Simmering controversy over a plan to create an adult learning college at the University of Dallas has heated up in the last two weeks.
In a March 24 memorandum, President Thomas Keefe outlined a proposal to create a new Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP) that he hopes will raise needed revenue for the university.
But a large number of professors have raised concerns about the plan, fearing it could cut into the university’s core mission.
In his memo, Keefe described the ADCP as a college that would provide degrees to adults over the age of 25 looking to complete their undergraduate education.
“[The proposal] calls for the development of a rigorous education grounded in the Catholic and liberal arts identity of the university appropriate to the unique strengths, experience and pedagogical needs of adults over the age of 25,” Keefe wrote.
In an interview, Keefe explained that the desire to look into creating such a program is motivated by several critical features.
The first is the potential to secure the university’s financial future.
“I’m doing this because I have a responsibility as president to ensure that this university looks around and sees what’s happening to other comparable universities and strengthens ourselves to make sure that we’re not weakened and imperiled for 10, 15, 20 years down the road,” he said.
Keefe stressed, however, that this would be done with the expectation that the proposed college could fill a need for individuals looking for quality, flexible education.
“It’s also an opportunity to look at whether there are people out there who’d benefit from the kind and nature of education the University of Dallas offers,” said Keefe. He added that the discussion over implementing such a program began with multiple inquiries as to whether UD offered a program of that nature.
“Our initial answer was no,” Keefe said. “But after it had been asked to us a number of times by a number of different people, we looked at whether this was something that we could possibly do.”
After Provost C.W. Eaker looked into the potential viability of the program, the idea was taken to the faculty for their perspective.
From the beginning, many faculty members expressed concerns about the new college plan in a series of faculty meetings.
According to Keefe, the faculty at Constantin would not be expected to teach the students of the ADCP.
“[The students in the ADCP] wouldn’t sit in class with Constantin students, they wouldn’t take the same classes, it would be a different curriculum taught by different people,” Keefe said. “It would be, again, developed to have an influence from Constantin College, but it wouldn’t be Constantin College.”
In a follow-up memo to faculty sent Tuesday, the president said that the university “will not be able to continue to carry out its important mission in the future if it does not take steps today.”
Theology professor Dr. Christopher Malloy praised Keefe for bringing the university “out of the nosedive,” referring to its poor financial condition prior to the president’s arrival.
But like many professors interviewed this week, he expressed reservations about the proposed college, and specifically the idea that it wouldn’t require adherence to the university’s core curriculum.
“The Cowans made a deliberate decision to make the Core not an honors program, and this is what distinguishes us from other schools,” Malloy said. “The Core is our common heritage.”
Dr. Bernadette Waterman Ward, an English professor who is on sabbatical this year and not working on campus, is also worried about the role of the Core in the proposed school.
“Having any undergraduate degree without the Core degrades the UD degree; it would be like selling Mercedes bodies powered by lawn-mower engines,” Waterman Ward said. “People would not take long to figure out that the name ‘UD’ no longer meant what they had thought it meant.”
A large number of other faculty members in different departments expressed similar concerns.
A private Facebook page called University of Dallas Alumni for a Liberal Education that appears dedicated to questioning the new college also launched last week. As of Tuesday night, it had over 1,600 members. Many of the comments on the page oppose the new college, although others are open to the idea as a way to raise funds for the university.
Keefe stressed that the new college is only a proposal at this point.
“The memorandum that I wrote and sent out was intended to communicate that we’re looking at accumulating more information. I think maybe I communicated a message that we were going to go ahead with the [program]. That was never my intent. … We need a lot more information.”
The president actually thinks it will take longer than he expected to make a final decision.
The board of trustees, to which Keefe must recommend the proposal before they make a decision on whether or not to move forward with it, meets three times a year. The next two meetings will be in May and October.
Though he initially hoped to have the recommendation ready to present to the board in May, Keefe now believes it is more likely he will wait until October to allow continued dialogue around the issue.
“I can tell you this: respectful, accurate dialogue is the most helpful process,” Keefe said. “Those people who take information out of context or those people who complain without knowing what we’re trying to do, it’s a damaging process and it’s not helpful.”
Dr. Eileen Gregory of the English department said there has been a recent shift in administration’s approach to faculty on the matter:
“We are, right now, having a general faculty meeting to consider other possible programs for raising revenue that are within our mission and that would be in keeping with the kind of school we are,” Gregory said, adding that Keefe has openly invited such dialogue.
Though a recent development, Gregory said the more open communication between faculty and administration is encouraging.
“That’s positive, we’re trying to follow through with [considering other possibilities],” Gregory said.
The conversations regarding ADCP, then, may continue into next fall, and it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.
“The devil is in the details,” Keefe said. “I don’t know if, at the end of the day, we can make it work in this environment: if we can make it work financially or we can make it work academically. I don’t know. But I certainly believe we have a responsibility — we have a responsibility, not just me — we have a responsibility to explore it and see whether we can make it work and we can serve those people and we can enhance the university.”
Dr. Sally Hicks of the physics department remains relatively neutral about the issue, stating that she is waiting for a genuine market study to come out on the viability of the program.
“I want to see everything done legitimately,” Hicks said. I want the faculty to give the administration a chance, but I want the administration to make an honest assessment.”
University News Editor-in-Chief Aaron Credeur and Commentary Editor Sara Coello contributed to this report.