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Published: Wednesday, 3/4/2009

UT professors halt online grad program

University of Toledo Provost Rosemary Haggett says she s disappointed that discussions with Higher Ed Holdings ended. University of Toledo Provost Rosemary Haggett says she s disappointed that discussions with Higher Ed Holdings ended.

The University of Toledo's talks with a private company to provide online graduate programs have been silenced by faculty opposition.

The university had been in discussions with the Texas-based company Higher Ed Holdings about providing two UT master's degree programs in education through the company's online platform.

But faculty concerns about diminishing the quality of the UT programs and the partnership being forced upon them in a rushed time frame apparently changed the company's mind in creating that relationship with UT.

Previous conversations indicated the company hoped to begin offering the classes by May, but Higher Ed Holdings sent an e-mail to UT Provost Rosemary Haggett Monday to defer the partnership.

"As you know one of the critical success factors for our proposed partnership is having leadership and faculty aligned with the mission and goals of the partnership," wrote Tom Evans, executive vice president of Higher Ed Holdings.

"Although some of this exists, the partnership must have better alignment within University of Toledo so that its mission can be achieved."

Mr. Evans could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ms. Haggett responded yesterday with an e-mail to the Judith Herb College of Education indicating her disappointment that conversations were stalled before they really got going and that it "reflects poorly on the university."

"What could have been a truly compelling dialogue about opportunities to broaden the number of graduate education students benefiting from the expertise of college of education faculty was never allowed to get under way by those who would seek to demonize those that disagree with them rather than debate what is best for the institution in a thoughtful and professional way," the provost wrote.

The proposal was for UT's master's degree programs in curriculum and instruction and education leadership in the education college to be offered online through Higher Ed Holdings.

The programs would be converted to the company's online platform of five-week courses that lead to a faster and less expensive graduate degree for the working teachers who are the target demographic.

A major concern among UT faculty was that converting UT's programs to a quick-hit, five-week online course would reduce their quality, said Lawrence Baines, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the education college.

"The one thing we do have is our reputation," he said.

Not only are there challenges to reducing a months-long curriculum into five weeks, but many of the graduate programs include field experience, seminars, and projects that could not be completed in five weeks.

"Most of our programs in our field are based so we get dirty and go out and work with teachers in the field," Mr. Baines said.

It's not that UT faculty are against online courses, since UT has a higher number of course offerings online than any other university in Ohio, but it's not the answer for all programs, he said.

"For a lot of courses it's great," Mr. Baines said. "But we can't fit everything to that square peg."

Ms. Haggett said she had hoped that more discussions could take place at UT and the university would have been the one to say yes or no to a partnership with Higher Ed Holdings.

"I understand there is some faculty in the college that felt for a variety of reasons this is not the correct partner or correct approach," Ms. Haggett said.

And while a partnership with Higher Ed Holdings doesn't appear to be a good fit, Ms. Haggett said the goals of reaching more people and continuing leadership in distance learning remain important for the education college.

She said the process has "stimulated some creative thinking."

"Let's keep the conversation going and look at the larger picture here," Ms. Haggett said.

While Mr. Baines said some faculty see this development as good news and a "momentary victory," there is the chance that another Ohio university will partner with Higher Ed Holdings and create competition with UT.

Ms. Haggett said that is "probably likely."

"We need to think not only about [Higher Ed Holdings] as competition, but do a broad scope view of who needs and wants our degree programs and who do we compete with to deliver them," Ms. Haggett said.

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