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SLU trustees make no decision on closing targeted departments

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2012 - No news is being seen as good news for supporters of the public policy studies department at Saint Louis University, which had been targeted for closure by the school's academic vice president.

His recommendations on that department and the department of counseling and family therapy were presented to the university's trustees over the weekend. But instead of accepting them, as backers of the programs had feared, the trustees made no decision, raising hopes that the department may be spared.

Still, no one is ready to claim victory.

"I don't think of it as a victory but as a rational decision considering some of the flaws in the analysis as proposed," said Mark Kneupfer, head of the SLU faculty senate, which had opposed the recommended closings.

"I understand the VP Academic Affairs would like to have things move faster but the delay will allow us to come up with mutually acceptable standards by which these departments and others at the university can be objectively evaluated. More importantly, when faculty and administrators realize our goals are similar, we can improve performance and help to raise standards at the university without animosity. This is our common goal."

No formal public announcement was made by the university after the weekend meeting of its trustees. In an email responding to a question about what had been decided, spokesman Clayton Berry said:

"No action was taken. The leadership of the College of Education and Public Service has been notified and will be kept informed as the decision process continues. The university will have no further comment at this time."

Robert Cropf, head of the public policy department (and a frequent contributor to the Beacon), told the Beacon Tuesday that during his discussion with the board, trustees asked good questions and the reception was positive overall. Because no decision was made, he said, "Clearly they are still deliberating."

In his presentation, Cropf reiterated his view that the numbers used in the closure recommendation by Manoj Patankar, the vice president for academic affairs, did not accurately reflect the department's contributions to SLU or the St. Louis area.

Accepting the recommendation, he said, "would undermine the longstanding mission of Saint Louis University as a Jesuit institution serving an urban region that has made great use of the department's graduates and faculty research and service.... Eliminating a department that has provided years of service to the community and made a substantial financial contribution to the university should never be done without a serious and thorough evaluation of its programs."

If the department had fallen short of the performance expected of it, he asked, why was it allowed to hire a tenured full professor, promote an assistant professor and hire a new tenure-track assistant professor, all within the past three years.

Cropf said that the department stands ready to be evaluated in a fair way, adding that "there is a big difference between making decisions that are tough and making decisions that are prudent."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.