The University of Providence is the Latest School to Cut Liberal Arts Programs

Providence U

The Catholic (Sisters of Providence) university in Great Falls, Montana has closed the following liberal arts programs:   Art, English, History, Sociology, and Theology.  The university also cut programs in Accounting, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education,  and Theater and Business Arts.

If I am reading the university website correctly, the school will now offer the following majors:  Addictions Counseling, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Education, Forensic Science, Exercise Science, Math, Legal and Paralegal Studies, Psychology, RN-BSN Completion, and Applied Science in Surgical Technology.

Here is the press release:

After hours of conversation and extensive consideration of all the factors involved in a decision of this magnitude, the University of Providence Board of Trustees voted yesterday to approve the recommendation to close several of the university’s programs. As a result of the decision, the following programs will close: Accounting (including the graduate program), Art, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Special Education, Health and Physical Education, English, History, Sociology, Theater and Business Arts, and Theology. All students in the affected programs will be given the opportunity to graduate from their program and their scholarships will be maintained. Students and faculty are already engaged in teach-out plans, which are individualized transition plans utilizing existing faculty, adjuncts, resources at other universities, and independent studies.

Recognizing these program changes will affect the future of the university, the Board also committed to lead a substantial and collaborative process among faculty and other campus stakeholders to map a clear vision for the university moving forward that is grounded in the mission and values of the Sisters of Providence. The plan is for this process to begin as soon as possible with final consideration by the Board of Trustees at their May meeting.

“Our goal is to remain a viable, thriving Catholic liberal arts university to serve the changing needs of our community,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We have to think strategically about our offerings. Although we have had to make difficult decisions concerning our under-enrolled programs, including some humanities majors, the university remains committed to offering a strong liberal arts education.”

The faculty’s recent redesign and strengthening of the liberal arts core curriculum, Lumen de Lumine, is evidence of this commitment. The core curriculum is grounded in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the liberal arts, and includes requirements to take theology, philosophy, English, Fine Arts and history courses, in addition to other liberal arts courses. While some majors are closing, many of the disciplines will still be actively taught in the core.

“Students enter UP with the same questions all college students have,” says Aretz. “What’s unique about UP is that students explore these questions in our core curriculum through the lens of faith and reason, leading them to not just a successful career, but truly a life-long vocation. Although some faculty positions will be eliminated going forward, we remain committed to having adequate full-time liberal arts faculty to teach the core curriculum.”

In addition to this enhanced core curriculum, another unique UP strength is that it is a ministry of the Providence St. Joseph Health care system, the largest health care system in the western United States, founded by the Sisters of Providence. While the university sees the opportunity for growth in its School of Health Professions, it will continue to explore opportunities for new programs and growth in the School of Liberal Arts on the Great Falls campus.

“Focusing more on programs with strong enrollments is part of this process,” says Aretz. “The partnership with the health care system also provides unique opportunities for new programs in Great Falls. In fact, the history of the Great Falls campus began with the introduction of a resident nurse (RN) program at Columbus Hospital that eventually contributed to the founding of our university.”

The rich history that precedes UP lives on not only in new programs, but in the strong remaining programs. Investments will be made in the remaining programs in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences including, but not limited to, business, legal and paralegal studies, the sciences and criminal justice. The decisions that are being made to both strengthen existing programs, and sunset other programs, is part of the university’s strategic plan, which launched a program reprioritization process in which each of the university’s programs were evaluated by criteria developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee.

Matt Redinger, the provost and vice president of academic affairs, formed a Program Prioritization Advisory Council (PPAC) comprised of faculty from each division within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences to guide the process. Redinger and the PPAC established criteria, and from that criteria Redinger formed initial recommendations to the president. The criteria included the programs’ numbers of majors, student demand, market competitiveness, operating costs, and contributions to the university’s other programs and to the liberal arts core curriculum.

“The decision to recommend these program closures was very difficult, however, program reprioritization was necessary for the university to progress,” says Tony Aretz, president. “We are one of many universities across the state and country having to make these difficult decisions. These program closures, while difficult, help strengthen our financial health as an institution. This will position the university as one of Montana’s leading healthcare universities and one of the state’s premier Catholic, liberal arts institutions.”

While the university is making strides to grow their remaining academic offerings, the campus community is aware of the hardships these decisions have on faculty, staff and students.

“We are sensitive to the impact these decisions have on our university community, their families and the wider community,” says Aretz. “Our faculty’s dedication to our students is a key differentiator for UP, and we continue to honor that legacy.”

The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is working to build new innovative interdisciplinary programs to capitalize on UP’s Catholic heritage and relationship with Providence St. Joseph Health.

“Some have questioned why we are eliminating programs but still building on campus and adding other academic programs,” says Aretz. “We recognized that it was necessary to update and improve basic infrastructure to attract and retain students – the renovated Student Center and new University Center are part of that process. At the same time, the university needs to invest in the state-of-the-art academic and athletic programs that will yield the greatest outcomes for students and result in financial sustainability.”

Thoughts:

  • Can a Catholic school really claim to be a “thriving liberal arts university” without majors in Art, English, History, and Theology?  The University of Providence should probably stop calling itself a “liberal arts institution” and start calling itself a professional school with a liberal arts core curriculum.
  • Ironically, Provost Matt Redinger is a historian. He has a Ph.D from the University of Washington.  He is the author of American Catholics and the Mexican Revolution (2005).  He has been on the job at the University of Providence since July 2018.
  • I would like to know what role the faculty played in this decision and if they are satisfied with that role.