Thursday, July 17, 2008

Showdown Over A Shutdown

Note: I have the author's permission to publish this wonderful and well written article here. This was in the July 15, 2008 edition of the ASHA Leader, the national publication of ASHA (American Speech-Hearing-Language Association) which has 130,000 members according to the website. I continue to stay busy advocating for this issue and am doing all I can to support this department. . . .

Showdown Over A Shutdown

Advocacy Gains Delay of CSD Program Closure at University of Tennessee

cite as: Moore, M. (2008, July 15). Showdown Over A Shutdown.
The ASHA Leader, 13(9), 1, 7.

by Marat Moore

Faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology (ASP) at the University of Tennessee (UT) galvanized community support to oppose a sudden threat to the department's survival and have—at least temporarily—succeeded.

On June 2, with no warning, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences informed department chair Ilsa Schwarz that the entire department—and the university's Speech and Hearing Center and its four associated community clinics—were targeted for closure as part of Gov. Phil Bredesen's 2009 state budget cuts.

"It was a complete shock," said Schwarz, who oversees the largest audiology and speech-language pathology program in the state, with 225 undergraduate and graduate students and 41 faculty and staff. The department awards six degrees—BAs in audiology and speech pathology, MAs in speech-language pathology and audiology, the AuD in audiology, and a PhD in speech and hearing science. The employment rates for master's, AuD, and PhD graduates continues to be 100%.

Closing UT's program would deepen the existing crisis of clinical and doctoral shortages in Knoxville, a city of 180,000—plus 26,000 UT students—and the region, Schwarz said. The department contracts with nine public school districts, and its network of clinics serves more than 2,000 clients each year from more than two dozen counties in East Tennessee and surrounding states.

"If this goes through, we will have less supply to meet the growing demand for speech-language pathology and audiology services," she said.

Overall the university faces $11.1 million in cuts, with nearly $1.4 million coming from the College of Arts and Sciences, which includes the ASP department. ASP is the biggest program on the university's chopping block; also targeted for closure are a dance program and a small graduate business program.

The university proposed a gradual phase-out of the ASP department. Tenured faculty would be retained and reassigned. Non-tenured faculty and staff would be allowed to work two more years, and the program would close in four years. Students who are entering or currently enrolled would be allowed to complete their studies before the program closes in four years.

"Our primary student concern is that, although the university has committed to seeing everyone through the program, they have not addressed the need to retain our accreditation, and the phase-out does not take into account the number of courses that need to be taught in years three and four," Schwarz said.

"The university also has not considered the need to keep our clinics open with a diverse client base past the second year," she said. "AuD students entering this year will be particularly disadvantaged because they will need an active clinic in their third year to get the hours in specific clinical areas."

Rationale and Rebuttal

Bruce Bursten, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences—the largest college on the Knoxville campus—proposed the closure of the ASP program. In a statement he gave three reasons: ASP's lack of impact on other programs and majors; UT's desire to preserve "regional strategic alliances" with entities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the state's three other CSD programs (Memphis, Nashville, and Johnson City). These programs, however, have stated that they are unable to accommodate all the UT program's students and likely could not expand to meet the future deficit created by the UT closure.

The Council of Academic Programs in Communication Science and Disorders (CAPCSD), in a June 8 letter to Gov. Breseden, the UT president, chancellor, Board of Trustees, and Dean Bursten, offered compelling reasons to preserve the program:

  • Audiology and speech-language pathology are listed on every regional and national list of critical workforce needs. A critical shortage also exists of research scientists.
  • CSD programs sit "at the intersection of the social, behavioral and physical sciences" and can be found in schools of education, allied health, health and human performance, and arts and sciences.
  • The services provided by the speech and hearing clinics enable many clients to maintain employment and success in schools and workplaces—and save millions in state costs. UT scientists also contribute to the region in the areas of health and wellness research.

ASHA President Kate Gottfred also wrote to UT leaders in support of the ASP program, and noted that UT offers the only specialty training in aural rehabilitation in the state.

"The department is a referral source for many physicians and public schools in the region and its closure would create gaps in the quality and quantity of service," Gottfred said.

Grassroots Momentum

After the initial shock, the ASP department rallied. Organizers sent out a quick broadcast e-mail, and current and former clients, physicians, school districts, parents, local merchants, civic leaders, and alumni in the Knoxville area joined forces with faculty, students, and staff to speak up about the value of audiology and speech-language pathology services and training.

Parents wrote checks to support the effort and started online blogs. Students who had just graduated showed up to volunteer and spread the word about the growing controversy through Facebook and other social media outlets. An undergraduate's petition gathered 500 names.

Supporters began a Web site as an information clearinghouse. Letters poured in to UT's Board of Trustees, the chancellor, dean, and university president from physicians, current and former clients, school districts, hospital CEOs, and others to document the negative impact of shutting down the program.

"I am amazed at the number of people—who I had never heard of or known—who have come forward to support the department," said James Thelin, an assistant professor of audiology with 18 years' experience in the ASP program.

"The school districts were very worried about the impact on their workforce," Schwarz added. "Cochlear-implant surgeons were concerned that they would lose our aural rehabilitation services and mapping resources. I think the university grossly underestimated the impact of this move."

Local media ran frequent stories about the controversy, and letters to the editor and op-ed articles appeared almost daily. Students played a key role in energizing the community and getting the word out.

"The biggest student concern was our professors. We can't expect them to remain at UT and not pursue other job options while we finish our degrees," said Erin Carini, president of UT's chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and a second-year master's student in speech-language pathology.

Carini and other students, who have been interviewed by news outlets, painted the huge "rock" that acts as a campus message board and organized events like a "Chalk Walk," in which chalk messages are drawn in heavy traffic areas. "We believe that if we can educate people about who we are and what we do, the facts will speak for themselves," she said.

A Stay of Execution

On June 17 the UT president announced that the decision on "strategic cuts" will be delayed until October.

"We're relieved, but we know the battle isn't over," Schwarz said. "We will use this much-needed time to get our facts to the public and demonstrate our financial efficiency and value to the state. And we encourage our supporters to keep up their contacts with decision-makers at the university."

Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader and a Tennessee native, can be reached at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know it actually gives my heart a thrill... like goosebumps in my arteries, to hear about people rallying together for such a great cause! I think it is phenomenal what has been accomplished so far, and I certain wish all well who are involved!

It is certainly something that needs to be preserved, and I hope all the "noise" is heard!