A ranking of each academic program at Southern Oregon University released Wednesday has left some department chairs scratching their heads, while others were enthused about their high placement.
"I find them a little baffling," said John Richards, chairman of the international studies department, which had four programs ranked in the bottom two categories. Richards said the method of determining the rank of each program was "deeply flawed."
Others supported the procedure that a group of employees used to rank each of the school's 183 academic programs.
"I don't think there were any missed rankings here," David Humphrey, the director of performing arts, said of the music and theater departments.
"They were pretty fair."
Jody Waters, the chairwoman of the communications department, said the high rankings of her department matched an internal assessment.
"We feel validated in that sense," she said.
Waters said the method used to derive the ranking may have had some flaws, but each department was treated equally — the flaws were the same for all.
The rankings are a part of a streamlining process, called prioritization. Eight employees working in a program prioritization group compiled the rankings. Members of the PPG worked individually and as a group to analyze surveys completed by a representative of each academic program.
The academic programs — including majors, minors, concentrations, masters and certificates — were ranked into five categories, from the highest 20 percent to the lowest 20 percent.
The rankings will be one tool the school uses to plan for the next five years, officials said.
Peter Wu, chairman of the physics department, said he agreed with the findings for his department. In it, the group said the department had a talented faculty and students who produce strong work, but it offers a low number of degree options.
"We are a small department," Wu said. "We expected that. It's just the way it is."
Three physics programs ranked in the lowest division, and four ranked in the second-to-lowest.
Wu cited a dying interest in studying math nationwide as a reason for low numbers in the physics department. Math is imperative in studying physics, he said.
"In some ways, it's a national trend," Wu said. "Enrollment is down. The whole country is down."
Humphrey said the rankings for the theater arts program reflected what faculty within the department already knew. Highly visible programs, such as the bachelors of science, and of art in theater arts ranked highly, but a theater arts minor, which is not offered, ranked in the lowest category.
"There's no real surprise here," he said.
A minor in Shakespeare studies ranked in the second-to-lowest division. Humphrey said the program was once strong, but has "fallen by the wayside." The department plans to begin collaborating with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to boost that program, he said.
Humphrey said rankings for the music department echoed a belief by many faculty members that it must have a tighter focus. Three degree programs ranked in the lowest division.
"We're trying to do too much with too little," he said.
The computer science department had its most visible programs — bachelors of science and of art in computer science — ranked in the top category.
"It is something that is prevalent and pervasive all over," said Greg Pelva, the department head.
But other less attended programs, such as the Master of Science in Applied Computer Science, ranked in the lowest category.
"It just hasn't been able to take off," Pelva said. "We're going to have to debate what we're doing there."
Officials say the rankings may encourage departments to combine, condense or cut programs that draw few students. That will save money, but also time and energy for faculty members, said Jim Klein, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.
Dan DeNeui, a psychology professor who is co-chairman of the prioritization process, said many course offerings at SOU are a carryover from when the school received significant funding from the state and when regional university programs were modeled after the large state schools. There is not enough money to provide all of those programs now, he said.
President Mary Cullinan said the reports should spur talks within departments.
"This is the time for everybody to do some self-reflection," she said at a meeting with faculty members the day the rankings were released.
DeNeui said students in low-ranking programs will be able to finish their degrees, even if that program is ultimately cut.
"If they are in a program now, they will be able to graduate with that degree," he said.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance reporter living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.