A bloodless queen sacrifice?

A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs.  That’s how I’ve been using this sad yet useful term over the past few years.

University of Wisconsin-Superior logoThe University of Wisconsin-Superior offers an interesting variant on this.  Maybe it’s a bloodless queen sacrifice.

What’s happening is UWS has decided to shut down a number of majors and minors.  It’s an interesting mix:

Majors: Broad Field Science, Broad Field Science (Teaching), Chemistry: Forensic (concentration), Communicating Arts: Journalism (track), Communicating Arts: Media Studies (track), Political Science (major), Sociology (major), Theatre (major), Visual Arts: Art History (concentration)

Graduate Programs: Masters in Art Therapy  

Minors: Computer Science, Computer Science (Teaching), Earth Science, Geography, Geography (Teaching), Global Studies, Health and Human Performance, History (Teaching), Journalism, Legal Studies, Media Communication, Photography, Physics, Physics (Teaching), Psychology (Teaching)

What’s interesting about it?  As usual, the humanities bear the serious brunt, but there are also a mix of social sciences and even hard sciences.  The decline of some education majors might be explained by that state’s aging/shrinking demographics.  Forensics is a surprise, given the field’s current buzz and job growth.

Why these cuts?  Again, it’s enrollment – but not overall student population:

Jackie Weissenburger, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, says the cuts were made because some programs don’t draw enough interest.

“We’re finding that it’s difficult to offer so many different programs trying to cater to the programs students want, and seek versus those that demonstrate a lack of interest…”

So this is a case of a university following business logic (demand is dropping, therefore…), or, more accurately, non-profit strategy.  That’s along the lines of a typical queen sacrifice.

Another popular queen sacrifice element is faculty feeling blindsided or underconsulted by administration in making these decisions.  From local public radio:

Eric Edwards, chair of the Social Inquiry Department, said…”We were not consulted. We were just told that this is how it’s going to be, and I consider this process to be illegitimate,” Edwards said. “We need to talk about this in our faculty senate, in our academic affairs council. These are the bodies who need to make this decision — not the administrators. The administrators don’t teach classes. They’re not experts in our fields.”

What makes this especially odd for the queen sacrifice model is that there aren’t any faculty cuts.  “The university said there will be no faculty layoffs as a result of the program suspensions, and it will continue to offer more than 50 majors and more than 40 minors.”  Now, faculty cuts could happen if more cuts follow these.  It might be hard to hire replacements for retirements in departments relying on these programs.  And, as John Sieling notes,


Another difference comes up in the official statements.  This isn’t just about student numbers, but student mental models.  Jackie Weissenburger again:

“a lot of first generation college students don’t have the proper guidance, and are overwhelmed by the amount of programs that are offered.”

“Once you lay out an incredible and lengthy list of programs and courses, many of these students find it difficult to navigate their way through,” said Weissenburger.

This is a case of the paradox of choice, when people have a hard time making decisions when faced with more options than they can handle well.  I’m reminded of some community college pathway programs designed to help students navigate the course catalog.

Not everyone likes this view, such as one UWS student:

Janet Branley, a UW-Superior senior studying sociology and gender studies, took offense to that line of reasoning.

“To me, that means that they think we’re all stupid,” she said. “They might as well have just come right out and said it: ‘These people aren’t intelligent enough to make logical choices from what we have to offer; so here, we’re going to narrow your choices and make your decision for you.'”

What can we learn from this UWS story?

One possibility is that it’s not a big deal.  The campus ends unpopular programs, promising to see currently enrolled students through completion without axing faculty.  It’s a minor course correction.

Another view is that this is a small example of a larger problem, that American higher education is overbuilt for the present student population.  One Inside Higher Ed commentator observes: “This is what comes of trying to offer too many majors at a regional state U in an area with declining population.”

Perhaps this is a live variant of the queen sacrifice, a bloodless queen sacrifice, cutting programs, but not people.

(thanks to Jay Sieling on Twitter and Trent Hergenrader)

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4 Responses to A bloodless queen sacrifice?

  1. Our local Safeway supermarket used to have a nut bar. Now there’s a fruit display in its place. Some of the nuts are scattered in different places, most are no longer carried at all. Though the nuts in this story are perhaps apt parallels, I don’t know how much of a “queen sacrifice” it is to recognize market demands and enrollment trends and change offerings to suit. That just seems like…business.

    • That’s a view I have a hard time shaking.
      And yet… if your supermarket made this shift, is the nut supplier out one client? I’m not sure what the implications will be in the medium term.

  2. I suspect it’s no accident that Superior is one of the four-year schools that is not getting a two-year partner.

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