Provost Sona Andrews announced that Chiron Studies will not receive renewed funding from the Office of Academic Affairs. The program, which for more than half a century has allowed students to design and teach for-credit classes, was funded until June 2012, when former Provost Roy Koch discontinued it. Since then, supporters of Chiron Studies have lobbied Portland State’s administration to reinstate funding.
Chiron Studies will not receive renewed funding from the Office of Academic Affairs.
The program, which for more than half a century has allowed students to design and teach for-credit classes, was funded through the Office of Academic Affairs until June 2012, when former Provost Roy Koch discontinued funding.
Since then, supporters of Chiron Studies have lobbied Portland State’s administration to reinstate funding.
After a week of meetings and examination, Provost Sona Andrews told Chiron coordinators last week that she would not renew funding, but that the administration would work toward finding existing academic programs that would take in aspects of Chiron Studies. Both University Studies and the Office of Graduate Studies expressed interested in incorporating aspects of Chiron courses into their programs.
“Will that collection of courses in the way that we’ve been administering them exist? Probably not,” Andrews said. “But, moving forward, will we be able to have student-faculty-led courses? I hope so.”
Citing university-wide budget cuts, Andrews said that hard decisions were unavoidable.
“I don’t want to sound like we’re playing hardball. What we’re trying to do is get it into an academic home,” she said.
Andrews praised Chiron Studies for its course topics, undergraduate student involvement and faculty collaboration.
“That combination of things is what we want to keep. Those are the good pieces,” Andrews said. “Do I think the concept is a good one? Do I think the experience for students is great? Yes, absolutely.”
Andrews stressed that the provost’s office was not the appropriate place for Chiron Studies funding or course decisions to be made.
“I think the way they were funded in the past was not a particularly good funding model,” Andrews said. She explained that Chiron Studies needs to be housed within an academic department to be made sustainable.
“We can’t afford to fund it centrally, but University Studies is willing to look at a model of how they would fund it within their budget,” Andrews said.
“We find the provost’s decision not to fund Chiron Studies because we are not housed within an academic unit while there are academic units willing to house us very perplexing,” said Chiron Studies Coordinator Rozzell Medina.
University Studies would not receive additional funding or resources to incorporate Chiron Studies into their program, but Andrews said that the program’s structure would allow for easy integration.
“Students are heavily involved in aspects of the program, so it seems like a good place to do it,” she said. “To [University Studies], the marginal cost of taking it on is small.”
“University Studies wouldn’t be bolting on something different from what they do,” Andrews continued. “They already work to figure out…interdisciplinary courses with interesting topics. They have a system in place for success.
“There are no guarantees that we are just going to take this thing as it exists and continue to do it, but what we are going to do is try to take the good parts of it,” she said.
Among Andrews’ concerns is budgeting. Addressing the discrepancy between tuition revenue brought in by Chiron courses and the cost of operating them, Andrews indicated that funding models do not happen in isolation for any given program.
“If you look at the whole university…we’ve got some programs that cost us less to teach than the tuition they generate, and we’ve got other classes that cost us more,” Andrews said. “If we were to give [courses that generate more tuition] all the revenue…we might not be able to offer an engineering course or a music course.”
According to Medina, Chiron courses generated approximately $60,000 while operating without a budget.
“We feel this revenue could and should be applied to creating a budget that will help to move Chiron Studies into an academic unit,” Medina said.
Tuition generated through Chiron courses this year went into the university’s general fund. All tuition revenue goes toward the university, which then sets budgets for individual colleges, schools and divisions, Andrews explained.
“So it’s not like the tuition generated goes to the place that generated it,” she said. “If we said to engineering, ‘You only get to keep the tuition you generate,’ we wouldn’t be able to have such a great engineering program.”
Andrews expressed concern about Chiron’s curricular approval process. The PSU Faculty Senate made a decision this year to require course approval within academic units.
Andrews also saw room for improvement in student training methods.
“I’d like to see more training for the students that teach these courses. It’s a great career-building thing to get pedagogical training,” she said. “It’s not like they didn’t get any training [before], but [they didn’t get it] in a real, structured way.”
Andrews said that conversations about program integration could begin soon.
“I don’t think it precludes, at all, having course offerings for this upcoming academic year,” she said.
“I would tell those people who are passionate to help us make it work. Help us make it of the highest quality it can be, help us institutionalize this concept so it’s not this small set of courses that’s sitting out there,” Andrews said.
“I didn’t just say ‘No, we’re not funding it, too bad.’ I really looked for a solution and I think we’ve found one with University Studies, as long as everyone recognizes that the program might undergo some changes,” Andrews said.
Coordinators expressed disappointment and frustration.
“We feel that OAA’s refusal to fund Chiron Studies’ move into an academic unit despite the hard work of students this term adds insult to injury,” said Medina, who indicated that he would continue to push for funding. “There are a number of students and faculty committed to supporting this unique and empowering program.”