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Published: Thursday, 10/12/2006

Proposed focus on technology, science stirs UT debate, anxiety

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The University of Toledo will take at least a month to debate whether the school should focus its resources primarily on science and technology instead of the liberal arts.

But when a concerned history PhD student challenged the plan yesterday for possibly excluding the humanities and social sciences, the action was decisive.

"I'll serve on a committee," she blurted out at a town hall meeting.

"You're on the committee," UT President Lloyd Jacobs instantly responded. "What's your name?"

"Nicole Cassidy," she said.

The exchange underscores the university's efforts to defuse tension surrounding the 10-year strategy proposed yesterday by Dr. Jacobs.

Fed by shifts in government funding, the university would concentrate on the natural sciences, technology, engineering, math, and medicine - disciplines known as STEM2 that state leaders deem central to economic growth.

A 46-person strategic planning committee, which includes the addition of Ms. Cassidy, will evaluate the proposal.

In addition to a revised academic mission, the proposal calls for undergraduate enrollment to grow 25 percent to 20,000 in the next five years, increased admissions standards, and the elimination of doctoral programs not backed by the state.

Sue Ott Rowlands, interim dean of UT's college of arts and sciences, wished that Dr. Jacobs had entertained questions from the committee about his recommendations instead of summarizing them prior to the university-wide town hall meeting.

The committee's ability to discuss and refine the proposal through open conversation could be more crucial to its acceptance by faculty and students than its actual content.

"If the process is looked upon as manipulation rather than a work product, we've already lost the fight," Rick Stansley, chairman of UT's board of trustees, told the committee.

External forces hold as much influence on the proposal as internal politics.

Of the $2.9 billion budgeted for higher education in 2008 and 2009 by the Ohio Board of Regents, 56 percent is dedicated to STEM2 programs.

"It's greenmail," said Terry Biel, speaker of the UT student senate, equating the state's funding policies to the aggressive takeover practices of a corporate raider.

The proposal has caused anxiety for UT faculty members, said Carter Wilson, professor of political science and chairman of the main campus faculty senate.

"I strongly support the university's efforts to go after STEM2 money and to invest in STEM2 areas as a strategy to help rejuvenate northwest Ohio," Mr. Wilson said. "The problem arises when the university invests in the STEM2 area to the exclusion of other areas also essential to stimulating the local economy."

Mr. Wilson further noted that post 9/11, universities should explore enhancing non-STEM2 programs, such as criminal justice, foreign languages, and Middle Eastern studies.

Contact Joshua Boak at:

jboak@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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