faculty and 1/3 toward a new hire in support of Criminal Justice


College of Arts and Sciences:

  • $ 65,000 applied to a faculty line in Mathematics in support of Behavior and Life Sciences

College of Business Administration:

  • $ 100,000 applied to a faculty line in e-business in support of Banking and Finance and Graduate Programs in Business (The person hired resigned in May, 2003. A replacement will start in August.)

College of Education:

  • $ 64,000 applied to a faculty line in support of Teacher Preparation

College of Fine Arts:

  • $ 46,000 applied to a faculty line in Art and Art History in support of Artist Preparation and Teacher Preparation

College of Information Science and Technology:

  • $ 187,432 applied to 1 1/2 faculty lines in support of Information Systems and Quantitative Analysis
  • $ 27,568 applied to partial funding of an additional staff person in direct support of Computer and Information Science and indirect support of Behavior and Life Sciences.

College of Public Affairs and Community Service:

  • $ 186,000 applied 1/2 to one faculty line and an academic advisor line, and 1/2 to a temporary faculty line and part time faculty while a search continues, in support of the School of Public Administration


Colleges of Information Science and Technology and Art and Sciences:

  • $ 95,000 applied to IT research assistants and recruiting and start up funds for new hire in Biotechnology in support of Behavior and Life Sciences.

College of Public Affairs and Community Service:

  • $ 64,500 applied to fund delivery of MSW program in Kearney in support of Social Work.

Funds distributed over three years have been applied in support of ten of the 13 highest priorities. Funding distributed which could not be immediately applied as intended were retained by the colleges. Funding was distributed in round figures and supplemented with college funding in some cases, or applied in small increments consistent with the college's prioritization proposal. Priority funding has not directly benefitted academic support programs or outreach categories.

Future modification of Prioritization Process

The academic prioritization of 2001 was done as a single, system-wide exercise. Until the Faculty Senate took up academic prioritization at its fall, 2003, retreat, the topic had not been openly revisited on campus. There has been no apparent on-going process of assessment specifically of the impact of prioritization on programs. Three aspects of the process need to be developed if prioritization is to remain constructive: assessment of the process with the broad goal of process improvement, reopening the process to identify new programs as highest priorities, extending the process to evaluation of programs for reduction from highest priority.

          Assessment of Prioritization Criteria and Process

Full assessment of the prioritization process requires that all highest priority programs be involved, regardless of the receipt of funds. It appears from the dispersion funds in the first three years that programs which have gone for five years without a proposal convincing to the Deans and Vice-Chancellor might have been misidentified as highest priorities. The criteria by which unsupported programs were rated as highest priorities should be considered for revision. Since the criteria apply system-wide, we recommend that the Faculty Senate Presidents of the NU campuses urge formation of a group charged to consider such revisions.

Assessment of early progress in those programs which have received funding would be of greatest interest to Deans, who could be expected to design the assessment, and the timing with respect to receipt of funding.

          Opening the Process to Designate Further Programs as Highest Priority

A limited version of the 2001 prioritization can be used to open the process to new programs. Any academic program which wished to be considered might prepare a proposal to the then-current guidelines and deadlines and submit this to the Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs. This office would convene one or more panels as in 2001 to evaluate the proposal or proposals. Inclusion of some members who had participated previously promises a degree of consistency and continuity. The Vice-Chancellor would then decide on the basis of the recommendation of each panel. If the number or diversity of highest priority programs became low at some point, the Vice-Chancellor could solicit proposals. If the number of highest priority programs were already high with respect to the funding provided, the Vice-Chancellor might discourage proposals.

          Reduction from Highest Priority

Reduction of programs from highest priority is the aspect for which there has been no proposal or precedent in the prioritization process. Deliberations on this need to include broad faculty and administration representation, and the resulting proposal distributed to all faculty for comment.

It is the sense of the ad-hoc committee and strategic planning subcommittee that repeating a campus-wide process of simultaneous submission and evaluation would not be sufficiently productive to justify the expenditure of time and effort. Re-prioritization is to be done for specific programs.

A draft proposal considered by the Strategic Planning Steering subcommittee indicated that progress of highest priority programs would be done with their regular academic program reviews to minimize additional work. The Academic Planning Council might consider developing questions to be addressed in the reports of prioritized programs.

The ad-hoc committee feels that the purposes and benefits of academic program review and prioritization review are sufficiently different that a fusion of the two would be unworkable. Academic program review has the nature of accreditation; its evaluation is input based. Prioritization is proposal driven; its evaluation is outcome based. The two reviews should be done by different teams. Academic program review would continue in its regular cycle, using review teams with an external member. Assessment for prioritization would be scheduled five years after receipt of funding, or in the absence of funding five years after designation as highest priority. Review reports would indicate how funds were applied and how they have impacted the program. Review panels would be small and internal, with a composition possibly the same as those which review proposals.

Uncoupling academic program review and academic prioritization review also allows the review of cross-disciplinary programs, particularly those involving units in multiple colleges, to be consistent with review of department-based programs of highest priority.


James Carroll, Ann Coyne, Bruce Garver